FORMAT/INFO: Generation Ship was released on October 17th, 2023 by HarperVoyager. It is 608 pages long and told in third person from multiple POVs. It will be released in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After over 250 years, the colony ship Voyager is approaching its final destination. Four months out from arrival, the first data comes back from the satellite probes sent in advance, confirming that yes, the planet appears to be habitable as predicted…but also contact has been lost with all probes sent to the surface. When the governor of Voyager decides to suppress this troubling news, it sparks a chain reaction of events that lead many to question if it’s time for a change in how the ship is run. As factions begin to form, the science team is left scrambling trying to find answers. After over two centuries of travel, is it possible they may not be able to land at all?
Generation Ship is a fascinating premise that unfortunately isn’t grounded by compelling characters. I am a sucker for space race/space travel stories, as they usually involve a team of people coming together to solve a problem. I love the proceduralness of it all. So I felt right at home as Generation Ship began, with the science team realizing there’s a problem with the data they’re getting and they don’t know why. The author takes a snapshot approach to storytelling, with each chapter jumping ahead days or sometimes weeks in the chronology. In some regards this makes sense; it would realistically take some time for new data from the planet to arrive, etc. and the author wanted to jump to when new things were happening. And I did like those scenes of evolving understanding of what lies ahead, as the scientists try to piece together what they can about their potential new home.
But the result is what feels like a surface level approach to the problems. The chapters are fairly short, which makes a six hundred page book move rather quickly, but it also means we don’t get a lot of time to sit with developments as they unfold. We see a character react to a problem, the next chapter we’re a few days later with a different character who is telling us all the fallout from the previous character’s decision, and as a result of that fallout THEY make a decision that causes more complications. It’s a very linear chain of events, which makes the focus feel a bit narrow given that this ship contains thousands of people.
To be fair, the author is trying to cover a lot of ground, and the conflicts he raises are interesting. For instance, the ship has survived for centuries by instituting an “end of life” policy. When a person reaches the age of 75, they voluntarily submit to medical euthanasia; this ensures a stable population as new infants are born at a controlled rate. But while everyone adhered to the policy in deep space, they begin to balk at it when news about the new planet begins to leak. Why should people continue to die when their new home is so close? These are the kinds of issues the author dives into over the course of the book, including the interplay of science vs. politics vs. public opinion.
But where I struggled with the book was the fact that I wasn’t really rooting for any of the characters. And it wasn’t until I started writing this review that I really put my finger on what was bothering me. As I mentioned before, I liked the premise of this book because I like stories of people coming together to solve a problem. Unfortunately, in this book, pretty much everyone makes the problems worse in some way. No one is a particularly effective leader or problem solver. The governor mismanages communication and responses to public reaction, the head of security constantly escalates problems, and the lead scientist is great with data, but not with getting people to listen to her.
The result is one disaster after another because people can’t get out of their own way, either because of seeking personal glory, lack of leadership, or just general ineptitude. And that’s fine if that’s the story the author wanted to tell! It just wasn’t the kind of story that resonates with me personally, even if perhaps it’s a more realistic one.
CONCLUSION: Generation Ship is a fast-moving tale about a ship forced to grapple with the fact that the future it envisioned may not be the one it gets. All of its characters are struggling to adapt as the factors that used to govern their day to day life drastically change in a short amount of time. I didn’t necessarily mind the politics, even if they were the enemy of rational thought. It was more that I needed a character to rally around, someone who was capable of pulling together this ship. Instead, the collective cast stumbles its way to an ending. There are interesting bones to this story to be sure, but as a person who puts a lot of weight on character, I just didn’t have enough to keep me invested.