Friday, 22 November 2013

A Slow Boat To Alpha Centauri

In Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Poul Anderson imagines a ship or fleet "...bound for Alpha Centauri at one-tenth light speed..." (p. 170):

the journey will take more than forty three years;
families will embark but only the children and grandchildren will arrive;
the self-supporting ships will recycle all organic matter and grow tanked plants or algae;
scientists exploring hostile Solar planets will have perfected these techniques;
after acceleration, the ships will be rotated to simulate gravity;
compatible, self-disciplined crews will have interesting work, libraries, theaters, gyms, gardens and emotion-regulating drugs.

"Some writers have suggested that voyages will be undertaken that last many generations. This is possible, I suppose, but does not look very probable." (p. 172).

But it is how we imagine science fiction "generation ships," i. e., slower than light multi-generation interstellar spaceships:

in Robert Heinlein's generation ship story, part of his Future History, the crew mutinies, destroying organized society within the ship;
in Poul Anderson's generation ship story, part of his Psychotechnic History, psychotechnicians manage ship society, containing conflicts and preventing an ultimately destructive mutiny;
in Clifford Simak's generation ship story, social engineering keeps the crew in line by inculcating religious fervor, e.g., for holy pictures of a House, a Tree and the Wind That You Cannot See But Know Is There.

These three stories form a conceptual sequence in which Heinlein adumbrates a problem to which both Anderson and Simak then respond.

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