NON-STOP FROM THE STARS
by BRIAN ALDISS
(1958 Faber & Faber, 1959 Digit,
1976 Pan paperback 0-330-24638-0)
‘HOME IS THE HUNTER. HOME FROM THE HULL’
The idea was already there in early issues of ‘Wonder Stories’ – Laurence Manning’s “The Living Galaxy” (September 1934), and ‘Amazing Stories’ – Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage That Lasted Six-Hundred Years” (October 1940), before Robert A Heinlein defined the sub-genre with two linked tales – “Universe” and “Common Sense” published in the May and October 1941 issues of ‘Astounding SF’, (becoming his 1963 novel ‘Orphans Of The Sky’), in which the generation-ship crew has long-since forgotten it’s on a ship at all, and has degenerated into an enclosed superstitious society.
Aldiss’ generation ship is ‘constructed of layers and layers of deck… and these layers do not end, because they eventually turn a circle on to themselves.’ The everlasting rings form eighty-four decks within an elongated egg-shaped ship, three-quarters of which is jungle. While the semi-nomadic rag-taggle Greene tribe travel ‘like a maggot through a mushy apple’ amid a rapidly-growing ‘ponic tangle’ of overgrown hydroponic plants that infest the Sternstairs, Midway, Main Corridor, the festering continent of Deadways and the cosy squalor of Quarters, all ‘thick with phantoms and mysteries and riddles and pain.’ There are legends and stories of supernatural Outsiders masquerading as men, mutants, supposedly-extinct Giants, sub-men, hermits and the terrible mythical Forwards People, but to Complain ‘theories are less than flies to me,’ and the people travel ‘knowing neither the journey nor the destination.’
‘TO TRAVEL HOPEFULLY IS A
BETTER THING THAN TO ARRIVE…’
(RL Stevenson, quoted on the title-page on ‘Non-Stop’)
‘I had settled into the back bedroom of our North Oxford house to write my first science fiction novel, ‘Non-Stop’,’ recalls Aldiss in his autobiography ‘The Twinkling Of An Eye’ (Little Brown, 1998). ‘Telling myself the story gave me great pleasure, I was absolutely sure of what I was doing. Faber published the book in 1958. Its publication brought in enough money to enable me to buy my own typewriter. That Swiss Hermes portable and I lived on intimate terms for many a year; I used it as a pillow on more than one occasion. Many words, letters, stories, novels ran through its metal veins.’
The group in the novelette version have different names, Complain is Tom Brandyholm, with Priest Carappa (Marapper) – ‘nobody suffered indignity with more dignity than he.’ Slotface is ‘Rockface’ Wantage, and Fermour is Bob Crooner. While the lovely object of Complain’s attentions, inaccurately pictured by Gerard Quinn on the ‘Science Fantasy’ cover, starts out as Viann, before becoming Laur Vyann. Arrival and interrogation at the more organised Forwards is less the end of the quest as the start of a new cycle. Complain learns the twenty-fourth-century ship that constitutes their world was crossing the eleven light years (at a speed specified in the novelette as one-twentieth light-speed) back from a New Earth orbiting the sun-star Procyon, when it was hit by the nine-day ague caused by protein in the alien water. While Gregg – captain of a Deadways tribe besieging Forwards, turns out to be Complain’s lost ‘ran amok’ brother. A tribe, in turn, threatened by an encroachment of giant rats.
If the Generation Ship theme was a litmus paper test for genre writers, he’d taken it higher and further than anyone else dared venture. ‘Thirty or so years later, despite all the change, ‘Non-Stop’ and ‘Hothouse’ remain in print in England’ Aldiss comments, ‘but their warmest initial reception was in the United States Of America.’ It was his first SF novel. Many more were to follow.