generation ship n.

an interstellar spacecraft in which multiple generations of passengers are born, live, and die before arrival at its destination

SF Encyclopedia


  • 1955 E. C. Tubb Star Ship in New Worlds Science Fiction June 125 page image E. C. Tubb bibliography

    ‘What I can’t understand is why, if the Builders had perfected suspended animation, they had to have personnel at all. Why not staff the Ship with men and women in deep-freeze, send off the Ship, and let them waken when they had arrived?’ ‘First, there are two ways by which men can reach the stars. One is by suspended animation as you have suggested, the other is by generation ship, which this is. We have combined both and so avoided the weaknesses inherent in either. The generation ship depends on new blood replacing the old, but the danger is that the new blood will forget what it should remember. Sixteen generations is a long time, Jay. Even with continual use of educational tapes it is still hard for some people to accept the fact that the Ship is nothing but a metal can drifting in the void. To them the Ship is the universe and they just can’t imagine anything possibly being bigger. The Deep-freeze method is just as bad. Then the personnel have to rely wholly on automatic machinery, even as we do, but they are far more vulnerable than a generation ship could ever be. And there is another thing. We still aren’t certain that they will be fertile after deep-freeze. The animals are, the men and women should be, but no one has ever rested in suspended animation for more than three hundred years before. It was a chance we dared not take.’

  • [ 1957 Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction July 3 page image

    There are few more stirringly imaginative themes in science fiction than that of the generations-ship—the spaceship whereby man may cross the light-years separating us from the stars, even at speeds much less than that of light, creating a self-sufficient microcosm in which the great-great-…-great-grandchildren of the original voyagers may at last make planet-fall. ]

  • 1963 M. Girsdansky Who Borrows What? in Worlds of Tomorrow Dec. 62/2 page image Michael Girsdansky bibliography

    Stapledon birthed the interplantetary culture of Starmaker, relying on (1) century-long travel at sub-light speeds—though often this was not a case of generation-ships, since he often assumed vast longevity.

  • [ 1965 S. R. Delany Ballad of Beta-2 7 Samuel R. Delany

    By the time the ten remaining-generation-ships [sic] arrived in the Leffer System, Earth had already established a going-business [sic] of trade and cultural exchange, which was already a hundred or so years old, with scores of planetary systems. ]

  • 1976 B. Ash Who's Who in Science Fiction (rev. ed) (1977) 14 Brian Ash

    For those who stay this side of the light barrier there remains the ‘travelling ark’ (or ‘generation ship’)—a vehicle designed for centuries of flight (often in order to escape from a doomed Earth), in which several generations live and die before eventual landfall.

  • 1979 J. Varley Titan (1987) 100 John Varley

    You've read the stories of generation ships where something went wrong and everybody slipped back to savagery?

  • 1990 A. McCaffrey & J. L. Nye Death of Sleep (1992) 258 Anne McCaffrey Jody Lynn Nye bibliography

    It was the oldest of the original EEC generation ships still in space.

  • 1992 A. Steele Labyrinth of Night 198 Allen Steele bibliography

    Even a hypothetical matter-antimatter drive can only attain twenty percent of the speed of light at its maximum velocity, and there is no reason to believe that the Cooties had developed technology of that magnitude. But if they made the journey in a generation-ship or in suspended animation…

  • 1993 P. Nicholls Encyclopedia Science Fiction 480/1

    It was probably Konstantin Tsiolkovsky who first saw the necessity for using generation starships in the colonization of other worlds; he presented the idea in ‘The Future of Earth and Mankind’, which was published in a Russian anthology of scientific essays in 1928 but may have been conceived even earlier. Tsiolkovsky here argued for the construction in the future of space-going ‘Noah’s Arks’: he envisaged such journeys as taking many thousands of years.

  • 2000 K. MacLeod Cosmonaut Keep (2001) 47 Ken MacLeod

    He could have lived with a universe whose interstellar gulfs could be crossed only with generation ships, cold-sleep or ramscoops.

  • 2001 A. Reynolds Chasm City 161 Alastair Reynolds

    Sky’s Edge, of course, was another case entirely. It was the only world that had ever been settled by generation ship. There were some mistakes you didn’t make twice.

  • 2002 U. K. Le Guin Birthday of World Foreword p. xiii, Ursula K. Le Guin

    In this version of it, Earth sends forth ships to the stars at speeds that are, according to our present knowledge, more or less realistic, at least potentially attainable. Such a ship takes decades, centuries, to get where it’s going. No Warp Nine, no time-dilation—just real time. In other words, this is a generation-ship story.

  • 2008 ‘J. Stoddard’ Far Horizon in Interzone (#214) Feb. 26/2 page image Jason Stoddard bibliography

    Even if most had left, there would be ones who remained behind. Humanity never thought with a single mind. And if they had left on generation ships, there would be those who turned around and came back.

Research requirements

antedating 1955

Earliest cite

E.C. Tubb, 'Star Ship'

Research History
Eva Snyder submitted a 1965 cite from Delany's "The Ballad of Beta-2" for the form "generation ship". However, the actual form used was "remaining-generation-ships", and Jeff Prucher verified that this form has persisted into later reprints, which makes the cite less useful.
Edward Bornstein submitted a cite for the form "generation ship" from a 1990 reprint of Steve Jackson and William Barton's "GURPS SPACE".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 2002 cite for the form "generation-ship" from Ursula Le Guin's "The Birthday of the World and Other Stories".
Katrina Campbell submitted a cite for the form "generation ship" from a 1992 reprint of Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye's "The Death of Sleep".
Katrina Campbell submitted a cite from a 1979 reprint of Brian Ash's "Who's Who in Science Fiction"; Mike Christie checked the 1976 first edition and the term does not appear there. Eddie Janusz subsequently located the cite in a 1977 edition.
Mike Stone suggested and Fred Galvin submitted a 1957 cite for the form "generations-ship" from the introduction (presumably by Anthony Boucher) to Chad Oliver's story "The Wind Blows Free" in F&SF.
Fred Galvin submitted a cite from a 1979 reprint of Iain Nicolson's "The Road to the Stars".
Jeff Prucher submitted a cite from an article by Peter Nicholls in a reprinted edition of the Clute/Nicholls' Encyclopedia of SF; Mike Christie verified the cite in the 1993 first edition.
Fred Galvin submitted a 1956 cite from E.C. Tubb's "The Space-Born"; Mike Christie verified the cite in the 1955 first appearance under the title "Star Ship".

Last modified 2020-12-20 19:55:15
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.