Starship: vehicle for an unexceptional story

I just finished Starship by Brian Aldiss (published in 1958 and known as Non-Stop in the UK), and I just can’t find a whole lot to say about it. It neither impressed me with greatness nor offended me with shabbiness. It was passable, serviceable, tolerable, but nothing more.

The basic plot device is intriguing enough. It’s about a group of primitive people who are descended from the crew of a colony starship that takes generations to make its journey (it’s on the return trip home). Somewhere along the way something goes wrong, and these descendants lose all knowledge of where or who they are. Their entire world consists of rooms and corridors, but they have no idea all this is contained within a vessel moving between the stars; they think the metal walls around them are the natural world.

That’s a fascinating concept to work from, but Aldiss doesn’t seem to make the best use of it. Before I even started reading the book, I was expecting a big payoff at the end, a big awe-inspiring moment when the characters finally discovered the truth and had their minds blown away. But that was pretty much ruined by the fact that some of them already had some idea of what was going on, even very early in the book; and even those who didn’t have a clue didn’t seem appropriately awed when they finally found themselves gazing upon the stars.

In addition to that problem, Aldiss included some strange elements and plot choices that I didn’t much care for, and that didn’t add anything to the story as far as I could tell. For example, the intelligent rats and the telepathic rabbits and moths — too strange for my taste. Also, the people on the ship had gone through some odd changes during their descent from the original crew, and consequently they live four times faster than ordinary humans. This had something to do with why they couldn’t leave the ship after learning the truth; this wasn’t explained too well and seemed an ad hoc justification for keeping them where they were, which was necessary for the ending in which they all stress out and start tearing the ship apart.

Some of the characters were halfway interesting (but only some, and only halfway), and also some of the mythology they had built up over the generations. But there were some things that didn’t hold up well to logic and required quite a stretch to swallow. I also thought the overall writing style was a bit dry. All in all, a very unexceptionable novel.

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7 responses to “Starship: vehicle for an unexceptional story

  1. I really cannot stand Aldiss. He is a passable scholar, but as an author…..I don’t think Ive ever read anything by him that at the very best did not end on a dud, like this one. Graybeard is another example of a lame ending. I just read a short story him called The Night That All Time Broke Out. I finished it a week ago, but if I could get my hands on the book today I think I would throw it against a wall.

  2. crotchetyoldfan

    omg. lol

    I love that story.

    The darkened corridors overflowing with airplants run rampant…

  3. The whole point of the story is that the characters don’t know they’re on a generation starship… so re-titling the book STARSHIP was pretty brainless. It spoils the book.

    Aldiss has written some good stuff – and he’s written enough that you’re sure to find something you’ll like. I recommend SOMEWHERE EATS OF LIFE, EQUATOR and FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND.

  4. Thanks for the recommendations, Ian. It’s always possible I may try Aldiss again in the future, but not likely soon. Too many other authors out there to read, and many who have impressed me a lot more on first exposure than Aldiss did.

  5. I love that story.

    Which story? The Night That All Time Broke Out or Non-Stop?

  6. crotchetyoldfan

    lol – neither. I was referring to ‘Starship’

  7. Ah! Thanks. I thought that is what you meant with the language you quoted at the bottom, but I was not sure. FYI though, I think Non-Stop is the same thing as Starship. I’m not at all sure because until I read this review I had never heard of Non-Stop having this alternate title, but I think Non-Stop is the original UK title.

    Are you the guy who has site with all the classic TV programs and movies on it? That is a cool site.

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