This was an extremely interesting book. A generation ship suffers a major plague, and the resulting society changes, to the point where the descendants of the original crew lack the technology to even be certain that they’re on a ship; or, if they do realize this, they think that all worlds are ships. The protagonist, Roy Complain, is dissatisfied with his simple hunter’s existence in the forests of the “ponics,” so he sets out on a quest to find out what’s really going on. And the answer is amazing. But time is short to solve the mysteries, because the ship is breaking down.
Previous generations of readers might have remarked how the ship society has “descended into barbarism.” Don’t make that mistake. I don’t want to spoil the book any further than that (understanding they’re on a ship already spoils part of the surprise, but I felt that was already clear in book descriptions and other reviews, so I felt it was okay to mention) but Aldiss actually has a lot to say in this book about human ingenuity, the tragedy of the short human lifespan, and Colonialism, especially as applied to anthropology, which is a subject that I think we should really examine. So much of modern anthropology and psychology is based in Colonialist assumptions that I believe we should really unpack if they’re going to continue to serve humanity in any useful way. I don’t know that previous generations of readers caught this element, but I have no doubt in my mind that Aldiss clearly intended to send that message.
Once again, this book is hampered by a pervasive sexism that’s reflective of the time in which it was written (first publication 1958,) which gets really old; and yet, I still recommend it because of the questions it asks, and attempts to answer.