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Brian W. Aldiss
Orion Millennium, 244 pages

Fred Gambino
Brian W. Aldiss
Brian W. Aldiss was born in 1925 in the UK. He grew up in rural Norfolk and Devon, the son of a department store owner. He served 3 years in Burma and Asia with the Forgotten Army. This part of the world was later to become quite influential on his work. Having played a seminal role in SF's New Wave in the 60s, he is now considered by many to be the elder statesman of UK SF.

Brian W. Aldiss Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Twinkling of an Eye, or, My Life as an Englishman

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

One of the good SF authors whose work I haven't read as widely as I ought is Brian Aldiss. But for those like me who haven't seen his earlier novels, help is on the way. Millennium's SF Masterworks series includes a re-release of his well-known 1958 novel, Non-Stop, which was given the rather less inspiring title Starship in the U.S.  Non-Stop is a generation ship novel, in some ways a reaction against some earlier generation ship books. (Perhaps most obviously Heinlein's Orphans in the Sky, the book version of which was published after the Aldiss novel, but which was composed of two Astounding novellas from the 40s, "Universe" and "Common Sense.")

The idea is that the generation ship has broken down. After hundreds of years, most of the inhabitants have forgotten even that they are on a ship. They live nasty, brutish and short lives in the corridors of the ship, amid a tangle of hydroponics. Their emotional lives seem stunted; their physical lives dangerous. The viewpoint character is Roy Complain, a hunter of the tribe of Greene, who lives according to the brutal "Teachings," which valorize egotism and violence. Complain is recruited by a "priest" named Marapper to join a band of five people in a journey to "Forwards," the front of the ship (as the priest assures them it really is), to find the "control room." Their journey is full of incident: battles with evolved rats and with "Giants" and with the mysterious "outsiders"; discovery of the "swimming pool"; encounters with weightlessness. Eventually they find the comparatively civilized "Forwards" section. Then revelations start to move faster, spurred by the discovery of a diary from one of the original ship Captains. The climax is action-filled, leading to a final revelation that changes our entire understanding of the book.

The structure is typical of what Peter Nicholls in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia calls "conceptual breakthrough" stories. This one is impressive because Aldiss, knowing that the reader knows the fundamental element the main character doesn't know from the beginning, still manages a continuing series of surprises, an increasing sense of revelation, and manages to make the surprises and the ultimate "truth" thematically worthwhile.

For this edition Aldiss has made a number of minor revisions. As he writes:

"The adventure remains the same.... Only a few words have been changed. But of course words make all the difference."
I've checked out a few of the changes against my copy of the American edition (including a change in the very last sentence), and I think the changes are improvements which don't alter the fundamental feel of the book.

Aldiss rings several clever changes on the general concept of the generation ship. The book is full of revelations, some expected by the experienced reader, some quite surprising. By and large, it's a worthwhile and original novel, though there are weaknesses. The opening sections, despite a fair amount of action, drag a bit. The closing sections move very quickly, but partly this movement is propelled by some plot silliness (a hard-to-believe, and late-introduced, love story, Complain getting accepted into Forwards society too easily, and some silly biology to drive the critical crisis that first caused the ship's problem, and which then leads to the moving final situation).

Still, in the context of 50s SF, the scientific silliness is pretty much par for the course, and it's used in the service of a striking and rather bitter conclusion. It's definitely early Aldiss, and by no means his best work, but Non-Stop is nonetheless worth reading, and quite a significant contribution to the long SF history of generation ship novels.

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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