I’m going to try and restrain my strong desire to be nitpicky with this book. I’m coming hot off of finishing it, and let’s just say I very much disliked this novel. I haven’t read Mammay’s previous work, constantly putting it off for one reason or another. But I am like a smaller celestial body to a larger one when it comes to the generation ship sub genre. I’m a sucker, folks, and while I don’t like that about myself, I have embraced it. Generation Ship, by Michael Mammay, is a drawn-out saga of a book that accomplishes very little despite its six hundred page heft. Much like the book title, it feels uninspired.
Two hundred days left until this two hundred fifty year journey will be over. A planet is out there waiting to be colonized, and excitement is high. However, the probes dispatched to survey the planet are not responding, and the governor wants to keep that information under wraps. A woman who was to show up to be recycled on her seventy-fifth birthday refuses her duty, and is accidentally killed by a cop. A hacker discovers the probes’ data and sells it on the black market leading to a concerned public. And a measly farmer somehow gets wrapped up in the life extension movement to remove the seventy five year cap. But all the while, the ship approaches the planet, and no one knows what is going to happen next.
I didn’t like much about this book, so I’m going to rip that adhesive medical strip right off. While the ending was a bit of a let down generally, I did like the attempt to tie together some themes that the book was playing with. They weren’t particularly fleshed out until the final chapters, but I think they could have been very strong had they been more carefully integrated throughout the story. I wanted to really highlight that despite being frustrated on the whole, I was able to appreciate something that is near and dear to me before I turn on my critical thinking circuits.
A lot of the problems are rooted within the characters. Mammay has five perspective characters, each with a job title and a specific role within the story. There is a clear attempt to provide a shifting balance as each character has varying interests “related” to their department within the ship. The first issue is that no one seemed to be tied to their department in a personal, let alone an ideological way. They have no major concerns beyond just being able to exist (which, honestly, is relatable), except for the scientist. It doesn’t really allow for any sort of drama to build. This is exacerbated by the fact that all five characters have a similar voice. This not only hurt dialogues between the different perspective characters, it just added a leveled blandness to every interaction.
Every conflict was framed in the same way. Not only in the flow of each chapter, but in how each character approached their problems. Every chapter starts with the POV character learning of the consequences of the previous chapter, serving as a recap of the previous chapter. They then spend the second half reacting to the news of the first half. It leads to a colossal amount of repeat information through tedious dialogue sequences. The reactions often had one of two endings; a master plan to assert dominance that inevitably crumbles at the turn of a page, or an existential worry that the character won’t be able to keep up with the times that never really comes to bite them in the ass. Every character also approaches the problems the same way, get mine. The hacker is the only one who has a different flavor to their self-interested approach, but that’s just because they do computer stuff. Everyone just sort of magically wills their plan into being by speaking it at the end of the chapter. The reader is left to wonder about the nuts and bolts. There is no tension about their plan not actually working if the narrative skips a few days with a separate character being like “I can’t believe they did this.”
Ultimately, a lot of the conflicts that appear in the book are just unrelated to the individual POV journeys. Most of the main characters were barely tangentially related to issues that were being discussed. Political movements sprang up out of nowhere(sometimes implied to be psyops), and yes, the characters had to deal with the consequences but even that was background noise. Instead of long-standing issues coming to head with the arrival, the characters were playing a shortsighted and petty game of whack-a-mole with each other. Nothing major happens on the page within the view of the characters, or because of the characters’ actual actions. Instead, background problems are sometimes solved by creating a new character in the moment to pin the problem on. It lacked any sort of tension to find out Johnny Standin was the bad guy all along. And this infected everything within the book, diluting already vague themes, and ushering in the climax with a wet fart.
If I wanted to read a book about barely two dimensional office workers who are bored and spend their days being petty to their coworkers, I would have found that book. Instead, they are traveling between the stars, stirring up shit for no reason. I like books about unlikeable people, doing mean things in service to some perceived grand plan, or even chaos. But here it’s just to have a one up on someone. If the point was to highlight the pettiness of humanity and callout the lack of foresight, it still fails to really crystallize it as the point. One of the ideas I did end up liking near the end of the book would have even played second fiddle to the idea had both been better fleshed out. Instead, it’s just dumb mean people being dumb and mean to create the illusion of conflict so they can move onto the next thing. In the end, the lack of an actual history of the two hundred fifty years prior to the events within the book mirrors the complete lack of a future.
There are a lot of other issues with the book that I could do a deep dive into but I don’t feel it’s necessary. I didn’t even get into the role of the military as a neutral observer, and boy oh boy, do I have feelings. The lack of detail can be applied to pretty much every aspect of the book: the setting, the characters, the goals, the themes, the dialogue, the internal thoughts and feelings. The book reads like content. And I am not content.
Rating: Generation Ship – Skip this voyage.
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.