The Big Idea: Michael Mammay
People are people and they will do what people will do — but would a change in circumstance and environment change that, for better… or worse? This is the question Michael Mammay confronts in the Big Idea for his novel Generation Ship.
I’ve had the idea for Generation Ship since 2018 when I was at Launch Pad (sponsored by SFWA) studying space with some college professors. Most notable of those was the class we had on telescopes, which led me to the realization that in a hundred years, telescope technology might be such that we could know a lot more about planets around distant stars.
But I wasn’t ready to write the book at the time. I didn’t have the skill set to bring it together the way I wanted. And while the premise of the book—a generation ship that left earth 250 years ago reaching its destination planet—didn’t change, the big idea for it did.
There’s this myth that most of us probably used to believe that if we as a society ever faced something truly life-altering, that we’d come together and form a united front to deal with it. You see it in a lot of SF movies. Take Independence Day, for example. We all get together and fight the evil aliens.
I think it’s safe to say that the last decade has put the lie to that myth.
Is there anything that we would universally come together about? Even if we could agree as a society what right was (we can’t) we’d still have infighting about how to achieve it. People would war over who got credit and proclaim that their opponents never truly wanted to do the thing.
That’s the Big Idea of Generation Ship. After 250 years and a dozen generations on the same ship, the 18,000-person crew is facing the thing that they all set out to do so many years ago. It should be a great moment where they all come together. They don’t.
Maybe the original crew were true believers in the cause. Ship history certainly portrays them that way. But they’ve been dead for centuries, and the crew now has a variety of ideas, and not all of them are in line with the laws set down so long ago. Vocal minorities across the ship push radical agendas, and while they don’t always represent the population as a whole, they fight to sway public opinion which is as fickle as public opinion has always been.
The governor wants to push ahead with a quick colonization, and he’s willing to use the full weight of the ship’s ancient Charter and all sorts of political maneuvers to make that happen. A scientist wants more time to study the anomalies that they’ve detected so that they can make better decisions before rushing into things. A crime ringleader doesn’t care who gets their way as long as he can turn a profit. A security officer sees it as an opportunity for personal advancement. An agricultural specialist and a coder want to keep their heads down and just live life, but the coming storm sweeps up unwilling participants right along with the willing.
I’ve always liked political maneuvering, and the opportunity to set it in a closed-ship environment just added to it. I love Battlestar Galactica and CJ Cherryh and Arkady Martine, and with Generation Ship I tried to take political elements that I love and put them into a more earth-centered environment. None of the crew of the generation ship ever stood on earth, but they’re all from there, and they’ve packed along a lot of earth baggage for the journey. I think it’s fair to warn the reader that they’re probably not going to like all the characters. They’re far too human for that.