Is it still "worldbuilding" on a space station?
December 18, 2014 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for science fiction with excellent worldbuilding surrounding a particular scenario: a population trapped in an enclosed environment that they can't leave for generations, so that they have to produce or reuse everything within that environment. Preferably something like a space station or a generation ship, but those details aren't required.

However! What I really want is something that looks closely at the ramifications of living in that kind of environment for a long period of time. Not just how do these people grow food, produce medicines, make new clothing, but how does their society change to adapt to the environment? What kind of customs, social mores, and religious practices grow out of it?

As long as there's a lot of good worldbuilding details and an interesting environment to explore, I don't much care what kind of story or characters go along with it. Honestly, I would be willing to read several hundred pages of worldbuilding alone, with minimal character or plot.

Can you recommend something?
posted by darchildre to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Hugh Howey's Wool series.

(It's not space station but otherwise fits, I think).

PS - the first in the series is available as a free ebook
posted by slipthought at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

You might enjoy Paradises Lost, the last short story inside Ursula Le Guin's Birthday of the World.
posted by oxisos at 1:53 PM on December 18, 2014

Starglass was the first thing that popped in my mind and just not because it is written by one of Metafilter's own.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:54 PM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding the Wool series.

Also, The City of Ember.
posted by gudrun at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Molly Gloss' The Dazzle of Day is about a generation ship full of Quakers. It is very much about the day-to-day life of travel and maintaining ship operations.

It's also marvelous, as just about everything Gloss writes is marvelous.
posted by suelac at 2:02 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Orphans of the Sky by Heinlein.
The film "Silent Running."
posted by jbickers at 2:04 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Both of Niven's Ringworld and Bowl of Heaven series both touch on these passingly. Sadly they unintentionally end up with both minimal character and plot.
posted by GuyZero at 2:07 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Ballad of Beta-2 by Delany is a pretty idiosyncratic take on the generation starship concept.
posted by octothorpe at 2:07 PM on December 18, 2014

I enjoyed Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds, which has a thread taking place on multi-generational cryogenic-transport ships.

But I really liked Peter Watts's short story The Island, which takes place on a relativistic stargate-laying ship. Available for free on his site. (PDF)
posted by XMLicious at 2:09 PM on December 18, 2014

Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun tetralogy is a good example of this, with the additional wrinkle that the inhabitants of the decaying generation ship no longer realize that they're on a generation ship and just think it's the whole universe. There's a particular focus on religion, as the main character is a priest.

It's Wolfe, so it's not what you would call an easy read by any stretch, and certainly is not free from characters and plot, but it's a great book.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:10 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, go buy a copy of very-old-school RPG Metamorphosis Alpha.
posted by GuyZero at 2:14 PM on December 18, 2014

Or buy The Starlost on DVD. Not much worldbuilding there sadly, but there is a backdrop of what you're looking for.
posted by GuyZero at 2:18 PM on December 18, 2014

It might not be exactly what you want, but Brian Aldiss' Total Environment might be interesting to you.
posted by doctor tough love at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2014

Wool for sure, and if you like that, follow up with the other Silo series books - Shift and then Dust, I think is the order.

There's some of this in Stephen Baxter's "Flood" and "Ark", but I seem to recall it's mixed in with some less enclosed-environment stuff, so I'm not sure how neatly that will suit your needs. Might be worth taking a look at, though.
posted by Stacey at 2:38 PM on December 18, 2014

Ursula Le Guin wrote a generation ship story called Paradises Lost that I am fond of. It's in the collection Birthday of the World and other stories.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:41 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember this YA novel The World Inside by
Robert Silverberg

posted by canoehead at 3:01 PM on December 18, 2014

The Dosadi Experiment by Frank Herbert features a population of humans and an alien species isolated on a narrow strip of land on an otherwise uninhabitable and inescapable planet. It shares some themes with Dune to do with the ramifications of a resilient population subjected to long-term hardship and abuses.
posted by ddbeck at 3:12 PM on December 18, 2014

Oh! Stacey mentioned Stephen Baxter - his book Raft probably qualifies. It has a kind of "YA" feel to it (and it would be a trip if it were made into a movie, although honestly the plot is kinda "meh"). The big attraction is reading about human survival in a universe where the force of gravity is one billion times stronger than in our universe.

(canoehead mentioned Silverberg's The World Inside as "YA"? I would class it more as "NSFW" - it's basically a world full of swingers (GRRM may have based the world S'uthlam in Tuf Voyaging on Silverberg's book) and as I recall it's somewhat graphic).
posted by doctor tough love at 4:33 PM on December 18, 2014

It was in our high school library - that must be why I remember it!
posted by canoehead at 5:05 PM on December 18, 2014

Definitely Wool and Starglass.
posted by librarina at 7:10 PM on December 18, 2014

Frank Herbert's Destination: Void starts with the crew of a ship that must produce artificial consciousness or die. The Pandora series which follows it, by Herbert and Bill Ransom, can also be considered 'confined population' books, although they are confined to a planet (a very hostile one). If you want excellent worldbuilding and a society changing to adapt, these have it.
posted by the big lizard at 7:23 PM on December 18, 2014

Seconding Orphans of the Sky - there's even an X-Minus-One radio play of it called Universe.
posted by AaronRaphael at 9:27 PM on December 18, 2014

It's short, and more fantasy horror than science fiction, but Jerome Bixby's 1953 classic "It's a Good Life" comes to mind. A rural '50s town is removed from the wider world by a temperamental toddler with godlike power over reality, and struggle to survive and maintain a fragile gift economy without inciting his dangerously unpredictable tantrums. I'm a huge SF fan and usually not too enamored with the style of mid-century fiction, but this story remains one of my all-time favorites -- its horror is so quietly haunting and understated, and it reads like it could have been written yesterday.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:35 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix is well worth checking out I reckon. It doesn't completely meet your requirements, because no-one is trapped anywhere as such, but if you want a hard sci-fi novel that's actually about the people, societies, rituals, cultures, language, etc. that emerge from generations of people living in long term space environments, then I don't think you'll find better. It's one part epic adventure, one part speculative sociology.
posted by iivix at 1:50 AM on December 19, 2014

Some of C.J. Cherryh's Union/Alliance books might fit the bill, particularly Downbelow Station and 40,000 in Gehenna.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:28 AM on December 19, 2014

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy might fit the bill.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 3:02 AM on December 19, 2014

Check out TVTrope's pages for Wall around the World, Domed Hometown and City in a Bottle for HEAPS of examples.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:43 AM on December 19, 2014

posted by whiterteeth at 6:29 AM on December 19, 2014

It's not really what you asked for, but I second Sterling's Schismatrix, for reasons iivix elucidated better than I will. (I'm possibly biased because it happens to be my favorite sf novel.)

Clarke's Rama series has a generation-ship scenario inside an O'Neill-type alien spacecraft. This is mostly in Garden of Rama, I think.

Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky features a trading ship marooned for decades.

Snowpiercer is definitely the winner for this in the "film" category.
posted by neckro23 at 7:05 AM on December 19, 2014

Seconding Arthur C Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama. Opinion is divided on the sequels but that first book is solid gold giant frickin' alien spaceship world building.
posted by Elfasi at 7:16 AM on December 19, 2014

Robert Reed's Marrow universe fits the bill, although I have only read the in-world short stories, not the novel. (I suspect they're better - Remoras is a beautiful little mindfuck about immortality and experience and privilege.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:20 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Online resources for studying genetics?   |   Nyakers gingersnaps locally Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.