The first fictional depictions of the generation ship are, so far as I can ascertain, Don Wilcox's "The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years" (Amazing Stories, October 1940), and Robert A. Heinlein's "Universe" and its sequel "Common Sense" (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1941 and October 1941 respectively, collected together as Orphans of the Sky in 1963). These were followed by many other science fiction stories centred around the 'trope' of the generation ship, including Brian W. Aldiss's Non-Stop (aka Starship) (1958), the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" (1968), Harry Harrison's Captive Universe (1969), and the short-lived 1973 Canadian science fiction series The Starlost. More recently, Elizabeth Bear has taken up the concept in her Jacob's Lader Trilogy (2007-ongoing).
The generation ship of Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun, called the Whorl, is a hollowed out asteroid, outfitted with life-support systems and a propulsion system. According to this website, the "hollowed asteroid generation ship" has also been used in Greg Bear's Eon (1985), Gregory Benford and David Brin's Heart of the Comet (1986), and the Star Trek episode mentioned above.
A hollowed asteroid generation ship. http://www.weirdwarp.com/tag/neo/
Related to the generation ship is the sleeper ship, which transports people over great distances by placing them in a kind of cryogenic sleep or stasis. I think that these are a more common science fiction trope than the generation ship, since it allows authors to avoid their characters aging during interstellar travel (the alternative, of course, is to have faster than light travel). Wolfe's Whorl would also classify as a Sleeper Ship, since in addition to the human beings living within the hollowed asteroid (the "cargo" of the Whorl), there are also thousands of people being transported in stasis (called "sleepers").
It seems that a lot of thought has gone in to generation ships, and their feasibility as a form of interstellar transportation:
- According to a 2002 article in New Scientist magazine, scientists have determined that 160 people would be required to board a generational ship in order to create a sustainable population.
- An essay at strangepaths.com examines the physics and philosophy of interstellar arks and generational ships.
- A Strange Horizons article looks at different possibilities for interstellar travel, including generation ships and sleeper ships.
- An article on Weird Warp looks as the benefits of using a hollowed asteroid as a generation ship.
I shall have to find a way to incorporate this into my thesis. Perhaps instead of writing on the role of the priest -protagonist in science fiction in general, and dedicating one chapter (of three) to Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun, I will instead focus entirely on the relationship between empiricism and transcendence in the text, dedicating one chapter to Patera Silk as Wolfe's unique utilisation of the priestly character to affirm the existence of a transcendent God.