Thursday, 28 October 2010

Long Sun Whorl spotted on Andromeda

I have a love / hate relationship with Andromeda (2000-2005). I think it's that some of the characters (Trance and Rommie) are fantastic, while others are infuriatingly annoying (Hunt and Tyr), and the writing quality really fluctuates. Although it could be as simple as: love Lexa Doig / hate Kevin Sorbo (to be fair, it's his character that I find repulsive and creepy, not necessarily the actor himself).

Anyway, I've been watching through the entire series on DVD with my wife, and the other night we came to the final episodes of season four: "The Dissonant Interval" parts one and two. In these episodes I was pleasantly surprised to find a cylindrical generation starship called the Arkology, which was remarkably similar to the Whorl described by Gene Wolfe in The Book of the Long Sun.

Sometimes the show's special effects can be pretty good (that is, when I'm not shouting: "They've recycled that footage like a hundred times already!") and I think they pulled off the long sun thing quite well:

Telemachus and Louisa watch the long sun set
There were, of course, some major differences between the generation starship on Andromeda and the one described by Wolfe. The Arkology, for instance, was not made out of a hollowed-out asteroid, although it is attached to an asteroid at one end, which it harvests for raw minerals. The main body of Arkology's cylinder does rotate, but I don't believe it is connected to the ship's gravity emulation, which seemed to be based on the same mysterious and unnamed technology as the other ships in the series (this, of course, makes you wonder why the cylinder rotates at all, if not to create a gravity-like effect from centripetal forces). The scale of the ship was also much smaller than that of Wolfe's Whorl, and unlike the Whorl's long sun, which simulates day and night by rotating a "shade" over part of the sun, the sun of the Arkology narrows to a thin beam at night.

External view of the Arkology generation starship
Andromeda's depiction of a cylindrical generation starship illuminated and heated by a long beam of light, with people living on the inner surface of the hollow ship, got me wondering what other sf has described starships with "long suns" like that of Wolfe's Whorl. There were certainly none described in any of the other generation starship stories I read recently.

Does anyone know of any other TV shows, films or novels that describe cylindrical starships with long suns? Or was Wolfe the first?

Images from the Andromeda season four DVDs, available, for those in Australia, from EzyDVD and JB Hi-Fi, with the complete series coming in December 2010. They are reproduced here solely for the purposes of criticism and research (fair use).



  1. Nice find! I vaguely remember that episode.

    As far as other Whorl-like generation starships, the only one that comes to mind (besides that Star Trek episode, you know the one) is in Greg Bear's _Eon_ novel. (It also had a sequel called _Eternity_.) _Eon_ had a hollowed-out asteroid, but after a generation or two the inhabitants developed some kind of tesseract-like thing to increase the cylindrical space inside the asteroid ad infinitum. Not really plausible. I can't recall whether it had a "long sun" or not.

    Maybe "Babylon 5". You don't often see the large, open cylindrical space, but it had one. They only showed it in a couple episodes, as I recall. I think it had a subway or tram going down the middle instead of a "long sun" though. I don't recall how they simulated sunlight on Babylon 5.

    P.S. Congratulations on completing your thesis!

  2. The Whorl borrow's very heavily on Arthur C Clark's Rama

  3. Hey there,

    if you are interested in this: At the moment I gather as many book- and story-titles about generation-spaceships as possible, because I want to write "my own" tale about one such device. On Goodreads - dot - com I have established a booklist with nearly 30 booktitles you might be interested in looking at; all those booktitles are about novels, stories, narrations that were published during the last 70 years and which are about generation-starships.

    Best wishes!