Generation Ship by Michael Mammay is a riveting interstellar epic

Generation Ship by Michael Mammay. Cover image courtesy of Harper Voyager.
Generation Ship by Michael Mammay. Cover image courtesy of Harper Voyager. /

Science fiction author Michael Mammay is best known for his Planetside series, which follows retired space military officer Carl Butler as he solves various high stakes mysteries. But with his latest book, Mammay is doing something a bit different. Generation Ship is a sprawling standalone sci-fi epic with a large cast and intricate sociopolitical intrigue, set aboard a colony ship which is finally nearing its destination after a centuries-long journey. It’s an ambitious book that is perfect for fans of series like Battlestar Galactica or The Expanse.

Read on for our full review of Generation Ship. Beyond some basic set up, we’ll be keeping the spoilers to a minimum.

Generation Ship by Michael Mammay. Image courtesy of Harper Voyager.
Generation Ship by Michael Mammay. Image courtesy of Harper Voyager. /

Book review: Generation Ship by Michael Mammay

After more than 200 years traveling through space, the generation ship Voyager is finally nearing Promissa, a planet humanity hopes to colonize in order to expand beyond its Earthly borders. But the rub is that humanity brought all its issues with it into space. While the Voyager has a unified goal, everyone has their own opinions about how best to execute it. As the titular generation ship nears its destination, various factions on the ship start pressing their own agendas, and things get very interesting very fast.

Should science prevail and inform how the ship approaches Promissa? You’d think so, but that wouldn’t be taking into account the tenuous political situation, or the feelings of the general populace. Harsh, long-standing rules which have applied for centuries in the name of conserving resources suddenly make less sense when you’re less than a year away from having a new planet to call your own. Or do they, when so many details about the planet’s surface can’t be ascertained until the ship actually arrives?

A highlight of Generation Ship is how Mammay carefully builds the idea that the generation ship itself has developed an extremely unique and needs-driven culture. This isn’t the sort of sci-fi where people are frozen in cryo and then just conveniently wake up when they get to their destination. Instead, everything about the ship has evolved around the idea of keeping things running, from the way people are assigned jobs to how they are required to get a certain amount of exercise in order to be able to do those jobs, to things like mandatory euthanasia once you hit a certain age in order to free up resources for the next generation. What Mammay does with the ship culture is fascinating, and it’s very clear that a lot of research and imagination went into it.

Generation Ship is a sprawling novel that feels real

Michael Mammay’s previous novels were very tightly focused. The Planetside series is told exclusively through Carl Butler’s point of view, while last year’s standalone The Misfit Soldier focused on a crack team trying to pull off a dangerous heist. Mammay has upped his game with Generation Ship. The book follows five point-of-view characters, each with their own loyalties and distinctive personalities. From a hacker with a prodigious affinity for the generation ship’s systems to a farmer thrust into a complicated union movement to the ship’s governor and its head scientist, the story is told from many different angles.

What really makes these viewpoint characters sing is how much they feel like people. There are no moustache-twirling villains or flawless paragons in Generation Ship. Every character has flaws as well as virtues, even if some frequently commit reprehensible acts. This works so well for the type of story that Generation Ship tells, where the disparate priorities of those in power aboard the ship cause far more problems than the actual dangers of space travel. The characters and various factions leave a large impression.

It also means that all that research and imagination that went into building the ship’s culture pays off when the screws start to tighten on the plot. This is a very well-realized sci-fi world, except that world is confined to a centuries-old ship. There were times that I wished there was a bit more visual description of the ship’s interior, but it’s more than made up for by how detailed the story gets on the societal level.

The timeframe of Generation Ship is another thing which deserves a shoutout. Each chapter begins with a marker that shows how the time is counting down to the Voyager’s imminent arrival at Promissa. I found this to be an extremely effective storytelling mechanism; there were times I gasped simply seeing time jumps in the chapter headers. Mammay makes interesting choices about what to highlight and what to skip on the journey to Promissa; at times it’s easy to see something coming, and at others the twists and turns left me in the best sort of shock. Always, it kept me glued to the page.

By leaning on this descending timeframe and sizable pool of POV characters, Generation Ship retains great pacing despite its length. This is a long book, but every page is used to maximum effect. The book’s final leg in particular dials up the sci-fi weirdness in a way that reminded me of the works of David Brinn, asking big questions about spacefaring society and sentience. I do wish the final couple of chapters had taken just a smidge more time; the novel’s climactic section is so good that I wanted just a little more time to process it as everything wrapped up.

All told, Generation Ship is an extremely memorable and compelling read. Science fiction stories of the heady, contemplative variety can sometimes lose the plot a bit, but Mammay’s skill at crafting snappy books keeps things firmly on the rails. The result is a novel which combines the style of a vast saga with the deeply personal insights of a thriller and the thoughtful introspection of hard sci-fi stories.


Michael Mammay set out to do something very different from his previous works with Generation Ship, and totally succeeded in crafting a riveting epic. With complex interstellar politics, fully realized characters and a unique ship-bound culture, it’s a story that strikes a difficult balance between the familiarity of home and the strangeness of space exploration. Generation Ship is an excellent science fiction novel that I’m eager to one day revisit. If you’ve been missing The Expanse, you don’t want to sleep on this one.

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