Let the Sun Fade Out to a Dark Sky

Escaping Exodus — Nicky Drayden

Escaping Exodus

Nicky Drayden’s 2019 Escaping Exodus is a standalone SF novel.

Seske Kaleigh was born to become the leader of her spacefaring community. Becoming a leader involves onerous education and personal sacrifice. Seske would far rather spend her time having adventures with her lower-class crush, Adalla.

Seske’s culture is trapped on the edge of survival. Allowing Seske to follow her heart is not in the cards.

In the distant past, a flotilla of generation ships escaped from dying Earth to find a new home in another star system. The fleet arrived to discover that the world it had hoped would be a new home was not habitable. The system was home to a pod of enormous spacefaring beasts. Rather than take the risk of a second interstellar voyage, many of the ships (including the one in which Seske’s ancestors lived) burrowed into the beasts. They would live as parasites within the unfortunate creatures.

Human occupation is hard on the beasts. Seske’s people are particularly demanding. As a consequence, their beasts die after a decade or so, forcing the humans to migrate to another host. As the book opens, Seske’s people have just migrated to a new beast.

Seske’s life is transformed when she has her first period. This marks her entry into adulthood, when her duty to the community requires that she set aside childish crushes and find suitable spouses, women and men, for a person of rank like herself. This is an unwelcome disruption, but her Matris will brook no disobedience. The ship is danger. All must pull together.

Seske’s Matris suddenly dies. Managing the ongoing crisis falls to unprepared Seske.

Adalla, meanwhile, is learning more about her society than she ever wanted to know. A grim revelation leads to determination. Injustice is intolerable. Society must be reformed. Laudable idealism indeed … but it sets Adalla against her former girlfriend.


Apparently this is Generation Ship Week at James Nicoll Reviews!

Yes, I am still skeptical that a dying world could produce a flotilla of generation ships. Also, there aren’t any nearby star systems that would meet the needs of the plot (needs about which I will be mum because spoiler).

Unlike other SF settings I could mention, settings in which it seems that every colony was settled in the recent past from Southern California, or where, despite the passage of more time since the invention of beer, all of the character names could come from a 1950s era Wilmot County phone book, Drayden’s future societies differ dramatically from that of the author’s birth. Not only that … there’s not just one society, but several. Seske’s culture is quite unlike 21st century North American culture. Their neighbours have adopted entirely different strategies for adapting to their present circumstances. None of these cultures strike me as pleasant places to live.

Drayden’s society is arguably just as or perhaps even more nasty than the one featured in another recent review, of Devenport’s Medusa Uploaded. Both feature highly regimented societies in which the lower orders face brutal punishments for minor crimes (one family’s lineage is destroyed to punish minor tardiness, for example). Devenport’s Executives may kill on a whim. There is a whole category of labourer in Drayden’s book who live to be liquidated as soon as their usefulness runs out. Where the settings differ is that Seske’s society lives by rule of law, not whim, and that Seske’s people are desperately poor. Neither setting is one in which one would want to live.

Escaping Exodus shows what happens when we ignore long-term consequences in order to meet pressing short-term needs. Parasitizing the beasts bought the ships survival time. Exploiting the beasts in the manner they do1 means consuming a potentially renewable resource far more quickly than it can be renewed. A perfectly reasonable choice for the first generation. Not so good from the perspective of the people who are handed the bill….

All of which sounds like this should be yet another noir-ish novel about unlikable people murdering other unlikable people whilst enslaving still other people who would likely be just as bad if they ever got the whip hand. Drayden gives us a cast of sympathetic people doing terrible things because they have convinced themselves that these are the least bad choices available. I cared about what happened to them. I’m looking forward to Drayden’s next novel.

Escaping Exodus is available here (Amazon) here (Amazon.ca) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: From the perspective of the starbeasts, this is a horror novel in which an ancient and potentially long-lived species finds itself overwhelmed by a fatal infestation.


  • DP

    Sounds interesting, anyway. I will have to take a look. Generation ships developing highly regimented cultures certainly seems more plausible then forgetting who they are and turning barbarians.

    Fleets of generation ships at a better plan than individual ones, though do produce extra failure models of their own. Has there ever been a semi-serious design study of what a generation ship spacecraft might actually look like? I am very skeptical that you could simultaneously create the popular sort of "big L5 colony in space" design (with necessary radiation shielding, reaction mass, etc.) even if you solve the eco-engineering problems, without the ship being so massive that your maximum delta-V would leave you crawling along at a rate that would take many tens of thousands of years to hit a nearby star even assuming 100,000-Isp fusion rockets or the like.

    The "leave a dying earth to settle a new solar system" trope does not really work for me if you are assuming technology that requires generation ships rather than magic FTL. If you have life support and ecosystem technology that will make generation ships survivable, staying put and using that tech to survive, or build a habitat, should be easier still. Even ravaged by global warming, nuclear war, or whatever, Earth is likely nicer than what you might find, plus full of salvageable human ruins.

  • Rose Embolism

    I agree. The resources and durable life support that would allow an interstellar voyage of decades or cen

  • (sorry about that, there was an interface error)

    I agree. The resources and durable life support that would allow an interstellar voyage of decades or centuries would allow for even longer-term survival in the solar system.

    • Robert Carnegie

      So, perhaps the book doesn't play it this way, maybe the sun goes wrong? Or it's another "lie to the generation ship descendants about why they're on a generation ship" story.

      Sometimes it's political. Dying earth ecology, my foot. There's a James White novel - cold-sleep, I think, not generation ship - where they left because of gun nuts. And David Gerrold's "Lost Cometary Colony" was running from creditors.

      • DP

        Cold sleep (or some other medical means of longevity) seems more plausible. Sure, if the sun is going wrong or some other sol system-spanning threat, you would have to leave by any means necessary. Likewise if there are bad people or constructs (AIs, whatever) you need to escape from. (Though one has to be careful with a scenario where you are powerful enough to build a huge generation starship but not powerful enough to use the resources to win your conflict, especially when you consider he Kzinti lesson. Though perhaps it's a peace treaty sort of thing: "you folks get to leave, and we'll keep the solar system"). Religious or equivalent motivation might also be enough to spur a megaproject and find people willing to risk their lives aboard it

  • Default User

    The novel Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter has a generation ship populated by clones of various talented scientists and engineers. They keep making and raising/training new clones as the years go by. The mission is not to escape Earth or even colonize, it's to perform scientific investigation on a strange object far away. They don't exactly travel STL, but the travel method still takes many generations to get there.

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