Interstellar Travel and Multi-Generational Space Ships CoverInterstellar Travel and Multi-Generational Space Ships
Edited by Yoji Kondo, Frederick Bruhweiler, John Moore and Charles Sheffield
Ontario: Apogee Books, 2003
A review
by Colleen R. Cahill
February, 2005

There is no more common theme in science fiction than mankind reaching out to the stars. From Arthur C. Clarke to Greg Benford, authors have written about the adventure of voyaging to new worlds. But how much of this is real science and how much is the author’s imagination? A new collection of essays from a symposium held in Boston in 2002 explores answers to these questions and to many more. For science fiction fans, Interstellar Travel and Multi-Generation Space Ships is a nonfiction work that helps bring their genre reading to life.

This work has a list of impressive contributors: all have a background in science and many are also published science fiction writers. Two of these distinguished authors were Charles Sheffield and Robert Forward, both of whom passed away in 2002 after the Boston symposium. The book is finely edited by several authors and scientists and broken into three sections: physical sciences and technology; anthropology, genetics and linguistics; and alien life.

In the overview, Yoji Kondo, who writes under the pen name Eric Kotani, gives a status of interstellar travel and sets up the biggest question of why we should want to travel to other planets. Then Charles Sheffield presents a fascinating history of man’s dream of traveling to space, starting in the year 1600 and leading to the present day. Robert Forward discusses what it will take to travel between the stars, presenting problems and some possible solutions. In a related theme, Hugo award winner Geoffrey Landis talks about what propulsion methods might be used for such a trip. Noted authors Joe Haldeman and Doug Beason both submit reasons why humans should go into space, something many fictional works take for granted, but in real life this cannot be overlooked.

Nor are the passengers of these ships overlooked. Anthropologists John Moore and Dennis O’Rourke deal with the issues of kinship and genetics and what effect the long travel will have on people, while linguist Sarah Thomason shows that language will also be an issue, as an interstellar flight could be hundreds of years. And finally, Freeman Dyson delivers an interesting essay on why planets might not be the only place to look for life as he proposes a new method to search for extraterrestrial beings.

This book has lots of intriguing ideas in a very compact work of 125 pages, with articles that are aimed at laymen like you and me, not the scientific community. The combination of science knowledge and writing skills of the contributors creates a very readable book with great substance and depth. For those who enjoy science fiction, this work is a great reference, one that will inform and inspire, exploring the dream of journeys into space.