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Literature: Great Ship

The Great Ship universe is a series of science fiction novels, novellas, and dozens of short stories, written by Robert Reed

In the distant future, an enormous ship larger than many worlds is discovered streaking towards the Milky Way at a third the speed of light. The near-immortal, TransHuman descendants of humanity are the first set foot on the enormous ship, and the first to claim it. The ancient reactors are warmed up, and life is nurtured inside the millions of enormous caverns inside the ship's hull. A burst from the moon-sized engines catapults the ship around a brown dwarf, setting it into the galactic plain, where humanity sells berths on the Great Ship in exchange for worlds, information, and technology. The nearly indestructible hyperfiber hull makes the Great Ship Nigh Invulnerable, a very desirable feature to the nearly immortal, fantastically rich sentient entities in the galaxy, who desire something safer than a planet to reside on. Technology, colonization rights, pledges of assistance, and information is sold for the right to reside on the Ship.Tens of thousands of species reside in the Great Ship, some interacting in the enormous cities and ports, others secluding themselves in distant caverns and empty fuel tanks.

The Great Ship universe is a fairly "hard" science fiction setting, as it eschews FTL travel and many other staples of standard Space Opera

The Great Ship series :

  • Novels:
    • Marrow (2000)
    • The Well of Stars (2004, sequel to Marrow)
    • The Memory of Sky (2014)
  • (Notable) Short stories and novellas:
    • Aeon's Child
    • Alone
    • Eater-Of-Bone
    • Marrow note 
    • Mere (Chapbook, 2004)
    • The Remoras
    • The Greatship (Short story collection containing most of the Great ship stories)

Marrow starts off several thousand years into the ship's voyage as Washen, one of the ship's high-ranking captains, receives a coded message to vanish along with every other important captain - as they are recalled into the core of the ship. Buried under the mass of granite and hyperfiber lies an entire planet inside the ship's core - Marrow - which is suspended in the center by enormous electromagnetic barriers. After a Space Elevator is lowered to the surface and an outpost is established, the electromagnic barriers strengthen to the point where the space elevator is crushed, stranding almost all important captains on the surface of what is essentially a Death World, forcing them to try and carve out a living and await rescue. But Marrow has strange effects on their children, and there's no sign of the rest of the ship even knowing they are missing...

The Well Of Stars takes place several hundred years after the events of Marrow - the Wayward mutiny has been crushed, but at a terrible cost, crippling the ship as it plunges into an abnormally dense and dark stellar nursery, the home of a species - or entity - that calls itself the Polypond. With no way to avoid the nebula, and with every surrounding civilization either revering the polypond or no longer existing, the captains brace for the worst.

Many of the short stories set in the Great Ship verse have a mix of action, mystery, with the occasional bit of Slice of Life for the immortal passengers.

Tropes featured in the Great Ship universe, and in the short stories:

  • Aerith and Bob: Some characters - primarily the older ones - have relatively normal names, such as Quee Lee. Younger characters have odder names, such as Washen. The youngest have especially odd names, such as "Promise" or "Till"
  • And I Must Scream: Mere starts with a child being kept barely alive (yet full conscious) through a 10,000 year voyage - most of which was spent screaming in pain and from insanity.
  • Alien Blood: Humanity has very dark, almost black blood. Orleans, a Remora, has black blood with the consistency of ketchup.
  • Alternate Universe: Hyperfiber is so strong because it spreads any impact or heat damage across thousands of dimensions. In a more straight example, The Tila from Mere have quantum structures in their brain that causes an "aura" around objects they see - which they interpret as glimpses of thousands of alternate realities.
  • Antimatter: Antimatter is a popular choice for ship propulsion, as ships using it need only very small amounts to accelerate extremely fast; Mere's scout ship in The Well of Stars uses a chunk of anti-iron slightly large than a thimble as propulsion. Marrow's containment fields are powered by a massive matter/anti-matter reactor buried in the core of the planet
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Hyperfiber, an insanely strong metal that's used on pretty much every starship in existence. The Great Ship itself is nigh-invincible thanks to being absolutely slathered in the stuff.
  • Apocalypse How: Mere ends with a binary star collapsing in on itself, wiping out all life in the system
  • Aura Vision: The Tila in Mere see faint auras around objects.
  • Auto Doc: Autodocs are primarily used for repairing mutated genes, rather than blunt trauma usually seen in other stories.
  • Big Dumb Object: The Great Ship. it is a starship the size of Jupiter, made of the highest grade hyperfiber. Discovered streaking towards the Milky Way at a third the speed of light by a human built probe, its origin is unknown (the area behind it is the emptiest part of the universe), it carries an entire world inside it, and it has tens of millions of caverns and fusion reactors all there to make the interior livable for almost any species. It may be as old as the universe, and one character suggested that it created the universe, or functions as a control center for it - the visible universe simply being another layer to the ship's hull.
  • Binary Suns: The Tila's solar system in Mere has two stars in decaying orbits around each other.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Harum-sacrums have two mouths: one for breathing and talking, one for eating.
  • Body Horror: Remoras are extremely disturbing. One of them is described as having photosensitive hairs in the pits of their eye sockets instead of regular eyes.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: Keyboards and such are almost never seen, as everything is done wirelessly
  • Brain Uploading: Almost all humans depicted have ceramic, artificial brains, which are nearly indestructible.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Averted. While it's not hard to get around, it's extremely dangerous - when you're moving at a significant percent of the speed of light, a few stray atoms of hydrogen can rip through your hyperfiber shield and annihilate your ship instantly; the dangers of interstellar travel is what makes the Great Ship such a popular destination, as the shallowest habitat in the Ship are buried under several kilometers of hyperfiber.
  • Cool Star Ship: The Great Ship.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: Averted. AIs in robotic bodies keep their "brain" in the chest.
  • Cyborg Helmsman: The Master Captain. While she still looks fairly human, she is far larger than a regular human to help disperse heat, and her skin is jam packed with computers, AI assistants, and communication systems to interface with the Great Ship
  • Death World: Marrow is a small world located inside the Ship's core. The planet is periodically allowed to expand and contract via massive magnetic fields, which combined with a matter/anti-matter reactor inside the planet makes the planet have massive eruptions and huge lava flows. The life on the planet is adapted to breed rapidly and thrives off eruptions. The air is tainted with heavy metals, and the planet is surrounded by massive magnetic fields which disrupt normal thought, causing anyone passing through them to go temporarily insane.
  • Electronic Eyes: Mere gets these in Mere, to see the world in a way similar to the Tila
  • Eternal English: English appears to have died out, but whatever has replaced it seems to be very static, courtesy of pretty much every speaker being effectively immortal. The only language drift would be caused by isolation due to all forms of travel and communication being slower-than-light.
  • Eye Scream: Mere in Mere carves out her own eyes with a knife.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Captains have a pretty elitist view of themselves and often express resentment and bigotry towards the many alien and transhuman races who live on the Great Ship.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Averted; FTL is completely impossible.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: The end of Mere has the Tila launching Mere (in a salvaged wreck) and their entire history and art, towards the Great Ship.
  • Genius Loci: The Great Ship has a "voice" spaced out at the beginning of some chapters in Marrow and The Well of Stars. However, it is never shown to interact with the passengers, except for Alone.
    • Gaians are entities that are effectively entire ecosystems - one Gaian covers an entire planet. Some are sentient, others are not.
  • Goal-Oriented Evolution: Remoras direct their mutations to be useful.
  • Godzilla Threshold: When the Polypond attacks in The Well Of Stars, the crew decides to activate the ship's engines. All of the engines, in an attempt to flee as fast as possible.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Mere spent ten thousand years in complete isolation inside a barely functioning ship. She is thoroughly insane when the ship crash lands on the Tila's planet.
  • Healing Factor: Humans and some other species have artificial "emergency genes", which will re-purpose matter in their body to heal wounds. The genes will keep on working until the only thing left is the brain - keep chopping off legs and arms and the genes will start re-purposing largely unneeded organs to regrow them. If deprived of food or water, the body will mummify itself.
  • Hollow World: The Great Ship, to an extent. It's the size of Jupiter, and full of billions of passageways and caverns. Inside the ship's hollow core is an entire world suspended by energy barriers.
  • Humans Are Special: While humanity is not particularly special normally, they control the Great Ship, making them the richest and most knowledgeable species in the galaxy.
  • Human Subspecies: The Remoras, which are the descendants of the crews sent to repair the hull of the Great Ship. They've been twisted by the hard radiation of empty space, and they actively cultivate their mutations.
  • Jerk Ass: Pamir.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty
  • Interspecies Romance: Considering that everyone is immortal they uh, experiment quite a lot.
  • In the Future, Humans Will Be One Race: The only character described as having a specific set of racial features is Quee Lee - who is the only character from old Earth.
  • Large and in Charge: The Master captain. Due to a huge amount of implants, she is packed with different methods of dissipating the implants' heat - which causes her to be very large.
  • Lost Colony: In Eater-Of-Bone, a colony ship was catastrophically damaged and flung off of its trajectory, sending it towards one of the lone stars at the periphery of the Milky Way. The nigh-immortal Trans Human colonists are forced to settle on a world which is extremely metal-poor (particularly in salts and iron), making any kind of machinery precious beyond belief and every drop of blood lost a tragedy. One character laments that there's metal in the world, but so far below the ground that it is unreachable to the damaged machinery of the starship. The colonists cooperated with each other for a short time, but the strains of resource shortages fractured them into dozens of small groups, who often fight each other for resources. "Eater-of-bone" isn't meaningless, either, because even bone and marrow hold the metals required for metabolism.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome
  • Meaningful Name: Marrow, the site of the Great Ship's antimatter reactor, and a possible prison for the Bleak.
    The Master: "Marrow. It's a very old word. It means 'where the blood is born'"
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: Numerous types of AIs reside on the ship, who are totally independent of other species - though they are still technically artificial creations.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Way averted. Hyperfiber is used for just about everything that it can be used for.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: The Great Ship series follows almost all known laws of physics - the one exception is hyperfiber, which gains its strength from sharing energy across thousands of alternate realities; though it may not be entirely wrong, as some scientists propose that gravity is so weak because it shares its "impact" across multiple universal planes.
  • The Mutiny: Miocene and Till. Mostly bloodless, until Pamir and the Remoras fight back to restore the ship to the original owners.
  • The Needless: Humans rarely need to eat, and do it mostly for pleasure.
  • Neural Implanting: Nexuses, which are implanted into one's body (or in say, a house), and mentally accessed for information or skills when needed.
  • Nice Hat: Captains have reflective, mirror-like peaked caps.
  • No Name Given: The Master captain. Her name is said a grand total of twice - Liza.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Since everyone is effectively immortal, most safety equipment is non-existent unless it could damage the brain. Some ships will accelerate at a hundred g's, crushing the bones of the pilot into dust, then the pilot's emergency genes will kick in to mend the bones.
  • Pro-Human Transhuman: Despite most of the characters being immortal transhumans that can survive being dipped in lava, they still consider the Remoras and the Space Amish humans that live a mere century to be their brethren.
  • Only One Name: Some of the younger human characters have only one name, such as "Promse" or "Dream". Most characters do have full names, though rarely ever said because they are implied to be enormous.
  • Orion Drive: If a ship isn't powered by a fusion rocket or an antimatter rocket, it uses an Orion Drive (called a "bomb drive" in the stories), loaded with nuclear bombs.
  • Planet Spaceship: The Great Ship itself is larger than Jupiter. The interior of the ship has hundreds of thousands of enormous caverns which are inhabited by the passengers. The ship has fourteen adjustable fusion engines on one end, each of which is large enough to fit several dozen Earth-sized planets within their nozzles.
  • Racial Remnant: Mere is the only survivor of the Tilan stellar collapse. She left their solar system with the combined knowledge of their civilization.
  • Ragnarok-Proofing: The Great Ship spent at least several hundred million years drifting towards the Milky Way, but it only sustained superficial damage to it exterior shell. All the original technology in it still functions flawlessly. The Matter-antimatter reactor inside Marrow still functions after billions of years.
  • Reactionless Drive: The Great Ship's true propulsion is this - only discovered at the end of The Well of Stars.
  • Sapient Cetaceans: Whale-like aliens are encoutnered in The Well of Stars, who talk via radio wave bursts and worship a nearby gas giant.
  • Scavenger World: Hatch takes place after the Polypond War, with several million people trapped on the rim of one of the ship's nozzles. The refugees harvest the Polypond's corpse for organic material and bits of technology - however, many of the entity's subsystems are still functional, causing the harvesting to be extremely dangerous - if a raider uses a ship slightly too big or creates too much thrust, laser cannons will blast it out of the sky.
  • SciFi Writers Have No Sense of Distance: Averted. The Great Ship will take hundreds of thousands of years to complete one circle around the Milky Way. Travel is extremely slow - a small ship spends 900 years accelerating to near lightspeed in order to reach the Great Ship.
  • SciFi Writers Have No Sense of Time: Averted with the Great Ship; when it was discovered, the leading face of the hull was battered and scarred from being exposed to intergalatic dust for billions of years. The rocky core of the Great Ship is noted to have been scrubbed of any radioactive elements that would decay, as it would compromise the integrity of the ship as the elements decayed over millions of years, heating up the core and making it less dense.
  • Sliding Scale of Libertarianism and Authoritarianism: There is very little limits on what one can do on the Great Ship, provided it doesn't affect other passengers and you pay your ship taxes.
  • Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Most AIs are at human level or above - even the houses and ships.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: The Master and the Captains have some pretty big, undeserved egos on them. They constantly claim that the ship is theirs (which is technically true but only because a.) humans were lucky enough to find it first and b.) they violently attacked or rebuked most of the other races trying to board the ship before they started selling space) and believe that they're the only thing keeping it functional. It should be noted that the Master and Captains aren't politicians or rulers of any sort; most of them are the team of scientists who originally explored the Great Ship after it's discovery.
    • In one notable moment Washen makes the egotistical claim that without the captains society on the Ship would fall apart (which Pamir even notes is bullshit) only for her to privately admit a few pages later that shipboard extinctions occur pretty often just beneath the Captains' noses.
  • Society of Immortals: 99% of humanity is immortal.
  • Space Amish: Some humans forgo the ceramic brain and most, if not all, of the emergency genes, instead living short lives.
  • Space Elevator: Marrow is connected to the rest of the Great Ship by a human-built space elevator. When the elevator is crushed and later rebuilt, it's used as an invasion point by the Wayward mutiny
  • Starfish Aliens: Almost all of the inhabitants of the Great Ship. It's notable when the aliens are not Starfish Aliens
  • Starship Luxurious: The Great Ship. Thousands of luxurious canyons, beaches, oceans are among the natural formations inside the Jupiter sized ship. In terms of space, the prisoners are guaranteed at least 10,000 cubic meters of personal space. Passengers can claim rooms larger than Manhattan very easily.
  • Stone Wall: The Great Ship. After humanity claimed the derelict, whole swarms of alien ships started showing up to try and capture it. The humans on-board simply closed the hyperfiber airlocks on the star ports and waited until the attackers ran out of fuel or ammunition.
  • Transhuman: Almost all seen human characters have huge amounts of genetic modifications and implants. Emergency genes are artificial genes that all humans have, which can do some extreme modifications to the body in order to preserve the brain.
  • Time Abyss: Practically all the main characters of Marrow are at least several hundred thousand years old. Qeng Lee, a minor character, was born on Earth, before the immortality treatments.
    • Alone, in the short story Alone, is a self-aware robot that had crawled on the Great Ship's hull for billions of years, long before it reached the Milky Way. The entity is so old that it doesn't even know how old it is, what powers it, or who created it.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Used in Aeons Child - a starship fusion engine was brought into the ship to use as a last ditch weapon to purge a cavern of a Gaian
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: The emergency genes and autodocs have effectively wiped out all diseases
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald are all popular building materials. Diamond is used in place of glass on almost everything, and the others are just pretty to look at but not particularly valuable.
Grand Central ArenaScience Fiction LiteratureGreatwinter Trilogy
The Great GameLiterature of the 1990sGreatwinter Trilogy

alternative title(s): Marrow; The Well Of Stars; Aeons Child
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