If the laws of physics don't allow Faster-Than-Light Travel, it's going to take a long time to colonize the stars. If you can't get close enough to lightspeed to take advantage of Time Dilation, don't have the medical technology for functional immortality, and you don't want to resort to suspended animation/hibernation (or, in more recent SF, Brain Uploading), you're not going to see the destination yourself — it may be your grandchildren, or their grandchildren, or their... You get the idea. This doesn't have to wind up as a City in a Bottle, but frequently does (and did in what is perhaps the first story to
use popularize this trope, Robert A. Heinlein's "Universe"). Several examples of Generation Ships are listed on that page.
Generation Ships are great settings for sociological comment: the author has a nice sealed pressure vessel to play out their theories or critique existing cultures.
A Generation Ship is almost always a Starship Luxurious — it's got to sustain the equivalent of an entire ecosystem, whether it does so with rivets-and-bolts machinery or with an actual terrarium-style recreation of a full-fledged habitat.
Sometimes, a Generation Ship doesn't have a destination — it's an interstellar trade ship, connecting isolated colonies or installing the Hyperspace Gateways that will allow FTL expansion and exploitation, in which case the populace are usually Space People. Occasionally, the generation ship will arrive to discover that someone developed an FTL drive while they were en route and the world they were going to colonize already has a few million people on it.
The possibility of this in Real Life brings a little Fridge Logic as to why, if a race can built a large craft capable of sustaining itself indefinitely, they would bother having it leave the solar system at all? There's plenty of room for it to sit in an orbit there for trade and to be near help for emergencies. Still, being out far from help on an adventure makes for a good story.
If it's a Colony Ship, expect the residents to be less-than-keen to leave the ship and start a new colony when arrive at their destination. Will often be a Mile-Long Ship, if not an outright Planet Spaceship.
Has nothing to do with fandom Shipping older and younger characters.
Examples (Spoilers en masse ahead)
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Anime and Manga
- Megazone 23 (the first two installments).
- The official backstory for Turn A Gundam says that there are no space colonies because they were all converted into Generation Ships and left the Earth Sphere.
- We get to see the beginnings of this process in Gundam SEED. The Genesis System used at the end of the series was originally created as a laser propulsion/nuclear pulse hybrid engine meant to be attached to colonies to facilitate their exodus from the solar system & thus escape the conflict between Naturals & Coordinators, before Patrick Zara decided to repurpose it as a doomsday weapon & tried to use it to end the war in a more direct manner. In the Gundam SEED Astray manga the heroes actually help a neutral colony afix one to use for its intended purpose.
- City 7 of Macross 7 was a rare example of a faster than light generational ship.
- Macross in general has these, with humanity deliberately spreading itself out to avoid species-ending disasters like the end of the original series. Macross Plus is actually the only series set after the original without one.
- The eponymous Sidonia from Knights of Sidonia.
- A Fantastic Four story had the FF come across an alien race who had been traveling so long that they had adapted to their ship's artificial environment and could not survive on a planet. When Reed reveals this to their captain, he doesn't take it well because the religion he follows find the idea that they are not as their god created them but have evolved abhorrent. He commits suicide. Incidentally all the aliens look the same. It's a bit of a surprise to find the first mate is female, the captain's wife, and that her ancestors knew all along but kept it a secret. Ultimately the next leader decides to keep the truth from her people for the greater good.
- The Levians were another comics race who lived on a generation ship and encountered Earth superheroes.
- In the first appearance of Brainiac when he had shrunken down Earth cities it is claimed it will take a century to return to his planet, meaning the descendants of the stolen people will inhabit his planet.
- One EC Comics stories revolves around a generation ship's crew. There is no mutiny, no critical systems failure. They reach their destination, and it's entirely livable. After exploring a bit (and encountering weather for the first time) they decide that planets stink.
Films — Animated
- The Axiom from WALL•E is one of these, sustaining human life in space after the Earth has become uninhabitable. Subverted in that it wasn't meant to be. The humans were supposed to be aboard for just a few years, while the Wall-E units cleaned up the earth. The Buy-n-Large president, however, deemed the Earth permanently doomed and ordered the Autopilot to keep them in space forever. He turned out to be wrong, but it's 700 years before the first plant life reappears on the planet.
- After Earth is destroyed at in Titan A.E., most of the surviving humans turn their ships into this. Fortunately, this only lasts 15 years until Planet Bob (AKA New Earth) is created.
- Battle for Terra has the last survivors of a massive interplanetary war fleeing the solar system in a generation ship (the Ark) to the Terrians star, at least a hundred year's travel away. The ship has been experiencing more and more frequent fatal malfunctions, forcing humanity to take drastic measures to survive, becoming Invading Refugees.
Films — Live-Action
- MST3K alumnus Space Mutiny tries to use this trope, but it doesn't really make much sense since there are space pirates and rapid space travel. Presumably the Southern Sun launched before proper FTL was invented, but that just begs the question of why the mutineers are so bad for wanting to leave, or why they needed to hijack the whole ship to do so instead of hitching a ride on a shuttle.
- In a baffling non-space example, the train in Film/Snowpiercer becomes one of these, with children born on board.
- In Pandorum, the Elysium becomes this after one of the crewmembers kills the other awake crewmembers, awakens most of the Human Popsicle colonists and tries to play God with them. The colonists turn into ravenous monsters by a retrovirus designed to adapt them to a new environment and live aboard for nearly a millennium.
- Endless Universe, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is an example of "Generation Ship Planting FTL Gates".
- Paradises Lost, by Ursula K. Le Guin, focuses on the generations who grow up on the ship.
- Likewise, Stephen Taylor's opera based on Paradises Lost.
- The novel The Star Seekers by Milton Lesser depicts a coming-of-age quest on board a generation ship which has turned into four separate societies in the centuries since it left "Urth".
- In Norman Spinrad's Riding The Torch, the remains of the human race in its entirety had to leave Earth after a nuclear cataclysm, flying Bussard ramjet ships ("torchships") in search of a habitable planet. Slowly they use the resources gained from the void by Bussard engines to develop an entire civilization under the guise of an ever expanding fleet of torchships.
- The short story "Shipwright" by Donald Kingsbury is about a generation ship whose captain uses a time-stretching field to live for "centuries" while generations toil and die on the ship itself; the society comes to worship him eventually.
- Bernard Werber's "Le papillon des étoiles" (in English, Star Butterfly) focuses on a generation ship that, over time, forgets its original purpose and origin. The generations eventually rediscover violence and weapons, civilization devolves into a middle age-esque tyranny until, by the time the ship reaches its destination, only 5 people are alive on the ship, and only 2 manage to leave it safely.
- The title vessel in Rendezvous with Rama superficially appears to be failed example of these in the original novel as there are no apparent inhabitants in the vessel. The characters speculate that all of its inhabitants died off during the vessel's hundred-thousand journey through space, leaving some pre-programmed robot systems in operation, although the robots are biological in nature and are created denovo whenever needed and recycled when not needed so there is no reason to believe the 'inhabitants' are not also made-on-demand. The sequels reveal that they aren't intended to be generation ships (as they can accelerate to relativistic speeds) for travel but are merely prowling the cosmos to find the perfect life forms.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- Orphans Of The Sky has a massive generation ship whose inhabitants have forgotten their origins and fallen into barbarism, yet the ship still functions after centuries of neglect (albeit with an assist from Cargo Cult maintenance procedures). Guess they don't make them like they will have used to.
- The New Frontiers in Methuselah's Children was a Generation Ship which was later upgraded with a FTL Drive.
- In Time Enough for Love, a sequel to Methuselah's Children, there is a throw away paragraph indicating the ship from Orphans had been found, lifeless due to eventual social decay but the descendants of that story's protagonist were found alive on a nearby planet when the ship's course was backtracked.
- In Time For The Stars the Lewis and Clark is out long enough for some of the crew to marry and have children, despite relativistic time dilation causing only a couple years to pass on board.
- The Galactic Whirlpool is set in the Star Trek Expanded Universe, where the Enterprise discovers a generation ship launched just before the Last World War, whose inhabitants have— surprise surprise —forgotten their origins and descended into barbarism.
- A short story in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series features a generation ship whose passengers didn't forget their origins and descend into barbarism but were deliberately put in Medieval Stasis by the race that launched the ship, as apparently this was supposed to make them more likely to survive on a newly colonised world. This was a bit of a problem, because something had gone quite badly wrong with the guidance systemnote and it was now in very real danger of performing a Colony Drop on a populated planet in the Klingon Empire. Thankfully, it turned out that some personnel who actually knew how to operate and maintain the ship had been put aboard in cryosleep, and once the joint Starfleet/Klingon Defence Force mission woke them up the situation was resolved.
- The TNG-era novel The Last Stand deals with two sets of these (one of which is in the backstory). However, neither descends into barbarism. The Enterprise arrives to a planet after detecting a warp test. The planet is inhabited by the Lethanta, whose ancient records indicate that their ancestors have escaped from a world far away, devastated by Orbital Bombardment, and arrived on asteroids converted into sublight evacuation ships. The Enterprise then detects an armada of sublight ships in the system. As it turns out, the ships belong to the Krann, the race responsible for devastating the Lethanta homeworld. Their own homeworld (in the same system) was hit by a plague, which they assumed was designed by the Lethanta as punishment for the Krann throwing off the Lethanta yoke earlier (Crusher later proves that the plague was natural), which is why the Krann fleet bombarded the Lethanta homeworld with cobalt bombs. Realizing that some Lethanta have escaped, the equally homeless Krann have sworn to follow them to the ends of the universe and finish them. Since they didn't know where the Lethanta went, they spent centuries going from star to star, searching for their enemy and building up their fleet for a final confrontation.
- While the Krann did not degrade into barbarism, most have forgotten their origins and the purpose of the journey. The average Krann worker doesn't know who the Lethanta are, that they once lived on a planet, or that they're at war. The Krann military leaders, though, know everything.
- At the end, after the war is stopped, and the two races agree to live in peace, one of the Krann leaders sends the arrested dictator along with a small portion of the fleet after the original Lethanta asteroid ships, which were secretly sent with a group in case the Krann succeeded. The leader is skeptical that the peace will hold (too many generations of hate), and is determined that, should the inevitable war resume, none of the Lethanta survive.
- Larry Niven:
- The most extreme example — in Ringworld, the Fleet of Worlds is the Puppeteers' entire planetary system converted into a generation ship to flee the galaxy.
- The Pak also did this with when they colonized Earth and the Ringworld itself. In addition to that ultra-long journey (half a million years), the Pak have ships that would be generation ships for a species with less incredible lifespans - Phssthpok flies a ship for 1200 years (ship's time), alone.
- Second Genesis has a Living Ship called Yggdrasil that takes a journey between galaxies; it would normally be called a generation ship, except its inhabitants have discovered immortality, and so a few centuries of relativistic travel is not much of a burden.
- Niven and Pournelle's Footfall has the Fithp use a hybrid generation ship to reach Earth: most of the passengers are in stasis, but necessary maintenance and piloting is carried out by successive generations of crew. The result is a significant culture clash between the 'Shipborn' and the defrosted original generation ("sleepers").
- In Alastair Reynolds' Chasm City, the planet of Sky's Edge was settled by 5 (only 3 made it) generation ships traveling at 6% lightspeed. There are at least 4 generations on the ship. Also, a cold war forms between the ships, due to scarcity of resources. Then a full blown war on the planet. Though one character, with the help of medically induced immortality, does live most of the journey as well as a good deal further into the future.
- Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun is set within a vast generation ship called the Whorl. It isn't quite a City in a Bottle, because the characters are vaguely conscious that there is an "outside" (the oldest character in the books has some faded memories of living there)... but they have no real idea what outside actually means, and none of them expect to ever experience the outside.
- Rob Grant's Colony deconstructs this somewhat. Various systems go wrong (notably the eugenics program determining who is allowed to mate with whom, and the career-allocation system), so the later generations are hopelessly inbred, illiterate and unqualified for their jobs.
- Not quite a deconstruction as things going horribly wrong is the normal state of this trope.
- Eric Flint's Slow Train to Arcturus with the added bit most of the ship consists of misfits people wanted off Earth in their own sealed habits. Including Neo-Nazis, Space Amish, Radical feminist genetic engineers, Native Americans, extreme sports enthusiasts, and North Korea. A Plot Tailored to the Party follows with a message about needing each other to survive (well at least needing everyone except for the Neo-Nazis and the leaders of the North Korean group).
- The planet Martine was settled by one of these in Crest of the Stars and the Abh's original home was one as well before they cracked the FTL issue.
- Generation ships (called longliners) are used to carry messages and trade between planets in Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's Search the Sky. They're pretty horrid: while they don't quite forget their mission, the people on board end up suffering mental retardation (it's not too clear why, possibly inbreeding or a lack of intellectual stimulation?), and they're kept from overpopulation by massive infanticide. But every place in that book is in horrible shape: it's a horribly Darker and Edgier world before it was popular.
- In Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood , the Oankali travel on these as they go from world to world making genetic trades. Also a Living Ship.
- In Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop: A plague on a generation ship reduces the passengers to barbarism: they lose all idea of who they are or even what a spaceship is. The bioengineered plants go into overdrive, turning the ship into a jungle, increasing the sense of obscuration and isolation. The reader's first clue as to what's going on is when the jungle turns out to have bulkheads.
- Non-space example: in Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville, the khepri residents of New Crobuzon are descended from refugees who'd fled a mysterious disaster on their native continent. As their ramshackle ships took decades to cross the ocean, and thousands of the refugees died en route, some khepri vessels technically invoke this trope by having only ship-born crew members left on board when they reached land.
- Another non-space generation ship is Armada from The Scar by China Mieville, which is a floating city build by connecting hundreds of regular ships. It doesn't have a permanent destination and it is not meant to ever reach land (as it is a piratical society), but has a permanent population that has lived in the city for generations.
- Harry Harrison's Captive Universe: A Generation Ship with a seamless environment is launched: by design the highly repressive, extremely stable Aztec cities onboard believe themselves to be in an inaccessible river valley. The ship tenders are if anything more rigid and religious: an extraordinary asceticism rules their lives and repairs are sacred rituals.
- The title species in Alan Dean Foster's Quozl seek out new habitable worlds in these.
- Simon Hawke's/Nikolai Yermakov's The Whims of Creation is set on one, generations after humanity has left the Earth That Was.
- Common FTL travel powerful enough to at least get around one's own galaxy makes these relatively uncommon in the Perry Rhodan universe, but they're not unknown. Ships (and space stations) intended for really extended missions, such as some undertaken by mortal helpers of the setting's Powers That Be, may be designed to fit the trope, and suitable vessels have turned into this purely by accident, as happened to the SOL when its cosmic odyssey dragged out longer than expected and the shipborn generation started to have their own ideas about what uses their 'home' should be put to. Stretching the definition of "ship" to the limit, a major significant example would be the cosmic swarms, literally mobile star clusters whose multi-species 'crews' quite naturally were born, lived, and died on the worlds orbiting said stars while going about their assigned task of aiding the spread of intelligence throughout the universe.
- In Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, the Leonora Christine is only supposed to take 5 years of time (relative to the passengers onboard) to reach Beta Virginis. It becomes a generation ship, though, when its deceleration unit breaks down.
- Andrey Livadny's novel Ark is set aboard the title ship, a Moon-sized (literally, as it is the hollowed-out Moon with engines attached) ship built by humans to fly around the galaxy and collect samples of intelligent life to eventually bring back home. These "samples" were put into special habitats modified to the conditions on their homeworlds, even including artificial suns. There was also a human habitat for the families of the crew. Then an onboard cataclysm killed most of the senior officers and damaged many cybernetic systems, isolating the habitats from the command module and each other. Millennia later, the ship is falling apart with disrepair, as the human descendants have regressed into a near-Medieval state and forgot their origins. The only hope is a boy who has been a Human Popsicle since the cataclysm and is the only one who can regain access to the command module and direct the ship to a habitable planet. The ending reveals a possible Stable Time Loop, as the planet they find is eerily similar to Earth.
- In François Bordes's novel Fleeing Earth (Terre En Fuite, written under the pen name Francis Carsac), the Nested Story reveals that the people of the Second Civilization of humans (after most of us die out in another Ice Age) discover that the Sun is about to go nova. Since they can't build enough ships to fit everyone from Earth and Venus (terraformed and settled), they instead decide to move both planets by building giant "space magnets" at the poles. The original plan is to move them to the Outer Solar System, hide behind Jupiter, and return once the Sun settles down. However, they discover that the Sun will not return to its yellow dwarf state after the explosion and have to move to a new system. Thus both planets become giant generation ships, although the interstellar journeys only take several decades thanks to the "space magnets" accelerating the planets to 80% of the speed of light.
- Domingo Santos' story The First Day of Eternity (published in Analog) concerns a ship, the Diaspora 32 that has been traveling for 721 years.
- The backstory of Kevin J. Anderson's The Saga of Seven Suns involves 11 generational ships sent out into space. None of them reach their destinations, however. Nine are found by an alien race who use their FTL technology to take them to habitable planets. Another ends up colonizing whatever asteroids and other non-terrestrial environments they can find becoming Space Gypsies. The other one is assumed to be lost until it is discovered that the supposedly friendly Ildirians that rescued the others kept the last one to do breeding experiments with and have been raping generations of human women to experiment on their hybrids
- In "Thirteen for Centaurus" by J. G. Ballard, the action takes place on a generation ship but not really. The main character figures out it's all a scam when he sees supplies being trucked in.
- Orthogonal by Greg Egan takes place in a universe where physics is different and Time Dilation works in reverse — the faster you travel, the more time passes from your perspective. The protagonists, seeing an oncoming disaster that they don't have the technology to prevent, build the Generation Ship Peerless so their descendants will have enough time to develop Sufficiently Advanced Technology to Save The World, while only four years pass on the homeworld.
- Molly Glass' The Dazzle of Day is set on a generation ship, the Dusty Miller, populated by Latino Quakers as it nears a system where they could possibly settle. Much of the action of the novel deals with the decision of whether to stop here or go on. Since all decisions are made by the Quaker practice of Consensus, this is a complex task.
- In Empire from the Ashes, the planetoid-class ships have perfectly good FTL that can get them around to most places in less than a year, but they're still set up as generation ships because they oftentimes go on long tours of duty and it's considered necessary for the health of the community to have children born and growing up as they would be on a planet. Of course, being what they are, these ships have crews in the hundreds of thousands and provision for natural increase up to doubling.
- Across the Universe is set on a generation ship called the Godspeed, which is on a journey to a habitable planet that will take hundreds of years to complete. While a lot of the colonists elected to be turned into Human Popsicles for the duration of the trip, there was a need for an active crew to perform maintenance. Thus, many generations have lived and died on the Godspeed as it slowly makes its way towards its destination.
- One is briefly visited in Bill the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Ten Thousand Bars.
- In The Tomorrow Log by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, a Generation Ship has actually forgotten that it was supposed to colonize a planet and has become a flying Cult Colony.
- The short story "Schism," set in the Elite universe, examines what happens when a homegrown Cult Colony inside a Generation Ship that has been out of contact with human civilization for centuries encounters another derelict vessel in the void of space.
- Robert Reed is a fan of this trope. His short story, The Children's Crusade, is about a simulation of a crashed alien starship on Mars - in which the organic passengers are essentially cargo, while the robotic crew controls the ship. Chrysalis has the last lifeboat of humanity traveling through the galaxy to collect species before they destroy themselves, with immortal robots controlling the ship. The Winemaster has a Buick being used essentially as a generation car - the transhuman / post human residents are so small and live so quickly that an hour real time is like a year to them; several generations go by in the trip from a northern state into Canada.
- Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo is set on one of these, which has been in space for so long that everyone has forgotten about the original plan. They keep trying to land and settle without success.
- In Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan, the protagonists Waverly and Kieran are some of the first children successfully conceived in deep space. They live on a ship called the Empyrean with hundreds of other children and families. The ship has been traveling for over 40 years on its journey to populate a distant planet.
- Harlan Ellison's Phoenix Without Ashes is set on one of these. Originally a screenplay for a sci-fi miniseries, it was later expanded into a novel by Ellison and author Edward Bryant, and has recently been adapted into a comic book miniseries. The story is set in the Ark, a massive cluster of self-contained biospheres several thousand miles long. Each biosphere hosted a different civilization completely isolated from the rest. At the time of Ellison's story, the Ark had been in space so long that the individual civilizations had forgotten they were in a ship; and the Ark itself had been damaged by collision with an asteroid and was slowly failing.
- The television show was supposed to have been a series that featured different writers creating stories for each of the individual civilizations after Ellison's pilot. Originally intended for ITV/ITC, it was picked up by the Canadian subsidiary of 20th Century Fox; but according to Ellison, they were completely incapable of dealing with the sheer scope and nature of the project. Executive Meddling eventually altered the project so much that they ended up with an In Name Only version that eventually aired under the title The Starlost.
- In M.C.A. Hogarth's Paradox Universe the Pelted left earth on a fleet of generation ships, on board they segregated into the various cultures and races that came to comprise the Alliance after the discovery of Faster-Than-Light Travel a few centuries after they reached their destinations.
- The Ted Reynolds novella Ker-Plop features quite possibly the ultimate example: the ship in question was sent out by a previous (human) galaxy-wide civilization to colonize one of the Magellanic Clouds, and is now returning. It's the size of a (dwarf) planet, has its own gravitational field, and (as the protagonist eventually realizes) contains a population nearly equal to the total population of the galaxy, since it's inhabited in three dimensions rather than just on the surface, as with habitable worlds.
- Ten Thousand Miles Up by Rick Griffin takes place on board the White Flower II, a starship that has been in transit for four hundred years. The species that owns the ship can easily live far longer than that but the Slave Race that make up the 10,000 member crew do not, the crew at the time of the story are at least the grandchildren of the original crew. Generation ships are the only method of interstellar travel other than a Portal Network, the White Flower's function is actually to transport a gate to a colonizable planet instead they steal the Terraformer that came through the gate and cut it off so they can colonize the planet for themselves.
- The Mayflower Ark in Orson Scott Card's Lovelock is a low-key example: time dilation means that it will arrive at its destination within the lifetime of (most of) its original inhabitants, but the voyage is still long enough that some births are expected en route.
- The novella Mayflower II (a Xeelee Sequence story by Stephen Baxter) is set on a fleeing generation ship bound for a satellite galaxy 25,000 years away; at .5c, the trip will take fifty thousand years. A crew of nigh-immortal "pharaohs" rule over the "transients" (colonists with normal human lifespans). As the ship drifts through space and time, the society of the transients breaks down as the pharaohs slowly die off, devolving into little more than chimps with reflexive ship maintenance habits. The story is a dark, chilling, and excellent one.
Live Action TV
- The Magog Worldship on Andromeda.
- The Arcology also appears to be one of these. While it's, technically, a space station, it is equipped with a (very ancient) slipspace drive.
- Another episode dealt with part of the crew ending up on the Bellerophon, an ancient generational ship launched by Earth centuries ago to "to gather knowledge of life and civilization to go farther and deeper into space than anyone had ever gone before." The ship is so old that it doesn't even possess a slipspace drive, relying instead on massive engines that accelerate it to near the speed of light, with the consequences of such a design being a major plot point for the episode.
- Doctor Who:
- The episode "The Beast Below" has the entire United Kingdom (minus Scotland) on a single spaceship, searching for a new home after the Earth becomes uninhabitable. The discovery of just how this massive ship is travelling through space with the engines apparently off forms the main mystery of the episode. And the Doctor claims it is just one of many, with each country building their own ship. The others are just not shown.
- Much earlier, First Doctor serial "The Ark" has the title spacecraft serving as both a generational ship for its crew (of both humans and subservient aliens), and as a Human Popsicle-stand for the remaining billions of humans and subservient aliens, since a ship that could carry both species in their entirety would've been far too massive to build (or move).
- It appears the 'Verse was colonized by these in Firefly.
- Terra Venture in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy may have been intended as this, but monster attacks and visiting a hostile Pocket Dimension cut its journey much shorter. They managed to reach an inhabitable planet complete with Human Aliens (the same planet that the team had been warped to in the pilot to receive their powers) within a year or so.
- The Red Dwarf housed a breeding population of life-forms descended from a single pregnant cat for about 3 million years, long enough for them to evolve sapience and build their own arks to leave.
- The Australian series Silversun used this. As the journey to the new planet would take many years, most of the crew were adolescents and teenagers, so that there would be at least some crew still around when they got to the planet. A lot more people are in cryogenic stasis.
- The Space: 1999 episode 'Mission of the Darians'. The crew of Moonbase Alpha respond to a distress call from a 20 mile long ship on a 900-year voyage. They discover that an accident a century earlier has wrecked most of the ship and its passengers have reverted to barbarism, except for an elite who are keeping themselves alive by using the others for transplant surgery.
- The ship provides a good example of an Endless Corridor.
- Stargate Atlantis had the Travelers, a race of space nomads who live entirely on self-built ships in order to avoid being culled by the Wraith. Despite their strict population control, they don't have the resources to build new ships any more and were forced to abandon some people on planets where the Wraith culled them. This was why they kidnapped Shephard in their introductory episode: they found an Aurora-class Ancient battlecruiser and needed his ATA gene to get it operational since the ship could carry thousands. They lost one of their ships in the battle above Asuras and with the Replicators gone, they settled on a planet... then the settlement and the Aurora was nuked in the final season when their Stargate exploded.
- The Destiny from Stargate Universe could be seen as a generation ship, in that it not only took the resources of an entire generation to build, but wasn't even boarded until over a million years after it launched. While it is a ship on autopilot and flies through FTL, the scope of its mission is so large that the Ancients who built it could not have hoped that they or their children would be alive to see that mission to its end.
- The Novus civilization, founded by the crew of the Destiny over 2000 years before the crew actually encounters Novus (long story), dedicated its resources to building a fleet of ships for its millions of citizens so that they could evacuate their dying world. They will reach their destination in a few hundred years (in stark contrast to the 10 days Destiny needs to cover the same distance with its FTL).
- The Starlost had the entire series take place on a huge generational ship with different biomes sealed off and having forgotten it was a ship. Ben Bova and Harlan Ellison wrote books about the Executive Meddling and the novelization.
- Star Trek: The Original Series
- "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky" has one of these in the form of an asteroid.
- "By Any Other Name" had a faster-than-light generation ship that the Kelvans used for the immense journey between galaxies.
- The Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Disease" has a generation ship which is over four hundred years old.
- "Prophecy" has Voyager encounter a Klingon Battlecruiser made into one. They made the trip to the Delta Quadrant the long way.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, this was the original concept of the Galaxy-class ships like the Enterprise-D. In practice, they Travel At The Speed Of Plot and between that and the amount of combat scenarios encountered, the idea of Enterprise-as-a-family-poting was dropped from future iterations of the franchise.
- In an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, the Enterprise gets sent 100 years back in time with no way to return. The Enterprise then becomes a Generational Vessel in one of the few successful attempts at not screwing up the time line, though they wanted to change one thing while staying out of the way until it happened. They succeed so well that by traveling on The Slow Path, they meet their parents/grandparents, completely the same as the ones that went back.
- Janeway often wonders whether "Voyager" will become such a ship itself: the original return estimate is 70 years, after all. they make it in seven
- The Sci Fi Channel miniseries Ascension takes place aboard a starship intended for a 100-year voyage, launched in the 1960s.
- Most human vessels in Warhammer 40,000, even if they already have warp drives. If you have mixed-gender crews aboard ships in service for hundreds if not thousands of years, "voidborn" navy brats are inevitable. The bigger ships even have problems with small civilizations growing on forgotten or unfrequented decks.
- The Eldar Craftworlds also count, as even though they have FTL-capabilities, they're primarily spacefaring colonies designed to house the survivors of the Fall.
- Orks tend to treat space hulks as this, happily piling in when they find one with no idea where or when they might have a chance to get off again. Given the nature of the Warp and hulks' lack of direction, many generations can easily pass during travel.
- Possibly true for the Tyranids as well, which appear to have travelled from another galaxy. However, it's not really clear if the majority of them live and die for generations during travel, hibernate, or are simply created from scratch when the fleet nears a target.
- The early science fiction game "Metamorphosis Alpha" from TSR was set on one of these. It was reworked later as the Amazing Engine setting book "Metamorphosis Alpha To Omega".
- GURPS: Spaceships has the uses the traditional concept for the Universe and Endeavor. The third ship is the Magellan which carries 20 thousand people in luxury at FTL speeds, allowing for ridiculously long trips.
- Parodied in one Australian play, where the crew of a Generation Ship fall into barbarity and think that the human popsicles are the equivalent of frozen food. When the last remaining colonist wakes up early, he's not to impressed.
"You mean to tell me you've eaten all the great scientists and engineers who were going to build this new world? Didn't anyone protest?""Of course they did. But we ate them anyway!"
- The entire world of Phantasy Star III takes place on one of these. Ships like it were basically planetary escape pods, sent out when Parma exploded. Didn't go too well, though - some got lost, some were caught in the explosion and destroyed. Later, in Phantasy Star 4, the heroes find the wreckage of one such ship that was crippled in the escape and suffered the nasty fate of getting stuck in a decaying orbit around Motavia.
- In Wild ARMs 5 the Veruni spent most of the 10,000 years they wandered for a new home on their ship, Locus Solus. By the time the Veruni have settled on Filgaia the ship itself is considered by many of the Veruni to be their homeland, and they revere it to the point of calling the ship Mother.
- According to the manual, you can occasionally run across these in the original Elite; however, that's the only place they exist in that game. In the expandable remake Oolite on the other hand, you can really run across them with the right OXP.
- The titular Marathon colony ship.
- Homeworld has this in the backstory: when the Hiigarans were exiled, the entire civilization was packed into a fleet of identical FTL-incapable generation ships that crossed half the galaxy on sublight until the last four or so reached Kharak. Some of them broken off and became the Kadeshi, a society who camped out in a nebula and gave everyone they met a choice: join or die (the ship is plundered and destroyed in both cases). By the time their distant siblings who made it to Kharak found them, the Kadeshi were religious fanatics who worshipped the nebula and talked in a Creepy Monotone. Oh, and according to the Expanded Universe, they were also Evil Albinos. One of the generation ships is still floating in the center of the nebula, unmanned and slowly spinning in place.
- The planet Enroth in Might and Magic VI, VII, VIII and Heroes of Might and Magic I, II and III was, as found out it Might and Magic VI, colonised via generation ship (an oddly Egyptian-themed generation ship).
- Building one of these and sending it to Alpha Centauri is one of the ways to win in Civilization.
- In the visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story, a generation ship named Mugunghwa was sent from Earth in the 24th century to colonize other worlds. One day it vanished, only to reappear as a lifeless derelict millennia later. You are hired and sent to the ship to find out what the hell happened for it to end like that.
- In the backstory for PlanetSide 1, the Terran Republic launched several generation ships before they learned how to force open wormholes. Contact with the generation ships was lost several years after launch.
- In the backstory of Infinite Space, the Magellanic Clouds were settled by generation ships from the Milky Way. The remains of one form a towering ruin that resembles a Space Elevator. It also contains the means to access the Overlords' databanks and work out how to foil their plans to wipe out the universe.
- In WildStar, Exiles live on board these ships, with elements of Sleeper Ship, who are being chased by The Dominion for 300 years until the discovery of Nexus.
- In Orion's Arm a few early colony ships were these, but smaller and faster sleeper ships had a tendency to reach the destination systems earlier. They're currently used as mobile habitats, freighters, and wormhole layliners.
- In Journey to Alfahsfere by Mike Combs, a generation ship was partially damaged during an attack by pirates in the Oort Cloud, after thousands of years the inhabitants of one sphere regressed to a hunter-gatherer existence, and the other though the first sphere was lost.
- Used in the Galaxy Rangers episode "Lord of the Sands." The descendants of an Earth sleeper ship had crashed on a desolate planet and formed a tribal civilization roughly seventy years earlier. Something had wiped out the adults, so the tribe was mostly comprised of adolescents - led by a rogue Crown Agent.
- In the Australian satire Go to Hell! (1997) by Ray Nowland, Corrupt Corporate Executive G.D. builds a space ark to escape the destruction of his planet. He stays in suspended animation, waking every generation or so to keep an eye on things, eventually being regarded as a god. By the time they get to Earth, the crew has become so inbred they're useless to him, so G.D. has to uplift the local monkeys as a slave labor force. You can guess the rest.