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Literature / Colony

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The Earth is dying. Global warming is coming to its logical conclusion. Various parts of the world are submerged. Overpopulation is stretching the remaining resources to breaking point. A few small outposts have been set up within the solar system, but they are harsh and brutal. Mankind needs a more permanent solution.

Hence The Project.

A massive Generation Ship named the Willflower is built with the largest budget in the history of humanity. It will be crewed by the creme de la creme of humanity. Every crew member from the captain right down to the canteen staff is the absolute best at what they do. Their mission is to find a new home for mankind (or at least for the best mankind has to offer anyway).

Enter Eddie O'Hare. He considers himself to be the unluckiest man in the cosmos. He's been framed for taking money from some very important people. There are hitmen after him. He's down to his last couple of bucks but his luck changes when he meets Charles Perry Gordon, a man who looks exactly like him who wants out of The Project due to having just won an immense fortune.

However, this doesn't turn out to be the dream escape Eddie's dreamed of. His new identity is that of Chief Community Planner, which is fairly high up the ladder and will require a lot of jumping through hoops. So, it's a bit of a relief when Eddie is killed.

Ten generations later, something has gone wrong. Horribly wrong.

So, a story about the last remnant of humanity in deep space sounds familiar, right? That's because it was written by Red Dwarf co-creator Rob Grant. While its similarity to Red Dwarf was criticized, its Darker and Edgier and genuinely funny storyline meant it was well received when it came out.

Colony contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Intelligence: The audiobook version excises most of the Styx drones' stupider moments, notably Darion Styx's death by attempting to shoot open a door at point blank range with his laser rifle cranked up way too high. It also removes the explanation as to why they're all so stupid.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Paulo San Pablos comes across as this at first, to the point of offering Eddie friendly advice and apologising for messing up their schedule (they initially meet due to mistaking Eddie for ‘Harrison Dopple’, so Eddie is further along their ‘list of appointments’), but suffers Sanity Slippage later on.
    • Tenth Generation Father Lewis could be considered this. He's courteous and charming, yet has the entire ship's crew under surveillance for both blackmail and pornographic reasons and escapes the ship, leaving the crew to its doom.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Eddie accidentally cuts off the arm of one of the Styx drones. Eddie's own revival suit has its right arm cut off by Mr Pink Socks during the final confrontation.
  • Asshole Victim: Considering that Gordon intended to frame Eddie for attacking him and get him sentenced to having his head and spine removed from his body and placed in ‘suspended animation’, it’s hard to feel sorry for him when he’s later killed by one of the hitmen.
  • Ax-Crazy: Paolo San Pablos aka "Mr. Pink Socks". He starts out as a hitman assigned to take out people who can't pay off their debts and runs across Eddie several times, even offering friendly advice, but goes completely insane after he is revived.
  • BFG: The Styx drones' laser rifles. One of them manages to blow himself up by firing at a door at point blank range on the highest power setting.
  • Body Horror. Stowaways are punished by having their head and spine removed from their bodies and preserved in a jar. This also is used on critically injured personnel. These people can be revived in a robotic suit. Eddie is the only person to survive the process with his sanity intact.
  • Church Militant: While the original Peck takes a dislike to Eddie because of the profession of the man he is impersonating, the tenth generation Peck believes Eddie to be the spawn of Satan, given his revival from near death. When she makes a mistake, she punishes herself by whipping herself while naked and blindfolded. She dresses like a nun and believes that Father Lewis can do no wrong, despite him being an atheist pervert. The worst part? She's the science officer.
  • Clone Degeneration: The Styx drones get progressively less intelligent with each batch. The only reason they're kept around is that they're cheap, easy to make and very strong.
  • Cloning Blues: The original security chief is cloned in a process known as droning. However, the intelligence of each new batch of drones deteriorates, leaving the entire security team with the mental agility of pond life.
  • Colonized Solar System: A few planets were colonised but are implied to have died out by the end.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: The first Captain Gwent is clearly based on BRIAN BLESSED, right down to his No Indoor Voice. In the audiobook version, Mark Williams even voices him as Brian.
  • Company Town: Afortunado, the brainchild of Project Chief Community Planner Charles Perry Gordon, is a city whose main purpose is to provide Project personnel somewhere to blow off some steam. The city itself is actually quite small, with no journey on foot taking longer than fifteen minutes, and is littered with casinos and bars. Instead of hiring a police force, Gordon contracted out the security of the city to The Mafia and, as a result, the place is something of a Wretched Hive. Since it's located at the South Pole, there's no reason for anyone else other than the truly desperate to visit the place and once the Willflower departs, the town will have no further use and will be left for the elements to snow over once the laser barriers are switched off.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The audiobook trims several lines and minor plot points, such as the explanation for the Styx drones' stupidity and the revelation that Oslo is Gwent's designated sexual partner.
  • Cyborg: The revival suit is intended to bring critically/fatally injured personnel Back from the Dead by inserting their head, spine, and central nervous system into a robotic body. Unfortunately, the suit has the same problem that the RoboCop 2 prototypes had; The process drives most people insane, if they can survive it at all, that is. The suit is very strong and has pincers for hands, which, combined with Eddie not being wired into the suit correctly, means that he has to relearn how to use his body lest he accidentally grab someone's testicles with his pincers while trying to sit up.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Thanks to the remains of his nervous system being wired incorrectly into the revival suit, to the extent that the nerves that should control his right foot now control his left arm and his right hand responds to nerves that once controlled a muscle in his anus, Eddie has to relearn how to use his new body. One of the Styx drones finds this out the hard way.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Oslo. This being a work of Rob Grant, there must be at least one.
  • Deconstruction: Of the premise of Red Dwarf.
  • A Degree in Useless: Everyone treats Community Planning as this, especially in the tenth generation, where Oslo derides Gordon as "Head Of Ice Cream". Eddie's own qualification in accounting is useless on the Willflower, as it's a moneyless society.
  • The Determinator: Mr. Pink Socks. He follows Eddie up to the Project and over ten generations just to kill him for stealing money from his employers. It doesn't even matter to him that said employers are now long dead and that money is now useless.
  • Deus ex Machina: The entire plot and, specifically, Eddie's involvement in it, was the result of the ship undergoing engineereal evolution, transforming from a simple self repairing element to a sentient fusion of the ship and its computer. The ship has developed the ability to influence electronic equipment in the past, meaning that it stole the money that caused Eddie to flee to Afortunado and to the Project in the first place.
  • Dirty Old Monk: Father Lewis by the tenth generation. The original Lewis was staunchly opposed to the breeding plan and shot Eddie to try and prevent it. The tenth generation Lewis, having inherited his job from his father is an atheist with cameras everywhere for the purposes of making pornography. When he escapes the ship using the one remaining escape module, he takes the ship's prostitutes with him.
  • Disability Immunity: Could arguably apply to Eddie; it is observed that he came through the reanimation process with his sanity intact because his low self-worth meant that, where anyone else would have been driven insane by the sheer horror of it, Eddie expected so little from life that he actually benefited from his ‘transformation’.
  • Dodgy Toupee: The two hitmen wear a variety of wigs that they change out for each hit. Eddie describes one wig as a kind of Superman black that almost looks like hair.
  • Dumb Muscle: The Styx drones. To a lesser extent, the original Styx himself, though this is only in comparison to the rest of the ship's other Section Leaders, who are the top scientists in their fields.
  • Evil Debt Collector: The Pink Socks hitmen are sent out to either collect the debt or kill the debtor, often in horrific ways. Or, in Gordon's case, both. The "nice" hitman not only pursues Eddie up to the Willflower, but even continues to come after him ten generations later in a revival suit despite the fact that not only are his employers long dead, but Earth is uninhabitable and the human race outside the ship's crew is effectively extinct.
  • Expendable Clone: Drones are treated as Red Shirts by the rest of the crew who couldn't care less if they live or die. Eddie is horrified at this and his efforts to save them are generally doomed to failure.
  • Fantastic Caste System: Crewmembers inherit their jobs from their parents with no leeway for promotion or even demotion whatsoever.
  • Fashion-Victim Villain: The hitmen in Afortunado wear expensively tailored suits and, for whatever reason, fluorescent pink socks.
  • Full-Conversion Cyborg: After suffering fatal injuries, Eddie O'Hare awakens to find his mortal remains plugged into an extremely clumsy mechanical body; his only organic components are his severed head and spinal column, currently suspended in a glass jar attached to the neck of his new body. It's eventually revealed that the process is so psychologically jarring that most recipients either die of shock or go completely insane - as was the case with Paulo San Pablos, the hitman that followed Eddie onto the Willflower.
  • The Fundamentalist: Trinity Peck despises Eddie because she sees his preservation and revival as an affront to God. And she's the science officer.
  • Gasshole: Father Lewis suffers intestinal injuries after being run over by an electric cart that cause him to fart uncontrollably.
  • Handshake of Doom: Eddie O'Hare is offered a chance to escape the debt collectors by taking the place of Charles Perry Gordon aboard the Willflower. Accepting the bargain, he's given a handshake by Gordon... whereupon a scab on Eddie's hand splits open and begins bleeding; the narration reflects that he should consider this a very bad omen. Gordon plans to make it look like Eddie mugged him for his identity, ensuring that he can remain behind on Earth until the Willflower departs and ultimately allowing Gordon free reign to pursue his political ambitions. For good measure, he intends to make sure the ship's crew execute Eddie for the crime just to clear up loose ends. Though this scheme never comes to pass thanks to the aforementioned debt collectors, Eddie still ends up getting mortally wounded while aboard the Willflower and being preserved as a severed head in a jar.
  • Hard on Soft Science: In universe, the original Peck despises Eddie because she considers social sciences to be amateurish. She herself specialises in chaos theory.
  • Identical Grandson: Everyone on board the Willflower by the tenth generation resembles their previous descendants a little too closely due to inbreeding. Lampshaded by Amalgam Willard-Walters upon meeting Father Lewis.
  • Identical Stranger: Eddie O'Hare and Charles Perry Gordon are essentially dead ringers for each other, enough for Eddie to be able to pass as Gordon to people who've only seen the original on a screen or talked to him on a phone without ever actually meeting him in person. However, they're not exactly alike, as Gordon is smaller than Eddie, leading to Eddie's Project issue clothing being too small for him.
  • Ineffectual Death Threat: When accused of planning to sell out the rest of the group to the captain, Eddie counters that there’s not exactly much anyone can threaten him with in his current state beyond darkening his goop.
  • It's All About Me: Gordon tricked Eddie into taking his role on the Willflower while intending to later stage a mugging and get Eddie arrested at a point when it’s too late for Gordon to join the crew himself, allowing him to set up his perceived ‘ideal society’ on Earth with his new millions, when he could have done something less violent and all Eddie asked of him in turn was to set aside a bit of money to support Eddie’s mother.
  • Karma Houdini: Depsite betraying the crew at every turn, Father Lewis manages to escape the ship in the one remaining STiP module, taking the ship's prostitutes with him.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: The other hitman (Mr. Pink Socks has followed Eddie up to the Willflower) finishes Gordon off in one swing with one.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Gordon certainly believed so with his breeding plan. The plan assumes that any children of a particular couple will be capable of doing the job they inherit from their parents. This would explain the general lack of suitability of the tenth generation crew to their jobs; The Captain is a teenager with a habit of giving planets disgusting names, the science officer is The Fundamentalist, and the chaplain is an atheist who is more concerned with secretly filming female crewmembers getting naked and having sex in the confessional than actually performing the duties of a priest.
  • Living Ship: The Willflower evolves into one of these by the end of the book. This explains the damage caused and the change in its layout.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities: Jobs are inherited by a crewmember's offspring. The idea being that people don't need to learn unnecessary skills. All this is well and good if you're a descendant of The Captain or a Section Leader, but if you're the child of a dinner lady or a prostitute, then that's all you can ever aspire to be.
  • Nasal Trauma: Gordon tries to fake a mugging with the help of two thugs for hire, not knowing they're actually debt collectors out to get him. Having been told to close his eyes and wait for a supposedly superficial beating, Gordon opens them just in time for a knuckle-dustered fist to hit him so hard that his nose explodes!
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Eddie reckons that Gordon and the original Gwent are this, due to the breeding programme and inherited jobs.
  • Never Learned to Read: The entire crew by the tenth generation and the entire reason Eddie is revived. Turns out the ship has evolved and gained sentience, and has taken away the crew's literacy in order to erase the follies of the first generation.
  • No Indoor Voice: The original Captain Gwent. Except when he's angry.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Having forgotten the circumstances that led to Eddie having his head and spine removed from his body for most of the book, he finally gets complete recall during the final encounter with Paulo San Pablos. The original Father Lewis shot him to try and put an end to the breeding plan. Suffice to say, it didn't work.
  • Oracular Head: Critically injured personnel and sentenced criminals alike have their heads and spines preserved in People Jars to be returned to life in a robotic revival suit. The heads are sustained by a green gloop that gives them all the nutrients they need. Naturally, the Body Horror of this situation drives most people insane and there are only two survivors of the revival procedure, with Eddie being the only one managing to maintain his sanity.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Basically applies to Eddie joining the ship; he and the original Charles Perry Gordon look superficially similar to each other, and since Gordon had never visited the ship himself or even had a DNA sample taken to be logged, it’s relatively easy for Eddie to present himself as Gordon to the rest of the crew who are meeting 'Gordon' for the first time.
  • Paradise Planet: Thrrrppp, being the most desirable and habitable of all the worlds the Willflower has encountered by the second half of the story. Of course, it's completely out of reach for most of this segment, compared to the almost unlivable Penis and Panties.
  • Person with the Clothing: Eddie comes to refer to the "nice" hitman, who gives the name Paulo San Pablos when captured aboard the Willflower as "Mr Pink Socks".
  • Population Control: Every person on board the ship inherits their job from their parents, whose sexual partners are designated by a plan. By the time Eddie is revived, the ship's crew is ridiculously inbred. To a lesser extent, this can also be seen with the (expired) sexual activity clearance card that Eddie possesses on Earth.
  • Porn Stash: Father Lewis has literally crateloads of porn videos taken from spying on female members of the crew. When he loads up the STiP in his escape attempt, some of his "vital supplies" are crates of porn.
  • Real Men Wear Pink Socks: The most distinctive thing about Paulo San Pablos is his fluorescent pink socks.
  • Red Shirt: Security chief Styx's named clones are all killed or badly wounded (Eddie manages to save one or two of them) within a couple chapters of appearing, and barely anyone cares.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Considering that the Professors Amalgam Willard-Walters apparently hated each other even before they got stuck in the same body, nobody seems to have any idea why they agreed to undergo a mind-graft to end up in that state in the first place.
  • Sanity Slippage: Mr Pink Socks started out as an Evil Debt Collector, albeit an Affably Evil one. When he takes on the job of collecting the debt from Eddie, he follows him up to the Willflower and gets his head and spinal column removed from his body. When the tenth generation revives him in a bodysuit- the only other successful revival apart from Eddie- he goes berserk, escapes and starts murdering random crewmembers. By the time he confronts Eddie, he is suffering from random seizures and doesn't even care that his employers are long dead at this point.
  • Sex Slave: Technically, the staff of the ship’s Sexual Recreation Centre are supposed to be prostitutes, but the fact that all positions on board are inherited combined with the Willflower being a society with no currency and no economy, sex workers are effectively slaves.
  • Sharing a Body: The Professors Amalgam Willard-Walters. Unfortunately, they are constantly trying to kill each other, so they are placed in cryo stasis. Which is unfortunate, as they are both the smartest people in the entire book and accurately diagnose the cause of the ship's structural damage (if only briefly before the argument they have gets them put back in the freezer).
  • Shout-Out: The revival suit is a take on RoboCop (1987). The idea of failures is even taken from RoboCop 2, though Played for Drama more than for Black Comedy.
  • Simulated Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic Reality: The second act begins generations in the future, with Earth well and truly dead and the Willflower the last surviving refuge of the human race, where Eddie is rebuilt as a cyborg... but in order to ease him into the unpleasant reality of his new existence, he's awoken in a utopian illusory world where everything is calming and tranquil before the crew finally break the news to him.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Lewis. By comparison to his First Generation counterpart, who was a good man, the Tenth Generation Lewis is actually only out for personal gain. He's an atheist, but since he inherited his job, he hasn't a choice and decides to make the best of it by using the confessional for blackmail purposes, recording lewd videos of the ship's female crewmembers and having sex with several of them. He also escapes the ship, leaving the crew to their doom.
  • Stable Time Loop: Eventually, Eddie learns that the unfortunate series of events that lead to him ending up on board the Willflower in the first place were caused by the ship's ability to influence electronic equipment in the past. Eddie is given the choice as to whether he wants to go back to his old life or allow events to be carried out as they already have. Given that going back to his old life would mean the end of humanity, Eddie chooses to remain on board.
  • Stupid Future People: None of the descendants can read and they only unfroze Eddie because they thought it was a specialist skill he had, not realising that everybody in the past could read.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: Gordon ends up breaking the bank at the casino by betting on thirteen on the roulette wheel three times in a row. Eddie rides on that bet for the first two and chickens out before he can make enough to clear his debts. The narration even notes that Gordon displays a scientist's disdain for superstition.
  • Theme Naming: The Styx drones all have biblical first names with the first initial tattooed onto their foreheads to identify them as drones.
  • Time Skip: Ten generations pass between the beginning of the Willflower's journey and Eddie’s awakening in the revival suit. The exact time between these isn't known, but is estimated to be centuries.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Styx drones. One of them blows himself up by shooting a door with his laser rifle at the maximum setting at point blank range.
  • Spare Body Parts: The street surgeon has an extra hand in his crotch and is willing to sell parts to people. Also, one prostitute has a vagina grafted to her hand.
  • Unfortunate Names: The planets discovered by the teenage Captain Gwent. "Thrrrppp", "Penis", "Panties", and "Jockstrap" are all used in some form of innuendo by Gwent (The first three in the same sentence and the fourth only omitted because he didn't know about it at the time).
  • What, Exactly, Is His Job?: Gordon tells Eddie that he will be easily able to bluff Community Planning. On the elevator ride up to the Willflower, Eddie soon finds that Community Planning turns out to be one of those vague disciplines that it takes years to study and, even after that, someone would find it hard to define. Eddie eventually figures that he can bluff it by being deliberately vague. By the tenth generation, nobody has heard of the idea of a CCP, with Oslo snarkily dismissing Gordon as "Head Of Ice Cream".
  • Wretched Hive: Afortunado, aka "Lucky Town", a sort of Las Vegas type place compressed down to an area where everything is less than fifteen minutes walk from one side to the other and run by a coalition of various mafia groups to provide entertainment for people working on The Project. It's located at the South Pole and it's implied that the forcefields that keep the harsh environment out will be switched off when the Willflower departs, leaving Afortunado to be buried in snow.