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Literature / Non-Stop

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Non-Stop is a 1958 Science Fiction novel by British writer Brian Aldiss. Some editions in the United States were published under the name Starship.

Roy Complain is a hunter in the Greene tribe of "Quarters", prowling the tangled "ponics" jungle for small game. The Greene tribe is nomadic, always moving to different corridors and rooms, searching for ancient caches of the mysterious giants, who some say built the world. When Roy loses his wife Gwenny to raiders in the ponics, he becomes more open to a priest's planned expedition to the fabled "control", where the priest plans to seize control of the entire ship. Roy and his companions will face enemy tribes, mutant rats, and the mysterious Giants on their quest.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Air-Vent Passageway: In the middle of every cabin's ceiling there is a grate. It leads to a grid of ventilation shafts connecting all rooms but none of the ship's native inhabitants have a clue about this. Rats use them to spread through the entire ship. Towards the finale it is also revealed that the Intruders utilize this way to escape frow guarded cells.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Downplayed and subverted. After Complain is told by Fermour that Zac Deight didn't mean any harm and was actually striving to make living of the "Foredeck" inhabitants more bearable, Complain feels quite remorseful for shooting Deight to death.
  • Anti-Villain: Both Crane Curtis and Zac Deight and to extension all giants and so-called Intruders. They really mean no harm to the ship's inhabitants. They're just studying them and doing necessary maintenance.
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  • Artificial Gravity: Most of the ship has this, but there are areas of the ship where the gravity has failed, "where feet turn into hands and the floor moves away from you and you swim in the air like an insect."
  • A Villain Named "Z__rg": Downplayed with Zilliac[note]Lt. Greene's second in command[/note]. The R and G are missing. His name still sounds obnoxious enough to indicate what a Jerkass he is.
  • Berserk Button: Lt. Greene, the tribe's elderly chieftain doesn't take losing the women of his tribe to enemy abductors lightly. See Hair-Trigger Temper below.
  • Chekhov's Gun: It is mentioned pretty early into the story that every cell has a grate in the middle of its ceiling. Only later it is revealed it leads to the ventilation network and the captured Intruders use it to escape their detention without trace.
    • Also it is mentioned that Fermour is wearing a ring with a small stone on his finger. A few chapters later it is revealed it is actually a key to all trap doors leading into maintenance corridors which are otherwise inaccessible for the native inhabitants.
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  • Clock Discrepancy: When the characters count the generations that the ship must have needed to reach its destination, they find the journey should have ended in a quarter of the time passed. This is because they are unknowingly living at four times the speed of normal humans.
  • Colony Ship: The ship is actually back on Earth orbit after colonising another planet, but the survivors have mutated so much from base humans that the Earth government fears to let them return.
  • The Dragon: Lt. Greene has two - Zilliac and Patch albeit the former of the two is obviously more prominent.
    • Downplayed with Hawl. Despite being Gregg's right-hand man he acts considerably less jerkass-y to his people.
  • Drunk on Milk: Nearly entire Greene tribe. Except not on milk but on colors. Just by seeing them and coloring their clothes with them. Then they throw a wild party ending in something akin to collective hungover.
  • Generation Ship: Twenty-three generations to be exact.
  • The Grotesque: Gregg's right-hand man Hawl, a mutant whose head is only about the size of two fists.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Lt. Greene, the tribe's elderly chieftain. When Roy reports to him how he lost his wife to raiders, old Greene throws such a tantrum that he almost has a seizure from it.
  • Hungry Jungle: The 'ponics tangle is full of hostile tribes, mutants, madmen, and of course the rats.
  • Meaningful Name: The protagonist's name is Roy Complain. It matches his personality quite well.
  • Moth Menace: Moths seem to have mutated to become telepathic, and although it's never proven, Roy suspects that they are acting as scouts for the rats. At the end of the novel a huge swarm of moths accidentally short out the control that splits the ship into its component decks, forcing the Earth humans to come rescue the inhabitants.
  • Microts: The characters measure times by "sleep-wake" cycles, equivalent to days. Since they live at four times the speed of normal humans, each cycle equals only six hours.
  • Mile-Long Ship: It takes several days for the characters to cross from the middle third to the forward end of the ship, because of the 'ponics jungle and hostile natives.
  • Mouse World: The inhabitants of the ship are all under five feet tall due to generations of natural selection for tight spaces and a severely congested ecosystem.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: The Giants and Intruders don't mean any harm. They're there just to study the inhabitants and tend to the ship. In fact they came from Earth.
  • Ocean Awe: Roffery and Roy are over-awed when they come upon the largest body of water they have ever seen. Roffery says this must be the sea, and that it proves they're not actually on a ship. Neither one understands what the sign next to it saying "swimming pool" means.
  • Precursors: The Giants, whose dead bodies and mysterious articles are sometimes found by the characters. They are later found to be Benevolent Precursors and very much alive. In fact they're actually Earthlings.
  • Mutants: The most disfigured mutants aren't allowed to live much beyond birth by the tribes of Quarters. Some are allowed to live as second-class citizens. Gregg's band of raiders are at least half mutants. But it's the non-human mutants that are possibly the most unnerving, including telepathic rabbits and moths, and intelligent rats.
  • The Plague: The cause of loss of control of the ship and the mythologizing of its past. A result of alien proteins that were in the water the ship took on at Procyon before its return journey. In the captain's journal it is called the 9-day fever. Only a tiny portion of the ship's crew survived it. The protein caused them to mutate and now they live 4 times faster than normal humans.
  • Scary Amoral Religion: The Code practiced by most of the ship's inhabitants started as a bunch of psychological babble before the plague. The ritual greeting is "expansion to your ego" with the appropriate response being "at your expense". Everyone is taught to "leap before they look" and watch out only for themselves, with no compunctions against just killing anyone in your way. When Marapper the priest murders a guard to allow their escape, his companions comment that it's refreshing to watch a priest practice what he preaches so well. The Earth humans find the religion horrible, but acknowledge that it has probably helped them to survive.
  • The Starscream: Implied by Ozbert Bergass that Zilliac is going to remove the old Greene chief and seize the power for himself.
  • Swarm of Rats: As a fire spreads through the ship swarms of rats are seen migrating to undamaged areas. Roy and friends are nearly overwhelmed by a massive swarm heading for the front of the ship.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: The reaction everybody has when they finally see out a window into space, and more importantly a sun and a planet. It's Earth.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: When Zilliacnote  while pursuing Marapper darts into Roy's cabin Roy pretends he's been hit by the door. First Zilliac briefly trash-talks him but as soon as he turns his back on him, Roy hits him over the head with a chair.
  • You Dirty Rat!: The rats of the ship have mutated to the point of gaining some measure of intelligence. Whole rat villages are found, and the rats keep other animals in cages and have developed packs and sledges. They're still vicious, perfectly happy to torture humans for information by slowly eating them alive.