Orphans of the Sky

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{land, century, early}
{math, energy, light}
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{son, year, death}
{war, force, army}
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{system, computer, user}

Orphans of the Sky is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, consisting of two parts: "Universe" (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1941) and its sequel, "Common Sense" (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1941). The two novellas were first published together in book form in 1963. "Universe" was also published separately in 1951 as a 10¢ Dell paperback.

These works contain the first fictional depiction of a generation ship.[citation needed]


Plot summary

The gigantic, cylindrical generation ship Vanguard, originally destined for Proxima Centauri, is cruising pilotless through the interstellar medium as a result of a failed mutiny that killed all of the piloting officers. The descendants of the surviving crew have forgotten the purpose and nature of their ship over time and lapsed into a pre-technological culture infested with superstition. Most crew members lead a simple illiterate life of farming, never venturing to the "upper decks" where the "muties" (mutants or mutineers) dwell. These descendants of the loyalists — who live in the lower, outer levels of the cylinder — believe their world is the entire Universe, not realizing they live inside a spaceship. They are ruled by an oligarchy of "Officers" and "Scientists", whose head is the putative heir or successor of the original Captain.

They still use the term "The Ship" for where they live, but it has come to mean "The World" or in fact "The Universe" so that "To move the ship" is considered an oxymoron. Old texts talking of "The Voyage" are interpreted as a metaphor for the voyage from birth to death.

The story is told from the perspective of an unusually intelligent and curious young man, Hugh Hoyland. Hugh has been selected to apprentice to the ranks of the Scientists, who ritualistically perform the technical tasks needed to keep the ship running (such as "feeding" trash into the power converter for lighting and environmental control). While on a mission to hunt down muties, Hugh is captured and taken to the inner, low-weight, mutie-controlled levels. He becomes the slave of Joe-Jim, the two-headed leader of a powerful gang of muties. Joe and Jim are very intelligent and, having read a vast amount of books, have some concept of the true nature of the universe. They share this with Hugh by taking him forward to the bridge and letting him look outside the ship through the windows in the "Captain's Veranda."

This revelation is an epiphany for Hugh. He convinces Joe-Jim they should complete the Vanguard's mission and navigate the Ship to its intended destination (preserved in fable as "Far Centauri"). Hugh then returns to the human-inhabited levels to convince others to help him. He starts with his former boss, Bill Ertz. Bill has him arrested for blasphemy. He is put on trial and is sentenced to death. While in his cell, he is allowed to see his old friend, Alan Mahoney. Alan is willing to help. Hugh has him go to the upper levels, where he convinces Joe-Jim to mount a prison break. The gang captures Bill on their way back to mutie territory. Later, Hugh takes Bill and Alan to see the universe from the Captain's Veranda. Bill realizes that he was wrong. With his help, the group is able to convince the captain's aide, Phineas Narby, to join the effort.

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