Notes for Aldiss’ ‘Non-Stop’

Aldiss, B. (1958) Non-Stop. UK: Faber & Faber.


A nod to Heinlein’s bladed gangs in the upper decks


‘I have a throwing blade,’ Meller explained. ‘Fortunately – for I dislike hand-to-hand fighting. Mind if I sit down?’

Moving dazedly, Complain knelt between the bodies and felt for a heart beat. Directly action had started, the ordinary Complain had been shuffled away for another, an automatic man with defter movement and sure impulse. (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 821)


Under firm and unquestioning direction


Just to save my breath answering these inane suggestions, you’d better all get one thing perfectly clear – you are doing what I tell you to do. That’s what being united means, and if we aren’t united we aren’t anything. Hold firm to that idea and we’ll survive. (Chapter I, Kindle Loc 977)


The priest proves they are in a ship

‘Now, Roy – the great thing is, that not being in a ship is vastly different from being in it. You know – we all know – only what being in one is like; it is that which makes us think there is only ship. But there are many places which are not ship – huge places, many of them . . . This I know because I have seen records left by the Giants. The ship was made by the Giants, for their own purposes which are – as yet – hidden from us.’ (Chapter II, Kindle Loc 1090)

Religion in GS – The aim of the teaching

The Teaching warned him that his mind was a foul place. The holy trinity, Froyd, Yung and Bassit, had gone alone through the terrible barriers of sleep, death’s brother; there they found – not nothing, as man had formerly believed – but grottoes and subterranean labyrinths full of ghouls and evil treasure, leeches, and the lusts that burn like acid. Man stood revealed to himself: a creature of infinite complexity and horror. It was the aim of the Teaching to let as much of this miasmic stuff out to the surface as possible. But supposing the Teaching had never gone far enough? (Chapter III, Kindle Loc 1448)

Religion in GS – Part of the ritual and a soothing prayer

He nursed the dazer, cocking an ear into the night, half-heartedly joining in the responses. Their voices rose and fell; by the end of it they all felt slightly better.

‘. . . and by so discharging our morbid impulses we may be freed from inner conflict,’ the priest intoned.

‘And live in psychosomatic purity,’ they repeated.

‘So that this unnatural life may be delivered down to Journey’s End.’

‘And sanity propagated,’ they replied.

‘And the ship brought home.’ The priest had the last word. (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 1617)


Religion in GS – The Teachings 2


‘Do you think the Teaching allows you peace in your last hours? You must be stirred into Consciousness for the final time. Why should you slump here, despairing? What is your wretched, sordid life to care a curse over? Where in your mind is anything so precious that it should not be carelessly extinguished?’ (Chapter I, Kindle Loc 1826)


Some knowledge of the captain

‘Then – the Captain of the ship – you have found him?’ he managed to say.

‘The Captain does not exist. He must have made the Long Journey generations ago.’ (Chapter I, Kindle Loc 1861)

Non-stop like Tau Zero and Aniara

‘The ship is plunging on unguided through space, non-stop. We can only presume it is lost. We presume it will travel for ever, till all aboard have made the Long Journey. It cannot be stopped …’ (Chapter I, Kindle Loc 1871)

The crux of the predicament link to Aniara and Tau Zero

It’s a ship, you see, and it’s headed nobody-knows-where, and it’s old and creaking, and it’s thick with phantoms and mysteries and riddles and pain – and some poor bastard has got to sort it all out soon before it’s too late, if it’s not already too late!’ He paused. He was giving himself away: in his mind, he was the poor bastard, shouldering the burden alone. (Chapter II, Kindle Loc 1966)

The destruction of equipment for religious reasons – religion link

Tregonnin explained first that until very recently in Forwards – as was the rule still in Quarters – anything like a looker or a video had been destroyed, either from superstition or from a desire to preserve the power of the rulers by maintaining the ignorance of the ruled.

‘That, no doubt, was how the idea of the ship became lost to begin with,’ Tregonnin said, strutting in front of them. ‘And that is why what you see assembled round you represents almost all the records intact in the area of Forwards. The rest has perished. What remains allows us only a fragment of the truth.’ (Chapter II, Kindle Loc 2168)

Background to this GS journey

‘… eventually, with the aid of instruments in which they were cunning, they picked on a bright sun called Procyon to which planets were attached, and which was only a distance called eleven light years away. To cross this distance was a considerable undertaking even for the ingenious men, since space had neither heat nor air, and the journey would be very long: so long that several generations of men would live and die before it was completed.’ (Chapter II, Kindle Loc 2186)

The return trip of the GS journey

‘So there, young man, is the answer to your question; on the evidence of these tins, it is obvious the ship reached Procyon’s planets successfully. We are now travelling back to Earth.’ (Chapter II, Kindle Loc 2221)

Non-stop since the disaster

‘In the days before the first Governor, came the catastrophe – whatever that was – and since then the ship goes on and on non-stop through space, without captain, without control. One might almost say: without hope.’ (Chapter II, Kindle Loc 2242)

Extract from the Captain’s diary presage to the disaster

‘We are now ten days out from Procyon V. The monotonous years stretch like dead weight before us.’ (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 2602)

Genesis of the new religion – religion link

‘More difficult to deal with is poor Bassitt . . . He was an Aviarist Second Class, but now that all birds except a handful of sparrows have been released on the New World, time hangs heavy for him. He has evolved a dismal religion of his own, mugged it up out of old psychology textbooks, which he insists on preaching up and down Main Corridor.’ (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 2612)

Why the ship keeps running link to Heinlein

‘Thank heaven most devices are automatic and self-servicing.’ (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 2641)

The disaster a virus perhaps from New Earth – link to Aurora

(Extract from the Captain’s diary) ‘I have left the Control Room – perhaps for good. The shutters have been closed against the ghastly stars. Gloom lies thick over the ship. Over half our population has the Nine Day Ague; out of sixty-six who have completed the full cycle, forty-six have died. The percentage of deaths is dropping daily, but the survivors seem comatose.’ (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 2657)

Reasons for the fatal virus – the disaster that killed survivors

Before leaving the new planet, we completely rewatered. All stocks of water aboard were evacuated into orbit, and fresh supplies ferried up. The automatic processes which claim moisture from the air and feed it back into the hull tanks have always been efficient; but naturally such water, used over and over, had become – to use a mild word – insipid.

‘The new water, ferried up from the streams of Procyon V, tasted good. It had, of course, been tested for microscopic life and filtered; but perhaps we were not as thorough as we should have been – scientific method has naturally stagnated over the generations. However, apportioning blame is irrelevent in our present extremity. In simple terms, viral proteins were suspended in the water in molecular solutions, and so slipped through our filters.

‘June Besti, in Research, a bright and conceited young thing whose hyper-agoraphobia rendered her unable to join her husband on Procyon V, explained the whole chain of events to me in words of one syllable. Proteins are complex condensation forms of amino acids; amino acids are the basics, and link together to form proteins in peptic chains. Though the known amino acids number only twenty-five, the combinations of proteins they can form is infinite; unfortunately a twenty-sixth amino acid turned up in the water from Procyon V. It served as a vector for the fatal virus.’ (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 2665)

Questions the sanity of the GS mission – link to Aurora

‘Only now, when the long journey means no more than a retreat into darkness, do I begin to question the sanity behind the whole conception of inter-stellar travel. How many hapless men and women must have questioned it on the way out to Procyon, imprisoned in these eternal walls! For the sake of that grandiose idea, their lives guttered uselessly, as many more must do before our descendants step on Earth again.’ (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 2750)

The trope of the glimpse of stars links to Universe and many others

… they could glimpse a ribbon of space. How many pointless years had passed since the last inhabitant of the ship had looked out at that mighty void? Heads together, Complain and the girl stared through the impervious hyaline tungsten of the window, trying to take in what they saw. Little, of course, could be seen, just a tiny wedge of universe with its due proportion of stars – not enough to dizzy them, only enough to fill them with courage and hope. (Chapter IV, Kindle Loc 2812)

A glimpse of possibility – a beautiful sight of Earth link to Aurora and Ark

‘… a sweet crescent of a planet, as bright blind blue as a new-born kitten’s eyes, looking larger than a sickle held at arm’s length. It scintillated into dazzling white at its centre, where a sun seemed to rise out of it. And the sun, wreathed in its terrible corona, eclipsed everything else in grandeur.’ (Chapter II, Kindle Loc 3191)

An anthropological study link to Ascension

“‘I’m an anthropologist,’ Fermour said, ‘although I also tried to help spread the light. There are several of us aboard. This is a unique chance to discover the effects of a closed environment on man; it has taught us more about man and society than we have been able to learn on Earth for centuries.'” (Chapter V, Kindle Loc 2766)