Notes for Gerrold’s ‘The Galactic Whirlpool’

Notes for Gerrold’s The  Galactic Whirlpool  Icon to jump back to the main menu

Gerrold, D. (1980) The Galactic Whirpool. USA: Bantam Spectre.

Image of the Bantam Spectre edition of 'The Galactic Whirlpool'

Image of the Bantam Spectre edition of ‘The Galactic Whirlpool’

A short summary of the novel

  1. The novel starts with the USS Enterprise alone in space. The reader learns why Captain Kirk’s middle name of Tiberius is important, because it forces him in to “a sense of deliberate compassion” as he was called the ‘last of the Claudians’ and Kirk had to think about his own pride. (p2)
  2. A Klingon battle cruiser is reported in this remote sector. (p3) Spock finds an anomaly. (p4) There is some by-play establishing the Star Trek characters and then Kirk decides to investigate the anomaly.
  3. Through excellent navigation the Enterprise manages to approach the anomaly and finds it has the mass of a large asteroid moving at half the speed of light. It is Chekhov’s navigation that finds the asteroid.
  4. There is a good deal of discussion on the Enterprise about what they speculate is a Generation Spaceship (GS) and they discuss what life would be like for the inhabitants of the GS (p25). It is the believed the isolation of the GS travel would have “shaped their psychological view of the universe” (p25). The belief systems would mean that “Dogma would be absolute” (p27).
  5. The GS has a diameter of 10 kilometres and it is 25 kilometres in length.
  6. The Enterprise sends probes that listen to the artefact (p35) and life is heard. They hear “A distant chorus of confusion” (p35).
  7. A helmet camera from an Enterprise crewman peers into a porthole in the hull of the GS and shows a face that expresses startled shock, showing “The inhabitants of that strange vessel were human – undeniably, incredibly human!”
  8. A portable airlock is deployed. Kirk worries about the ‘bug-spot event’, a test at Starfleet Academy, showing adaptability.
  9. Spock and Kirk head into the access tube learn that the vessel is filled with breathable air. Kirk orders the airlock opened (p42). Spock and Kirk explore the craft. They find red balloons to signal a potential air leak (p43). They find heat signals and set their phasers to stun. Just as they are about to investigate the heat signatures the Enterprise communicates to say there are signs of the Klingon craft they were seeking, so Spock and Kirk return to the command deck.
  10. Riley takes over the exploratory team and in a flashback the reader learns Riley had a problem in the past, but Kirk gives him another chance.
  11. There is a noise as the Away Team explores the craft and Riley sees a crossbow on the deck. The team is attacked from ropes above and the team fire their phasers. One attacker, masked as an animal, is killed and two lie stunned (p54).
  12. Back on board the Enterprise, Kirk decides to leave Riley in charge of the Away Team. The team moves onwards but they start to feel weak due to an O-field, where the oxygen is depleted. They use oxygen masks then Riley uses his phaser on low power to produce more oxygen.
  13. They come to a dead-end and gain approval from Spock to use their phasers to cut through with “A needle-thin beam of arcing blue brilliance” (p65). They break through and are amazed to discover a huge hydroponics unit full of green, growing life, insects and fruit (p66). The vines can be ten metres high, due to the lower gravity. The team note how primitive is the farm when a tricorder picks up the arrival of one of the GS crew. It is a young woman and she is talking into a communicator in an oddly chopped pidgin-English (p70).
  14. The young woman hears the team, fires at Riley and is hit by three phaser blasts, dropping barely alive. They deploy a communications module and can then transport back to the Enterprise. Doctor McCoy takes charge of her, warning of the terrible shock to her from her changed conditions (p75).
  15. The Enterprise crew and Chekov work out that the GS came from Earth and they have been travelling for five generations. There is humorous byplay between Spock, Kirk, Chekhov and Scotty, leading them to believe Spock’s 90% speculation that the crew will not want to stop their journey (p79).
  16. Chapter 15 (p81) looks back to Captain Kirk’s insistence on a comprehensive digital library and its success in the comic MacMurray Encounter when Kirk surrendered to win a strategic outpost (p81), following ideas from an Eighteenth-Century strategy. The Enterprise library has a librarian, Specks, who tells the command crew they have found “the lost Cometary Colony” (p88). The ship was built at the L5 point to help solve Earth’s energy needs in the twenty-first century (p90).
  17. A complex series of environmental and political machinations is described by Specks, culminating in the GS pretending to test their engines but actually leaving the system. One of the Earth warships tries to catch them but the GS has “an unlimited range because it was completely self-contained and self-supporting” (p99). The GS is called the ‘Wanderer’. The craft has a solar sail and a ramscoop and the Wanderer pioneered “slowship travel” (p102).
  18. The command crew try to convince the young Wanderer woman that they are not ‘demons’ but on a separate spaceship, running through many displays in the Enterprise.
  19. Riley tells her when she runs from the command deck that the Enterprise crew are the descendants of those on Earth, as was foretold in the Wanderer’s belief systems, created over the generations, when “the wanderers will be met by the visitors” (p113).
  20. She is Katwen and she is a warrior on the Wanderer. She takes a shuttle with Riley, Kirk and Spock when she sees the truth about her own GS the Wanderer and the Enterprise (p117). She tells them that the crew of the Wanderer have been at war with each other since a mutiny generations before. She notes that there may be about 3000 people left on the Wanderer.
  21. They return to the Enterprise and the command crew debate whether they should make contact with the Wanderer (p124). Kirk is arguing with the Enterprise’s legal adviser when Chekov interrupts to tell them that the Wanderer is heading for Ellison’s star and catastrophe (p125). It is urgent that the Wanderer change course or be destroyed by “the galactic maelstrom” (p126). This natural phenomenon is explained and Kirk decides to contact the Wanderer to save them all, adding a pun that it is “a matter of the highest gravity” (p129).
  22. In consultation with Katwen, Kirk decides to let Riley lead a mission back to the Wanderer. She will beam back to her ship and Spock tries to explain this process to her (p141) and she agrees but makes sure they all know she is a warrior and her first duty is to her Captain, back on the Wanderer (p143).
  23. Back on board the Wanderer, Katwen takes Riley to see Dr Hobie, the Head of the Science Council. He says that “outsiders are demons” (p147) but tends to believe Riley’s evidence and Katwen’s corroboration when “all hell broke loose” (p149) and stormtroopers break in, knocking Riley unconscious.
  24. The weapon used to knock Riley out disrupted communication with the Enterprise. When Riley recovers he meets Captain Frost, who looks friendly but is not. The Captain refuses to believe Riley and Dr Scobie cannot help (p157). Riley is taken to a platform where he sees Katwen again and tells her he loves her (p159). The Captain sentences both of them to death, to be broken down “into their component substances for use by the Ship as needed” (p160). A trapdoor drops them through into the converter then Riley finds blackness, again.
  25. Katwen knows they are down with the savages. Riley sees they are all short and stocky. They are taken down and down on a spiral and the savages group are ambushed by a raid from the upper levels, from Captain Frost, and Riley is knocked unconscious again (p165), on a cart heading down in a gravity-assist ride very like an adventure slide. Riley escapes at the top of a dizzying ride and drags Katwen with him but decides to return to the lower levels because “The people of the lower level may be the last hope of this this world” (p169).
  26. Regardless of their appearance, the people on the lower levels acknowledge the presence of the Enterprise and take Riley and Katwen to see who they call “the real Captain” (p171). Riley works out the problems of the lower levels because of the increased gravity of their environment, due to centripetal force. Their captain is Gomez and he explains the sensible reasons for their mutiny, generations before. Gomez has the logbook of the first captain, a sign of genuine authority onboard the Wanderer (p175). Gomez trusts Riley and Katwen and for the first time, they have hope for the Wanderer.
  27. Riley with Gomez contacts his Away Team and is beamed back with the group to the Enterprise. Gomez asks for help from Kirk, firstly for Doctor McCoy for his people in the lower levels. Gomez asks for weapons but Kirk refuses and has Spock tell the story of the Elder and the Child (p182) demonstrating the need to have a long term benefit for a society through a compassionate act. Gomez trusts Kirk and they shake hands, in a manner (p184).
  28. The Enterprise crew decide to beam straight into the Wanderer and look for a diversion, settling on creating machines that project 3D images of “prowlers and growlers and bears” (p186) with comic dialogue.
  29. Teams from the Enterprise beam over, directed by Gomez’  men and Riley shows Kirk his 3D inventions (p191) and they are released to move up to the higher levels. There are problems for the Enterprise teams and Kirk beams back to his craft. Riley calls Kirk over and they arrive in a vast area of the Wanderer simulating a desert (p197) but Riley triggers a tripwire and manned flying machines attacked the Team with spears, from above (p201).
  30. The Team respond with phasers and some of the Wanderer’s troops are killed, against Kirk’s will, but further killing is stopped by the lights in the Wanderer suddenly turning on as Scotty fixes one of the fusion plants (p203).
  31. Kirk’s Team progresses when the flying machines withdraw in the light but find a locked door. Kirk is called away to another emergency just as Riley breaks through (p205). Dr Hobie contacts Kirk by communicator and Uhuru locates it and turns on its transponder function so people can beam to that spot (p207). Kirk orders goggles made for the Wanderer lower decks not used to light and then beams to the transponder where Dr Hobie was talking.
  32. Riley’s 3D aparitions are running amok in the higher levels and Kirk and Spock break through to the command deck on the Wanderer. Kirk confronts Frost, who aims a phaser at Kirk. There is a tense confrontation but little argument as Frost is illogical. Suddenly, officers in battle jackets from the Enterprise beam in and in panic, Frost fires but the phaser was caught “in the transporter effect”, it imploded with a great burst of energy, and Frost is incinerated (p216).
  33. Dr Hobie has a gun trained on Kirk but Kirk argues that trust is vital, to rebuild and unite the Wanderer crew. Captain Gomez from the lower floors arrives and he tries to make a treaty with Dr Hobie (p218). Gomez and Hobie believe they can sort out the problems better than the Enterprise crew could, so Kirk wants to return to his own ship, saying, “The locals seem to have the situation in hand – which is just as it should be” (p219).
  34. Chapter 44 (p220) finds Riley heading off on the Enterprise, now that the Wanderer is starting to sort itself out. Riley holds Katwen’s hands and tells he he is beginning to love her and Katwen, a true warrior, says love she had never known, until him. They kiss and she is back in the role of a teacher as an urchin from the lower levels interrupts them and she leaves (p221).
  35. Back on the Enterprise, with a comic flourish, Chekov tells Kirk the bad news that the Wanderer is headed into the galactic maelstrom but there is good news that she can slingshot around a star and head out to Malcor’s Pride, a colony actively seeking new colonists (p222).
  36. Heading away from the Wanderer, Kirk interviews Riley and congratulates him, giving him advice about his relationship with Katwen. Spock is listening and queries Kirk about the bridge being used for this dialogue and Kirk says it is because humans are so emotional. Spock responds, comically, that he does not care what humans do with their emotions “As long as you don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses” (p223).


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Themes in the novel

Themes in the novel:

A theme in a novel or shorter narrative is an important idea that emerges from a literary work (Baldick, 2015). The subject matter of a novel can be described in terms of its action and events, but the theme of the novel will be “described in more abstract terms (e.g. love, war, revenge, betrayal, fate, etc.)” (Baldick, 2015). Some themes are described in the quotes section, below, but readers can always find their own themes and these can be defended with evidence from the text.


In a novel or shorter narrative a motif is a “distinctive recurrent element” (Chandler & Munday, 2016). Some motifs are found frequently in the genre of Science Fiction (SF), such as the protagonists search for answers, a planet, a person of a place in deepest space. In the sub-genre of the Generation Spaceship within SF some motifs are found across many texts, such as the vast array of stars seen through a visor or a transparent shell. The repetition of the motif leads it to “acquire a ‘ symbolic ’ significance” (Chandler & Munday, 2016).


A trope in a novel or shorter narrative is a figure of speech “especially one that uses words in senses beyond their literal meanings” (Baldick, 2015). Tropes in formal argument could be metaphors or rhetorical questions but in the genre of Science Fiction they are a “familiar, metaphorical, and/or rhetorical figure of speech or way of telling a story” (Harcup, 2014). Some SF devices, such as space shuttles, fusion engines and virtual reality displays are tropes that shortcut the process of explaining what these actually do or how they work. Instead, the reader and writer accept them as part of the SF furniture and move on with the narrative itself, unless the trope is a vital part of the story.

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Quotes from the narrative


The first findings of the GS Wanderer

lt would have to be, very large – the size of a small asteroid perhaps – and/or moving at a very large sub-light velocity – perhaps as much as one-half the speed of light. (Gerrold, p10)

The ridiculously difficult chance of finding the GS:

By any system of logic, the chances of discovery were so miniscule to border on the fantastic. The Notorious Murphy Coincidence would look inevitable by comparison.

But then . . this was the USS Enterprise (Gerrold, p15)

The first sight of the GS – intertextual references:

“… transparent domes. All was still and empty, almost bleak against the background of velvet … Here, this far from anything, lost in the deep between the stars … (Gerrold, p17)

A city in space:

There was no sense of scale – but even so the sheer bulk of it was ominous and over-powering. It was an undeniable presence.

It was a city in space. Huge and shrouded. (Gerrold, p18)

And in this bath of light the object was transformed into a ghostly vision. It came ablaze with reflected metal. Metal and glass and mylar, plastic and ceramic faces glittered as bright1y as the day they were first fabricated. The wheel was a city, the city was an island, the island was a civilization, rotating majestically in the dark valleys of the night. Spires and

And minarets, bridges and turrets and platforms. And it was done in shades of pearlescent luminosity: pastel and glimmering colors, rose and coral and turquoise, a city that was pink, veined with white and yellow. Shadows of purple swept across plains of pale sherbet. Diamond facets caught the light and arced it back; sharp blue metal gleamed.

(Gerrold, p19)

Spock’s notes on the GS vessel:

It is a ship. An interstellar vessel, obviously, for we have found it in the deep between the stars. Its builders, perhaps recognizing that such a journey would take centuries perhaps, built not a ship, but a world. A civilization, if you will. They have been travelling on their journey for centuries and they have centuries of travel left to go. (Gerrold, p20)

Spock’s other, useful deductions

“That we are alien to their experience,” continued Spock, “would seem obvious by the fact that their ship is not capable of faster-than-light travel. A civilization aware of FTL drives would not invest so much energy into building a multi-generational ship. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to postulate that whatever we do in the process of contacting them may result in severe cultural shock.”(Gerrold, p25)

Spock deducts the GS crew will not expect outside contact:

“What we have here is a civilization isolated as no other civilization that has had time enough become set in its structures; a kind of cultural petrification, if you will.”

(Gerrold, p25)

Imagining the society of the GS craft:

The concepts of ‘wilderness’ and ‘freedom’ might be meaningless to them. In such a world, dogma would be absolute because it would have to be. In such a world, there would be no change because change might be dangerous to the society’s continued stability. (Gerrold, p27)


Spock deliberately shifted his, gaze away from the doctor and continued on as if he hadn’t spoken at all. “Machines break down. Especially machines that are constructed by the lowest bidder. The chances of a failure on board any vessel increase with the passage of time. After enough time, a failure of some kind is inevitable. Given a long enough time, the cumulative impact of all the individual failures will make the survival of the ship’s inhabitants problematic.

(Gerrold, p28)

Scotty explains how the ship seems to work:

On the forward screen of the bridge, Mr. Scott had synthesized an image of the giant vessel, which wheeled almost as majestically as the vessel just a few kilometers away.

“What we have,” Scotty was explaining, “basically is a cylinder, ten kilometers in diameter, almost twenty-five kilometers in length. There are three fusion plants at each end. One of them may still be working. The thermal radiation indicates a low level of operation …

(Gerrold, p30)

They can be used, in either direction, depending on the timing programs; very clever too, vessel has the equivalent of twenty-four primary thrusters at each end. (Gerrold, p30)

Rotation of the GS Craft creates a Simulation of Earth-like Gravity

The vessel itself was nearly ten kilometers in diameter and some twenty-four kilometers in length. The gingerbread spokes of the wheel around its waist extended ten more kilometers outward from the hull. And, if Scotty’s surmise were correct, they were only the remains of a larger structure. Interestingly, Spock had computed that the internal simulation of gravity, produced by the effect of centrifugal force, as experienced by an individual standing on the inner side of the spinning hull, would approximate 1.75 gee. An Earth-normal gravity would be experienced somewhat closer the center of the vessel’s rotation. (Gerrold, p40)

The exploratory party tests the air, then smells it – a nice and inevitable detail:

“The air smells stale …musty.” (Gerrold, p43)

Dark Infernal:

…in the tunnel, their colors faded and drab. Narrow trickles of water flowed past their boots in an spinward direction. (Gerrold, p45)

Nice description:

On either side of the tracks were walkways that had once been carpeted. Now they were dull, hard mats. Whatever color they had originally been was undetectable. Now they were gray-brown. (Gerrold, p50)

Breaking through a barricade – suddenly the Hydroponics chambers:

The crewmembers moved slowly – stunned – through a maze of chest-high tanks, each one laden with wise-leafed plants, the woody stalks reaching eagerly towards the light. They were huge vines … (Gerrold, p67)

Doctor McCoy Tells Kirk about the Danger to Katwen’s Psychology from their Arrival:

“What if these people have been so isolated they no longer believe in the existence of anything but their own little universe? If that’s the case, she’s going to have one hell of a case of culture shock. At the very least.” (Gerrold, p74)

Chekov Calculates an Earth Origin for the GS Craft:

“We, uh – found a fifty-three percent probability. They would have to have visited several other star systems along the way, looping around the suns to come into a new trajectory for their next destination …” (Gerrold, p77)

“We must assume,” continued Spock, “that at some point or other, the inhabitants of the vessel, now into their third or fourth generation, began to get impatient. The model for generation ships of this type has always been that they would accelerate for half the journey, then decelerate for the other half.” (Gerrold, p77)

Spock Believes the GS is Travelling Too Fast to Stop and Must Keep Going:

To those within the ship, the chance of taking ten or fifteen years off the next leg of the journey—if worst came to worst and they had to continue onward in their search—must have seemed irresistible. (Gerrold, p78)

Specks Announces the Discovery of the Lost, Cometary Colony:

“Don’t you realize what you’ve found? That’s the Lost Cometary Colony!”

Kirk was startled; Scotty looked like he’d been kicked; Chekov spluttered unreadably. (Gerrold, p88)

The scale of the Wanderer:

“Specks began with a series of blueprints. ‘The early design concepts for the structure,’ he explained. ‘It was built to be the first L5 structure, Here, you can see the plan for the farms, this huge open area in the center. The structure is a hollow cylinder with a landscape established on the inside wall of the hull. In addition, there are anywhere from five to twenty-five levels of offices, theaters, plumbing, air-shafts, industrial plants, life-support machinery, recycling stations, and the like, built in shells around that inner section. The number of levels is varied depending on the sculpting of the interior landscape. They wanted mountains, hills, lakes, and so on. A real wilderness.” (Gerrold, p89)

The Hydroponics uses the low gravity:

“… to increase crop production they pioneered low-gravity farming. Giant vegetables.” (Gerrold, p89)

The Wanderer and other cometary colonies were the ‘last, best hope’ of the twenty-first century:

“You see, to put this in the proper context, this project was viewed as the last best hope to break the energy deadlock of the twenty-first century. Energy resources were particularly scarce at the time and the construction of orbiting solar power stations was recognized as the best way to meet humanity’s growing appetite for electricity on a permanent basis …” (Gerrold, p90)

Some intertextual references in the early space explorers and their ‘interstellar stare’:

“Anyway, the lack of territoriality in a ship-dweller tends to produce the ah, ‘starside syndrome’—which is sometimes called the ‘million-light-year-stare.’ Star-siders seem to be able to see forever. And somehow, they always seem at peace with themselves, their bodies, and the spaces they move in.

“Today, this is normal for most of the human race, we take it for granted that we have been ‘expanded’ …” (Gerrold, p96)

The Wanderer has an unlimited range because it is self-contained and self-supporting:

“The L5 station had, in effect, an unlimited range because it was completely self-contained and self-supporting.”   (Gerrold, p99)

Several successful technologies: the Wanderer has 24 fusion engines, a solar sail and later, a ramscoop:

“They had spread a twenty-kilometer solar sail, and when they passed the orbit of Earth, they switched on their fusion engines full power.

“They didn’t add the ramscoop until much later. Probably they dismantled their drydock structure. If you’ll compare that section there, with this one here on this other photo, you’ll see that the sections are remarkably similar.” (Gerrold, p101)

The Wanderer disappeared, became a mystery, until this discovery:

“No one knew for sure. Aside from the political intrigues of its construction, and the fact that they pioneered slowship travel, the colony’s chief claim to fame has been its mystery. I can tell you quite a bit about that, if you wish.” (Gerrold, p101)

Spock warns that the Wanderer’s crew have their own belief systems and will not like the intrusion from the Enterprise:

Spock was saying something. “—How would you feel, Captain, if you were to come face to face with the historical truth that formed the basis for the common human conception of God?” (Gerrold, p111)

The captured female, Katwen, is comforted. Future and traditional sexist stereotype?

Riley looked at her and saw—not a frightened woman—but a frightened little girl whose world had just collapsed. He couldn’t help himself. He moved forward and gathered her into his arms, “It’ll be all right,” he whispered. “It’ll be all right—what’s your name?” She didn’t answer at first, just kept crying … (Gerrold, p115)

The Enterprise crew love their little puns and insider jokes:


“Katholin Arwen.”

“I’ll take you home again, Katholin.”

“Not yet – just a minute.” She held him tightly …” (Gerrold, p115)

Riley discusses the Wanderer with Katwen and raises hard questions. Are the descendants condemned by their parents’ choices?

“… is it morally right to condemn several generations of your descendants to a hard life alone in the void between the stars? Because without faster-than-light travel, it will take at least three generations to reach another sun.” (Gerrold, p119)

After the mutiny and the illness and the continued fighting, there are 3000 left on the Wanderer:

” …I would guess that there are perhaps three thousand people in the world.”

Kirk looked to Spock, alarmed. McCoy’s face too showed concern.

It was on all three of their minds. (Gerrold, p122)

Riley explains centrifugal force to Katwen, with some comic misunderstandings:

He reached over and took the orange from Katwen. “Now, follow this very carefully. In the Wanderer, you get gravity because the Wanderer is spinning, right?”

“Right. Is called centrifugal force.”

“And because it’s spinning, all the gravity is going from the inside toward the outside, right? So people live on the inside.” He spun the orange in his fingers.

“Now, on the Earth, all the gravity is backward …” (Gerrold, p134)

Katwen explains the dangers of Received Doctrine versus Science on the Wanderer:

“Listen to me, Kevin Riley. Is very dangerous. Is not even tell your Captain this. Not want to give him reason to not take this chance. But Captain Frost is dogmatic man. Old-fashioned. Very religious. One-world doctrine. Not believe in old stories. Calls them divisive fantasies. Old ways much suppressed. Old beliefs illegal. Old tapes destroyed. Is dangerous to speak of other worlds except with contempt. We risk our lives to speak this heresy. Is must convince Science Council, our only hope. Else Captain Frost simply refuse to listen.” She looked at him intensely. “Is much scared. Is much to be scared for.” (Gerrold, p146)

A trope for many GS Narratives, here the matter converter is used knowingly and with a twist:

Her eyes were wide with fear.

“You belong to the molecular converter now,” said Frost, and this time when he looked, there was the slightest hint of a smile on his face. (Gerrold, p160)

Heinlein style:

They were dressed in shapeless black jackets and shorts.

All were armed with knives and crossbows. All of them were short and stocky. (Gerrold, p162)

The Wild Comes Back on the Wanderer:

They moved through corridors that were puddled with water, they jumped across a stream that trickled out of the darkness toward an open shaft where it poured out as a steady fall of water. There were dank areas of decomposing matter. There were places where fungi streaked the walls. Mushrooms were growing in the corners. (Gerrold, p163)

Terrible dialogue between Katwen and Riley as they plunge to their doom:

“In upper levels, is not want to understand, not know how – not know how—they fight the truth as determinedly as I did—they will not listen, even when I tell them. Tell me, Kevin Riley, is world doomed now?”

“I hope not, Katwen.” He tried to reach over for her hand, but the cuffs on his wrists made it difficult.

“Captain Kirk doesn’t give up easily.” (Gerrold, p164)

Riley explains the last, best hope for the Wanderer:

“There’s only one chance left. Down there. The people of the lower level may be the last hope of this world, Katwen.” (Gerrold, p169)

Amongst the mutants on the lower levels, still civility and bloody stupid manners:

“I am Squadrant Commander Lasker, at your service.” He returned Riley’s salute. “Come with me. You must meet real Captain.”

The crowd parted for them, people staring curiously …   (Gerrold, p171)

The mutants from the lower levels explain their understanding of the rebellion:

“More than a hundred years ago, this ship found a planet where human beings could survive. Every twenty-three years, however, its primary gave off a burst of hard radiation. The Captain at that time—Captain Shiras—felt we had no choice but to move on toward our next target. The colonists didn’t want to. It was a choice between settling a real world or being one more generation who would live and die within these metal walls. And our ancestors wanted to be the first generation to live on a new world, they would not accept the Captain’s assessment that the world was uninhabitable, so was born the rebellion. (Gerrold, p173)

The mutants from the lower decks explain that they do not control the electricity, so they live oppressed and in the dark:

“Just what I said. Look around. Do you see any books? No. Not even electric lights. Captain Frost controls the electricity of this ship.” (Gerrold, p175)

The lower levels population have a hard life, link to The Watch Below:

“And when one of our own dies, we melt down the animal fat in his body to make candles. Sometimes we raid the upper levels and try to tap into power cable so we can recharge what power cells we have. But mostly, we have to line the walls with blankets and foam to keep our heat from bleeding off into the deserted parts of the ship. (Gerrold, p175)

” … the light for them comes from a team of men riding pedal-operated generators. We have no manufacturing. Our clothes are cut from industrial canvas that we salvage when we can find it. Our lives are a continual struggle for survival.” (Gerrold, p175)

Spock explains how the social system of the Wanderer works, with knowledge differentiated:

Spock acknowledged with a nod. “The upper-level people hold the control room of the Wanderer. The lower-level people have the fusion plants, but not the controls. Four of the fusion plants are inoperative. The other two are operable, but only one is currently on-line. The power output is minimal. Not enough to provide full life support for the vessel, let alone power to the mass-drivers of the ramscoop. The upper-level people have control of the library—which undoubtedly contains full details of the ship’s construction and operation, but they seem to have made themselves deliberately unaware of their situation. The people of the lower levels are aware that they live aboard a ship, but they exist at such a poverty level that there is no chance of their applying that knowledge. (Gerrold, p180)

Another pun for the Enterprise crew with a nod towards the Wizard of Oz:

“Prowlers and growlers and bears? Yes, exactly. Riley will bring these animals to life. They don’t have to be scary—in fact, it’s probably better if they’re not. (Gerrold, p187)

“Chartreuse bears?” asked Kirk.

“And lavender too. We have all different colors. Whoops! Watch out for that one—”.

That one was a looping purple python, spiral-striped with blue fringe.

“You don’t think you might have gone a little overboard, do you, Riley?”

“Oh no, sir. Not at all.”

“Oh. Good.”

Riley looked momentarily startled. “You don’t think it’s too much, do you, sir?”

“Ahem ” Kirk said into his fist. (Gerrold, p192)

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Discussions of the novel


Doyle, D. (n.d.) The Galactic Whirlpool. Reviews. Orion Press Fanzines. Accessed 18 February 2018 at

The novel was an expansion of a script submitted for Star Trek, called ‘Tomorrow was Yesterday’.

Nice background to Kirk as ‘The Last of the Claudians’.

“The Galactic Whirlpool was a very enjoyable read, featuring much suspense and much humor” (Doyle, n.d.)

Trekkieguy (n.d.) The Galactic Whirlpool. Accessed 18 February 2018 at

“I really enjoyed this story although I do have a couple of complaints about it.  First, I don’t think a detailed introduction of each of the main characters is necessary in a Trek novel. I’m sure we all know who Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are.

Second, the character of Specks, ships historian. He goes on and on …. and on and on, giving us back story about life on Earth in the 21st and 22nd centuries. It starts out OK but just goes on way too long and gets boring and unnecessary.

Other than that the story is quite good. As the characters are wandering around the huge ship you really get the sense that it’s very old and very big! (Trekkieguy, n.d.)

Sisley’s take on The Watch Below as a useful GS text for secondary students:






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Relevance to the focus questions

The focus questions for the GS Project are:

  1. What is worth holding onto over the generations?
  2. What should be discarded for the voyage? and
  3. Can life be sustained in the GS …or on Earth?

Only a few comments are made here related to the three questions, above, mostly because the narrative itself will be interpreted differently by different readers. But what might be noted here are:

  1. Because


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Resource list


Doyle, D. (n.d.) The Galactic Whirlpool. Reviews. Orion Press Fanzines. Accessed 18 February 2018 at

Gerrold, D. (1980) The Galactic Whirpool. USA: Bantam Spectre.

Trekkieguy (n.d.) The Galactic Whirlpool. Accessed 18 February 2018 at

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