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Generation Ships

 Generation Ships
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If the laws of physics don't allow Faster-Than-Light Travel, it's going to take a long time to colonize the stars. If you can't get close enough to lightspeed to take advantage of Time Dilation, don't have the medical technology for functional immortality, and you don't want to resort to suspended animation/hibernation or Brain Uploading, no one starting the journey is going to see the destination. Their grandchildren might, or their grandchildren, or theirs. You get the idea.
Advertisement:propertag.cmd.push(function() { proper_display('tvtropes_mobile_ad_1'); })This doesn't have to wind up as a City in a Bottle, but frequently does, and did in what is perhaps the first story to use popularize this trope, Robert A. Heinlein's "Universe". Several examples of Generation Ships are listed on that page. This is simply the most common failure mode, as it's rare to have a generation ship story in which things don't go horribly wrong, whether technologically, socially, or both.
Generation Ships are great settings for sociological comment: the author has a nice sealed pressure vessel to play out their theories or critique existing cultures.
A Generation Ship is almost always a Starship Luxurious—it's got to sustain the equivalent of an entire ecosystem, whether it does so with rivets-and-bolts machinery or with an actual terrarium-style recreation of a full-fledged habitat, not to mention accommodate hundreds or thousands of people for their entire lifespans without them going mad from boredom and claustrophobia.
Advertisement:propertag.cmd.push(function() { proper_display('tvtropes_mobile_ad_2'); })Sometimes, a Generation Ship doesn't have a decided destination—it's an interstellar trade ship, connecting isolated colonies or installing the Hyperspace Gateways that will allow FTL expansion and exploitation, in which case the populace are usually Space People. Occasionally, the generation ship will arrive to discover that someone developed an FTL drive while they were en route and the world they were going to colonize already has a few million people on it.
If it's a Colony Ship, expect the residents to be less-than-keen to leave the ship and start a new colony when they arrive at their destination. Will often be a Mile-Long Ship, if not an outright Planet Spaceship.
Has nothing to do with fandom Shipping older and younger characters.
 Generation Ships
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In the visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story, a generation ship named Mugunghwa was sent from Earth in the 24th century to colonize other worlds. One day it vanished, only to reappear as a lifeless derelict millennia later. You are hired and sent to the ship to find out what the hell happened for it to end like that.
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In Empire from the Ashes, the planetoid-class ships have perfectly good FTL that can get them around to most places in less than a year, but they're still set up as generation ships because they oftentimes go on long tours of duty and it's considered necessary for the health of the community to have children born and growing up as they would be on a planet. Of course, being what they are, these ships have crews in the hundreds of thousands and provision for a natural increase up to doubling.
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In the Para Imperium universe the initial Colony Ships from Sol to the systems that later became the Core Worlds of the Federation were crewed by teenagers at the time of launch who were well past middle-age when they reached the closest star systems. By the time Alpha Centauri had re-established interstellar travel they had developed immortality and a Portal Network but children are still often born on starships.
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The backstory of Kevin J. Anderson's The Saga of Seven Suns involves 11 generational ships sent out into space. None of them reach their destinations, however. Nine are found by an alien race who use their FTL technology to take them to habitable planets. Another ends up colonizing whatever asteroids and other non-terrestrial environments they can find becoming Space Gypsies. The other one is assumed to be lost until it is discovered that the supposedly friendly Ildirians that rescued the others kept the last one to do breeding experiments with and have been raping generations of human women to experiment on their hybrids
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In Elizabeth Bear's Jacob's Ladder Trilogy, the Jacob's Ladder is a generation ship on a multi-century journey to colonize another planet. It covers its bases by having a living ecosystem with crew members that are born and die en route in addition to holds carrying frozen sleepers. The society on the Jacob's Ladder has regressed to a quasi-medieval feudal system that considers the ship's fragmented AI to be angels on one side and a quasi-city known as Engine on the other, who are at war. And though they have developed technologies that allow them to technically live forever, they are only made accessible to the Exalts of the House of Rule, while everyone else is a Mean and not worthy of it. Additionally, large parts of the ship had broken down and stopped to function, making travel between Rule and Engine extremely difficult and leaving parts of the ship to fend for themselves. The last book not only reveals that the feudal system was intentional and the ship was originally launched by religious fanatics whom nobody else on Earth wanted anything to do with, but also that technology has marched on. When the Jacob's Ladder finally arrives at a habitable planet they find it already colonized by other humans, who also consider the inhabitants of the ship to be fanatical aliens because their technology has changed them so much from their ancestors.
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Homeworld has this in the backstory: when the Hiigarans were exiled, the entire civilization was packed into a fleet of identical FTL-incapable generation ships that crossed half the galaxy on sublight until the last four or so reached Kharak. Some of them broken off and became the Kadeshi, a society who camped out in a nebula and gave everyone they met a choice: join or die (the ship is plundered and destroyed in both cases). By the time their distant siblings who made it to Kharak found them, the Kadeshi were religious fanatics who worshipped the nebula and talked in a Creepy Monotone. Oh, and according to the Expanded Universe, they were also albinos. One of the generation ships is still floating in the center of the nebula, unmanned and slowly spinning in place.
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The planet Enroth in Might and Magic VI, VII, VIII and Heroes of Might and Magic I, II and III was, as found out it Might and Magic VI, colonised via generation ship (an oddly Egyptian-themed generation ship).
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Mirabile is set on a colony world settled by a fleet of five generation ships. That's all backstory, and the ships themselves don't actually appear, but there are occasional references to events from the trip (like one of the ships losing most of its population to a disease epidemic, which the colonists are still worried about a possible recurrence of).
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In Wild ARMs 5 the Veruni spent most of the 10,000 years they wandered for a new home on their ship, Locus Solus. By the time the Veruni have settled on Filgaia the ship itself is considered by many of the Veruni to be their homeland, and they revere it to the point of calling the ship Mother.
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Elite: Dangerous added generation ships (and other 'mega ships') in the 2.3 Multicrew update. So far, every generation ship discovered has been lifeless for centuries; however, a large number of systems were successfully colonized and the ship disassembled. It should also be noted that they kept making generation ships even after the invention of Faster-Than-Light Travel, they just bolted into the ship for even greater range.
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The novella Mayflower II (a Xeelee Sequence story by Stephen Baxter) is set on a fleeing generation ship bound for a satellite galaxy 25,000 years away; at .5c, the trip will take fifty thousand years. A crew of nigh-immortal "pharaohs" rule over the "transients" (colonists with normal human lifespans). As the ship drifts through space and time, the society of the transients breaks down as the pharaohs slowly die off, devolving into little more than chimps with reflexive ship maintenance habits. The story is dark, chilling, and an excellent one.
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In an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, the Enterprise gets sent 100 years back in time with no way to return. The Enterprise then becomes a Generational Vessel in one of the few successful attempts at not screwing up the timeline, though they wanted to change one thing while staying out of the way until it happened. They succeed so well that by traveling on The Slow Path, they meet their parents/grandparents, completely the same as the ones that went back.
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The Orville: "If the Stars Should Appear" had a ship that was meant to carry three generations of its people to the nearest planet, but an ion storm disabled the engines and the ship drifted through space for over 2000 years until being discovered. Its inhabitants completely forgot their origins.
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Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri shows that everyone aboard the Unity was actually a Human Popsicle for the duration of the journey.
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The Outer Limits (1995): In "A New Life", the members of Father's religious community are unwittingly the first generation of humans to travel aboard a huge generation ship belonging to a group of alien merchants. It will take 500 years to reach the aliens' destination where their descendants, who will number approximately 100,000, will be sold into slavery.
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2001 Nights had its series concluded with Tachyonian's setting out on a possibly eternal generation ship voyage.
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The New Frontiers in Methuselah's Children was a Generation Ship which was later upgraded with a FTL Drive. It was in fact a sister ship of the Vanguard.
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In Honorverse the generation ships remained a chief way of human Diaspora way after the Faster-Than-Light Travel was invented, for Hyperspace remained a scary place for several centuries before they found a way to safely navigate it. So the habitable planets were prospected by the daredevils with far more spunk than common sense, betting their lives on a chance they don't meet the Negative Space Wedgie on the way; while the settlers themselves moved far more safely and sedately in the slower-than-light ships, first as generation crews, and later as Human Popsicles. The protagonists' world of Manticore took about 600 years to be settled since the launch of the colonization ships, in which time the colony trust managed to Lightspeed Leapfrog them to supply an already prepared bootstrap colony for them.
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Corinne Duyvis's On the Edge of Gone takes place immediately prior to the launch of a generation ship, exploring the ship's construction and resources while contemplating who deserves a ticket into outer space after an apocalyptic event on earth: how much life can the ship support, which individuals earn a place aboard, and ultimately what the ship's destination and purpose should be.
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The titular Marathon colony ship.
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The Space: 1999 episode 'Mission of the Darians'. The crew of Moonbase Alpha responds to a distress call from a 20-mile-long ship on a 900-year voyage. They discover that an accident a century earlier has wrecked most of the ship and its passengers have reverted to barbarism, except for an elite who are keeping themselves alive by using the others for transplant surgery. The ship provides a good example of an Endless Corridor.
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Civilization:
Building one of these and sending it to Alpha Centauri is one of the ways to win.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri shows that everyone aboard the Unity was actually a Human Popsicle for the duration of the journey.
The Spiritual Successor to Alpha Centauri called Civilization: Beyond Earth has the majority of the factions arrive to the planet in Sleeper Starships with the exception of Al Falah, a Middle Eastern faction, who sent out their ships before reliable Human Popsicle technology became available, knowing that those departing would never see their new home. Instead, they resolved to prepare the future generation for the hardships of settling an alien planet. On the plus side, the generations of focused teachings have bred out any centuries-long animosities between tribes and races, leaving a single goal - success (hence the name of the faction, which means "our success"). The flavor text even mentions that the leader of Al Falah, Arshia Kishk, used to take spacewalks from her ship the Golden Shah during the journey before becoming pregnant with her daughter. Apparently, it was a pilgrimage of sorts. Arshia is from the fifth generation, since the departure from Earth.
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The Red Dwarf housed a breeding population of life-forms descended from a single pregnant cat for about 3 million years, long enough for them to evolve sapience and build their own arks to leave.
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The history of the Aquaans in Harbourmaster only goes back as far as their life on one such vessel, prior to their discovering humanity (which already had Faster-Than-Light Travel).
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The official backstory for ∀ Gundam says that there are no space colonies because they were all converted into Generation Ships and left the Earth Sphere. We get to see the beginnings of this process in Gundam SEED. The Genesis System used at the end of the series was originally created as a laser propulsion/nuclear pulse hybrid engine meant to be attached to colonies to facilitate their exodus from the solar system & thus escape the conflict between Naturals & Coordinators, before Patrick Zara decided to repurpose it as a doomsday weapon & tried to use it to end the war in a more direct manner. In the Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Astray manga the heroes actually help a neutral colony fix one to use for its intended purpose.
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The most extreme example — in Ringworld, the Fleet of Worlds is the Puppeteers' entire planetary system converted into a generation ship to flee the galaxy.
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In Impulse Annual #1, Trace Wyndham was born on a generation colony ship which was travelling to a distant galaxy to create a new civilisation. The crew was specifically selected as the best and brightest that humanity had to offer. However, an unspecified disaster struck. Trace's parents placed him in a lifepod but did not accompany him and were killed when the ship was destroyed. Trace was the Sole Survivor of the tragedy. The pod floated in space for several years until it was discovered by a Dargonian ship and brought to Mtoncanf.
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Rick Griffin's Hayven Celestia universe has generation ships that carry stargates, the krakun live long enough to see the end of such a voyage but prefer to crew their gateships with shorter-lived slaves subject to extreme Population Control measures while they themselves commute through the gates.
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In Time Enough for Love, a sequel to Methuselah's Children, there is a throwaway paragraph indicating the ship from Orphans had been found, lifeless due to eventual social decay but the descendants of that story's protagonist were found alive on a nearby planet when the ship's course was backtracked.
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Uniquely, Macross has several examples of faster-than-light generational ships (they can cross the galaxy in a couple of years, but they end up being generational because they have no idea where they're going; the galaxy's a big place to map), with humanity deliberately spreading itself out to avoid species-ending disasters like the one that happened at the end of the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross, with examples including City 7 of Macross 7 and the eponymous Macross Frontier.
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One of the factions in Pandora: First Contact, a group of environmentalists called Terra Salvum, did not have the funds to buy a proper Sleeper Starship from the Noxium Corporation. Instead, their sympathizers in the corporation stole the plans for a ship and built their own. However, they lacked the proper experience and scientific knowledge to equip it with reliable cryo-pods. Instead, they ended up going with this trope. The trip to Pandora only lasted several decades, but improper radiation shielding in most of the ship's areas resulted in the premature deaths of the adults. As such, only their children (born aboard) reached the planet alive. They're even more fanatical about protecting the planet from human exploitation than their parents.
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Megazone 23: the first two installments take place on a colony ship that's returning to Earth after centuries away. The inhabitants think they're living in 1980s Tokyo, the "best time to live" chosen by the computer that runs the ship. They wind up at war with a second generation ship of people who retained or developed a higher level of technology.
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The early science fiction game Metamorphosis Alpha from TSR was set on one of these. It was reworked later as the Amazing Engine setting book "Metamorphosis Alpha To Omega".
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In Time for the Stars the Lewis and Clark is out long enough for some of the crew to marry and have children, despite relativistic time dilation causing only a couple years to pass on board.
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Downplayed in the Poseidon's Children series. In the second novel, On the Steel Breeze, humanity launched about a dozen converted asteroid ships towards a distant Big Dumb Object with a few million occupants. Though the journey takes 200 odd years and several generations of people are raised onboard, it isn't strictly necessary; Longevity Treatment make 200+ year lifespans a piece of cake, and cryosleep units are available to "speed up" one's journey, though there are not enough to have the entire population frozen at a given time.
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Earth Star Voyager is about teenagers chosen for a twelve-year space journey to the planet where, together, they will restart the human race.
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Niven and Pournelle's Footfall has the Fithp use a hybrid generation ship to reach Earth: most of the passengers are in stasis, but necessary maintenance and piloting is carried out by successive generations of crew. The result is a significant culture clash between the 'Shipborn' and the defrosted original generation ("sleepers").
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The jump drive in Traveller makes these unnecessary, but several races used them to make colonies before they discovered the drive, and there are a few adventures that involve encountering one from a previously uncontacted race.
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DC's Earth 2 ended with Homeworld Evacuation on Generation ships after Darkseid successfully took over the earth but their trip only lasted for a short time after Convergence with discovery of new Earth-like planet but most of the ships crashlanded on Earth with Terry Sloan—who specifically engineered the flaw of the Generation ships—which left him as defacto ruler over the survivors.
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Another episode dealt with part of the crew ending up on the Bellerophon, an ancient generational ship launched by Earth centuries ago to "to gather knowledge of life and civilization to go farther and deeper into space than anyone had ever gone before." The ship is so old that it doesn't even possess a slipspace drive, relying instead on massive engines that accelerate it to near the speed of light, with the consequences of such a design being a major plot point for the episode.
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Terra Venture in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy was intended to be a generation ship but monster attacks and visiting a hostile Pocket Dimension cut its journey much shorter. They managed to reach an inhabitable planet complete with Human Aliens within a year or so.
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In Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, the Leonora Christine is only supposed to take 5 years of time (relative to the passengers on board) to reach Beta Virginis. It becomes a generation ship, though, when its deceleration unit breaks down.
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Sequel Hate Plus reveals that its navigational AI was destroyed by a rebellion less than half a millennium into the ship's voyage, thus ensuring that the Mugunghwa would never reach its destination even without Hyun-ae's intervention.
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The title vessel in Rendezvous with Rama superficially appears to be failed example of these in the original novel as there are no apparent inhabitants in the vessel. The characters speculate that all of its inhabitants died off during the vessel's hundred-thousand year journey through space, leaving some pre-programmed robot systems in operation, although the robots are biological in nature and are created denovo whenever needed and recycled when not needed so there is no reason to believe the 'inhabitants' are not also made-on-demand. The sequels reveal that they aren't intended to be generation ships (as they can accelerate to relativistic speeds) for travel but are merely prowling the cosmos to find the perfect life forms. They end up being generation ships anyway, because the Myrmicats at least are reproducing aboard them, and eventualy so do the humans and octospiders. Since the trips take some time to get to all the solar systems on a given voyage and return to the node, some aliens inevitably reproduce aboard. When the stranded humans did this, they were provided for by the spaceship, with extra food, and eventually requisitioned cribs.
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Another non-space generation ship is Armada from The Scar by China Mieville, which is a floating city built by connecting hundreds of regular ships. It doesn't have a permanent destination and it is not meant to ever reach land (as it is a piratical society) but has a permanent population that has lived in the city for generations.
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MST3K alumnus Space Mutiny tries to use this trope, but it doesn't really make much sense since there are space pirates and rapid space travel. Presumably, the Southern Sun launched before proper FTL was invented, but that just begs the question of why the mutineers are so bad for wanting to leave, or why they needed to hijack the whole ship to do so instead of hitching a ride on a shuttle.
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In Wonder Woman Vol 2 Annual #5, a generation ship was launched from Earth prior to its destruction in the hope of finding a new home. However, a warp field breach severely damaged the ship and the comparatively few survivors were forced to eke out a "pitiful, subsistence life." Over time, they split into two groups. One of the groups became known as the Unremembered, for reasons that they were lost to them. One of their number, AlyXa, later learns that it is because they do not have access to a memory transfer device. After 10,000 generations, the other group evolved into the Ratbats. Neither group had any concept of life beyond the worldship, the name of which had been long since forgotten.
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The Axiom from WALL•E is one of these, sustaining human life in space after the Earth has become uninhabitable. Subverted in that it wasn't meant to be. The humans were supposed to be aboard for just a few years, while the Wall-E units cleaned up the earth. The Buy-n-Large president, however, deemed the Earth permanently doomed and ordered the Autopilot to keep them in space forever. He turned out to be wrong, but it's 700 years before the first plant life reappears on the planet. By that time the inhabitants have been heavily affected by generations of sedentary lifestyles, although they recover quickly once their routines are broken.
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Star Trek: The Original Series:
"For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky" has one of these in the form of an asteroid.
"By Any Other Name" had a faster-than-light generation ship that the Kelvans used for the immense journey between galaxies.
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In Pandorum, the Elysium becomes this after one of the crewmembers kills the other awake crewmembers, awakens most of the Human Popsicle colonists and tries to play God with them. The colonists turn into ravenous monsters by a retrovirus designed to adapt them to a new environment and live aboard for nearly a millennium.
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Orthogonal by Greg Egan takes place in a universe where physics is different and Time Dilation works in reverse — the faster you travel, the more time passes from your perspective. The protagonists, seeing an oncoming disaster that they don't have the technology to prevent, build the Generation Ship Peerless so their descendants will have enough time to develop Sufficiently Advanced Technology to Save the World, while only four years pass on the homeworld.
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An older example from DC was 1996 Legends of the Dead Earth annuals, which these stories retold the stories of DC heroes from people who have forgotten many details from now-uninhabitable Earth that they left from these ships in their scatter across the universe for a new homeworld. Examples include Batman as a partner of Catwoman and differing accounts of whether Aquaman was a villain or a hero; ranging from a retelling of the stories to LegacyCharacters living up to their name.
One of the stories took place on the ships was focused on Tris Plover, who was assigned as an agricultural worker and sentenced to be a fertilizer at age 30 until she joined with Batman as Robin after the discovery that the ship has went off course. Although she managed to use new navigation data to get the ship on right track, The new course will take at least more than three centuries to reach the journey and Tris had to turn herself in to the authority due to knowing that she will not be there to see it.
In Impulse Annual #1, Trace Wyndham was born on a generation colony ship which was travelling to a distant galaxy to create a new civilisation. The crew was specifically selected as the best and brightest that humanity had to offer. However, an unspecified disaster struck. Trace's parents placed him in a lifepod but did not accompany him and were killed when the ship was destroyed. Trace was the Sole Survivor of the tragedy. The pod floated in space for several years until it was discovered by a Dargonian ship and brought to Mtoncanf.
In Wonder Woman Vol 2 Annual #5, a generation ship was launched from Earth prior to its destruction in the hope of finding a new home. However, a warp field breach severely damaged the ship and the comparatively few survivors were forced to eke out a "pitiful, subsistence life." Over time, they split into two groups. One of the groups became known as the Unremembered, for reasons that they were lost to them. One of their number, AlyXa, later learns that it is because they do not have access to a memory transfer device. After 10,000 generations, the other group evolved into the Ratbats. Neither group had any concept of life beyond the worldship, the name of which had been long since forgotten.
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In the backstory for PlanetSide 1, the Terran Republic launched several generation ships before they learned how to force open wormholes. Contact with the generation ships was lost several years after launch.
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Unity is set on a generation ship several million years in the future.
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Battle for Terra has the last survivors of a massive interplanetary war fleeing the solar system in a generation ship (the Ark) to the Terrians star, at least a hundred year's travel away. The ship has been experiencing more and more frequent fatal malfunctions, forcing humanity to take drastic measures to survive, becoming Invading Refugees.
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Common FTL travel powerful enough to at least get around one's own galaxy makes these relatively uncommon in the Perry Rhodan universe, but they're not unknown. Ships (and space stations) intended for really extended missions, such as some undertaken by mortal helpers of the setting's Powers That Be, may be designed to fit the trope, and suitable vessels have turned into this purely by accident, as happened to the SOL when its cosmic odyssey dragged out longer than expected and the shipborne generation started to have their own ideas about what uses their 'home' should be put to. Stretching the definition of "ship" to the limit, a major significant example would be the cosmic swarms, literally mobile star clusters whose multi-species 'crews' quite naturally were born, lived, and died on the worlds orbiting said stars while going about their assigned task of aiding the spread of intelligence throughout the universe.
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Rob Grant's Colony. Various systems go wrong (notably the eugenics program determining who is allowed to mate with whom, and the career-allocation system), so the later generations are hopelessly inbred, illiterate and unqualified for their jobs.
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An unusual example is in Lucifer's Star by C.T. Phipps as while Faster Than Light travel exists, starships are so large and meant to last so long than people can be born, grow up, serve, and die on a starship without leaving it save at ports for shore leave. Entire families identify themselves by their ship's name.
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The eponymous Sidonia from Knights of Sidonia, one of several massive ships constructed to flee Earth after humanity lost the first war against the Gauna. Contact with her sister ships was lost long ago and they're presumed destroyed by the time the series opens.
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Warhammer 40,000:
Most of the larger human vessels, even if they already have warp drives, qualify. If you have mixed-gender crews aboard ships in service for hundreds if not thousands of years, "voidborn" navy brats are inevitable. The bigger ships even have problems with small civilizations growing on forgotten or unfrequented decks.
The craftworlds of the Aeldari are Planet Spaceships created from large interstellar trading vessels to act as generational refugee ships. These massive vessels have no destination in mind as they are independent colonies in their own right and, depending on the lore, have little to no faster-than-light capabilities as they are connected to the webway.
Orks tend to treat space hulks as this, happily piling in when they find one with no idea where or when they might have a chance to get off again. Given the nature of the Warp and hulks' lack of direction, many generations can easily pass during travel.
Possibly true for the Tyranids as well, which appear to have traveled from another galaxy. However, most of the ground troops are simply created from scratch when the fleet nears a target, and the majority of the remainder hibernate. Only a select few 'nid monstrosities, the Tervigons, are awake for the journey.
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Ascension (Miniseries) takes place aboard a starship intended for a 100-year voyage, launched in the 1960s. Except that it doesn't. The whole thing is being faked on Earth as a huge, elaborate experiment. The reasons for this are poorly explained, but seem to be an attempt to somehow force the next step in (super)human evolution.
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The Destiny from Stargate Universe could be seen as a generation ship, in that it not only took the resources of an entire generation to build but wasn't even boarded until over a million years after it launched. While it is a ship on autopilot and flies through FTL, the scope of its mission is so large that the Ancients who built it could not have hoped that they or their children would be alive to see that mission to its end.
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Doctor Who:
The episode "The Beast Below" has the entire United Kingdom (minus Scotland) on a single spaceship, searching for a new home after the Earth becomes uninhabitable. The discovery of just how this massive ship is travelling through space with the engines apparently off forms the main mystery of the episode. And the Doctor claims it is just one of many, with each country building their own ship. The others are just not shown.
Much earlier, First Doctor serial "The Ark" has the title spacecraft serving as both a generational ship for its crew (of both humans and subservient aliens), and as a Human Popsicle-stand for the remaining billions of humans and subservient aliens, since a ship that could carry both species in their entirety would've been far too massive to build (or move).
The story "World Enough and Time"/"The Doctor Falls" had an example where things went horribly wrong before the planned voyage even began. A Mondasian generation ship was on its shakedown cruise when it became caught in the gravity well of a black hole. The crew members who went from the bridge at the front to the rear part of the ship to try to soup up the engines became trapped by massive Time Dilation effects along the length of the ship, bred, and created a culture which eventually, under the effects of social degeneration, increasing environmental degradation due to technical failures, and possible manipulations by the Master, turned themselves into Cybermen in what may be a new official origin for the culture.
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In a baffling non-space example, the train in Snowpiercer becomes one of these, with children born on board. It houses the last survivors of a brutal, global Ice Age, and is powered by a Perpetual Motion Machine.
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The entire world of Phantasy Star III takes place on one of these. Ships like it were basically planetary escape pods, sent out when Parma exploded. Didn't go too well, though - some got lost, some were caught in the explosion and destroyed. Later, in Phantasy Star IV, the heroes find the wreckage of one such ship that was crippled in the escape and suffered the nasty fate of getting stuck in a decaying orbit around Motavia.
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The Magog Worldship on Andromeda.
The Arcology also appears to be one of these. While it's, technically, a space station, it is equipped with a (very ancient) slipspace drive.
Another episode dealt with part of the crew ending up on the Bellerophon, an ancient generational ship launched by Earth centuries ago to "to gather knowledge of life and civilization to go farther and deeper into space than anyone had ever gone before." The ship is so old that it doesn't even possess a slipspace drive, relying instead on massive engines that accelerate it to near the speed of light, with the consequences of such a design being a major plot point for the episode.
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In the Revelation Space Series novel, Chasm City, the planet of Sky's Edge was settled by 5 (only 3 made it) generation ships traveling at 6% lightspeed. At least four generations pass by on the ships, and resource shortages cause animosity and eventually a cold war towards the end of the journey, which upon colonization breaks out into a full-blown war. The main character manages to survive most of the journey and beyond thanks to a longevity treatment. Sky's Edge has been in a near constant state of war since then, making it a popular shipping destination for high-tech weapons produced in more advanced systems.
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According to the manual, you can occasionally run across these in the original Elite; however, that's the only place they exist in that game. In the expandable remake Oolite on the other hand, you can really run across them with the right OXP.
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Non-space example: in Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville, the khepri residents of New Crobuzon are descended from refugees who'd fled a mysterious disaster on their native continent. As their ramshackle ships took decades to cross the ocean, and thousands of the refugees died en route, some khepri vessels technically invoke this trope by having only ship-born crew members left on board when they reached land.
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In Alis Volat Propriis on AlternateHistory.com is all about one of these. It actually stops off at multiple planets/moons to create multiple colonies to deal with population problems.
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The Australian series Silversun used this. As the journey to the new planet would take many years, most of the crew were adolescents and teenagers, so that there would be at least some crew still around when they got to the planet. A lot more people are in cryogenic stasis.
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Stargate Atlantis had the Travelers, a race of space nomads who live entirely on self-built ships in order to avoid being culled by the Wraith. Despite their strict population control, they don't have the resources to build new ships anymore and were forced to abandon some people on planets where the Wraith culled them. This was why they kidnapped Sheppard in their introductory episode: they found an Aurora-class Ancient battlecruiser and needed his ATA gene to get it operational since the ship could carry thousands. They lost one of their ships in the battle above Asuras and with the Replicators gone, they settled on a planet... then the settlement and the Aurora was nuked in the final season when their Stargate exploded.
The Destiny from Stargate Universe could be seen as a generation ship, in that it not only took the resources of an entire generation to build but wasn't even boarded until over a million years after it launched. While it is a ship on autopilot and flies through FTL, the scope of its mission is so large that the Ancients who built it could not have hoped that they or their children would be alive to see that mission to its end.
The Novus civilization, founded by the crew of the Destiny over 2000 years before the crew actually encounters Novus (long story), dedicated its resources to building a fleet of ships for its millions of citizens so that they could evacuate their dying world. They will reach their destination in a few hundred years (in stark contrast to the 10 days Destiny needs to cover the same distance with its FTL).
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GURPS: Spaceships has the uses the traditional concept for the Universe and Endeavor. The third ship is the Magellan which carries 20 thousand people in luxury at FTL speeds, allowing for ridiculously long trips.
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In the backstory of Infinite Space, the Magellanic Clouds were settled by generation ships from the Milky Way. The remains of one form a towering ruin that resembles a Space Elevator. It also contains the means to access the Overlords' databanks and work out how to foil their plans to wipe out the universe.
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One is briefly visited in Bill the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Ten Thousand Bars.
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The planet Martine was settled by one of these in Crest of the Stars and the Abh's original home was one as well before they cracked the FTL issue.
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Earthsearch. The Challenger is a low-key version of this trope; rather than a colony ship, it's a survey ship to find new worlds for humanity to move to en masse after the sun threatens to go nova. Although it's also a Sleeper Starship, a year in suspended animation means the crew ages one month, so this trope is still necessary. The Angel computers however decide to kill off the crew and raise the next generation under their control so they will be subservient to them. In one episode they also encounter the Challenger II, where the crew over the generations broke into two warring societies, with one refusing to believe that the outside universe exists and regarding Earth as their equivalent of Heaven.
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Star Trek: Voyager:
"The Disease" has a generation ship which is over four hundred years old.
"Prophecy" has Voyager encounter a Klingon Battlecruiser made into one. They made the trip to the Delta Quadrant the long way.
"Elogium" discusses this trope: since the Voyager is seventy-five years from returning home, Janeway and Chakotay discuss the possible need to turn the ship into one. The discussion becomes Hilarious in Hindsight given that we only saw one Official Couple on the ship at any one time.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, this was the original concept of the Galaxy-class ships like the Enterprise-D. In practice, they Travel At The Speed Of Plot and between that and the number of combat scenarios encountered, the idea of Enterprise-as-a-family plot was dropped from future iterations of the franchise.
In an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, the Enterprise gets sent 100 years back in time with no way to return. The Enterprise then becomes a Generational Vessel in one of the few successful attempts at not screwing up the timeline, though they wanted to change one thing while staying out of the way until it happened. They succeed so well that by traveling on The Slow Path, they meet their parents/grandparents, completely the same as the ones that went back.
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A Fantastic Four story had the FF come across an alien race who had been traveling so long that they had adapted to their ship's artificial environment and could not survive on a planet. When Reed reveals this to their captain, he doesn't take it well because the religion he follows finds the idea that they are not as their god created them but have evolved abhorrent. He commits suicide when his first mate reveals that the "500" awakened crews to be kept as caretakers were in fact survivors of 20,000 cryogenic sleepers. Incidentally, all the aliens look the same. It's a bit of a surprise to find the first mate is female, the captain's wife, and that her ancestors knew all along but kept it a secret. Ultimately the next leader decides to keep the truth from her people for the greater good.
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In the first appearance of Brainiac when he had shrunken down Earth cities it is claimed it will take a century to return to his planet, meaning the descendants of the stolen people will inhabit his planet.
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In Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood, the Oankali travel on these as they go from world to world making genetic trades. Also a Living Ship.
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Across the Universe is set on a generation ship called the Godspeed, which is on a journey to a habitable planet that will take hundreds of years to complete. While a lot of the colonists elected to be turned into Human Popsicles for the duration of the trip, there was a need for an active crew to perform maintenance. Thus, many generations have lived and died on the Godspeed as it slowly makes its way towards its destination.
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After Earth is destroyed in Titan A.E., most of the surviving humans turn their ships into this. Fortunately, this only lasts 15 years until Planet Bob (AKA New Earth) is created.
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In WildStar, Exiles live onboard these ships, with elements of Sleeper Ship, who are being chased by The Dominion for 300 years until the discovery of Nexus.
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Used in the Galaxy Rangers episode "Lord of the Sands." The descendants of an Earth sleeper ship had crashed on a desolate planet and formed a tribal civilization roughly seventy years earlier. Something had wiped out the adults, so the tribe was mostly comprised of adolescents - led by a rogue Crown Agent.
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The Starlost had the entire series take place on a huge generational ship with different biomes sealed off and having forgotten it was a ship. Ben Bova and Harlan Ellison wrote books about the Executive Meddling and the novelization.
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In Star Trek: The Next Generation, this was the original concept of the Galaxy-class ships like the Enterprise-D. In practice, they Travel At The Speed Of Plot and between that and the number of combat scenarios encountered, the idea of Enterprise-as-a-family plot was dropped from future iterations of the franchise.
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The following is a list of statements referring to the current page from other pages.

 Generation Ships
processingCategory2
Generational Tropes
 Generation Ships
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Speculative Fiction Tropes
 Dominion Tank Police / int_25774afa
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Generation Ships
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Generation Ships
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Generation Ships
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Generation Ships
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Generation Ships
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Generation Ships
 StarryGarden
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Generation Ships
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Generation Ships
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Generation Ships
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Generation Ships
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