Ark (novel)

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First edition
Author Stephen Baxter
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Hard science fiction
Publisher Gollancz
Publication date
20 August 2009
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 512 pp
ISBN 0-575-08057-4
OCLC 320406261
Preceded by Flood

Ark is a hard science fiction novel[1] by UK author Stephen Baxter. It comes as the sequel to Baxter's 2008 novel Flood. Ark deals with the journey of Ark One, which Baxter has revealed to be a long-range spaceship, and the continuing human struggle for survival on Earth after the catastrophic events of Flood. It was published 20 August 2009 by Gollancz.

Plot summary[edit]

By the 2030s, most of coastal North America is underwater and the flood is lapping at the base of the Cumberland Plateau and the Great Plains. The Federal Government had relocated to Denver, Colorado in 2019 just before losing Washington, D.C., and civil war is brewing with separatist Utahans over control of fresh water resources and what is left of the Interstate Highway System. Millions of internally displaced persons, derisively called Eye-dees, live in sprawling shanty towns on the remaining high ground.

Affluent private Americans and the remaining elements of NASA fund a desperate and far-fetched survival plan called 'Nimrod'. Near Gunnison, Colorado, Project Nimrod builds a massive interstellar spacecraft from conjoined and modified Ares rockets, Saturn hardware, and Space shuttle components that is capable of superluminal travel using an Alcubierre drive. Christened 'Ark One', the craft is a generation ship, travelling to a neighbouring earth-like exosolar planet where the descendants of the builders will start civilisation anew.

The main character is Holle Groundwater, whose father Patrick Groundwater who was introduced to the project by Jerzy Glemp, a Polish millionaire. Holle's best friend is Jerzy's intellectually gifted but mentally delicate son Zane. They form the core of the Candidates, Project Nimrod's elite trainees. The project aimed to build a genetically diverse and secular-minded crew each of whom had mastered a specialised field of knowledge for either the ship's function or for preservation of mankind's history, knowledge, and culture. Holle specialised in spacecraft life support and Zane trains to become the Ark's warp drive specialist. Kelly Kenzie becomes the designated mission leader during Nimrod's first phases. Wilson Argent is her sometime partner who succeeds her as mission commander later in the book. Venus Jenning is the Ark's celestial navigator.

In 2032, President Linda Vasquez, who under crisis conditions is serving her fourth term in office, and the remnants of the US federal government and military take control of the Nimrod Project. By 2041, the Ark is ready to be launched and the flood has reached the outskirts of Denver. The Candidates have been winnowed down to eighty. Some were forced out by the gruelling and brutal training regime. Others were arbitrarily replaced with the scions of officers and politicians whose support was needed to secure dwindling resources. On the day of the launch, civilians and military personnel desperately attempt to storm the ship. Ark One takes off using nuclear fission–powered thruster technology (derived from Project Orion), fatally irradiating the surrounding area.

Once the Ark has left Earth orbit, the crew realise they have stowaways on board and that they have inadvertently left some of the Candidates behind, and some of the security personnel make a failed attempt at mutiny to find a new life shipboard. By 2042, they have harvested enough antimatter from Jupiter's magnetosphere to propel their warp drive starship to 82 Eridani's planetary system, twenty-one light-years from the Sol System, which is reached nine years later.

However, problems arise, due to the nature of the targeted planet, designated "Earth II." Although 82 Eridani is a yellow G5 star, it turns out that the 'earthlike' world in question is on the fringe of its planetary system ecosphere and the prospects of prolonged extremes of temperature are further worsened by a high axial tilt relative to the system's ecliptic (rather like that of Uranus in our own solar system). (This planetary configuration, called "Urania", is used by Baxter in his story "Grey Earth". It is ultimately derived from a book called What If the Moon Didn't Exist?.) There is debate and in-fighting over what to do next, but the crew come to an agreement as Zane proposes to split the ship and crew up. One colonises Earth II, while another led by Kelly travels back to Earth in one of Ark One's twin hulls, Seba, making planetfall in 2059.

A third faction with Holle, Wilson, Grace, Venus, and Zane takes the ship's other hull, Halivah, and takes a further thirty years to travel outward to an (unnamed) M6 red dwarf star and its super-earth terrestrial world, designated "Earth III" and situated 111 light years from Earth, within Lepus (constellation). Unfortunately, generational tensions arise between the rebellious youth born on the ship and the original crew, with Wilson forming a gang-like leadership breeding with the majority of the females on board. Things are further worsened by Zane's dissociative identity disorder which he slowly developed from sexual and psychological abuse earlier in the book from his overbearing father; his fragmented pessimist personalities preach to the younger crew and make them disillusioned of the idea that they are all enclosed and observed from the 'outside world' in a simulated bio-sphere environment as a social experiment. Eventually this all leads to further mutiny as the younger crew try to break out of the ship, which consequently results in ship-wide explosive decompression that inflicts a large loss of life and causes the destruction of one of the onboard shuttle-based landing craft. Once recovering from the incident, Holle forcibly takes command by reluctantly forming a dictatorship under her rule, using threats to shut off life support for those who do not partake in the maintenance of the ship's systems to keep order except for those who are too vital for the ship, as done with Zane as she orders him to be isolated and kept alive only for the purposes of keeping the warp drive functional. This act shatters the friendships of the original crew, and with no hope to help his deteriorating state of mind and being kept alone, unloved, and alive as merely a tool as he had for most of his life, Zane commits suicide.

While life in space is unfolding, the flood inundates Denver. Gordo Alonzo, Don, Kelly's ex-husband, and Mel, ex-Candidate and Holle's former lover, make a last stand at Alma, Colorado, which was the nearest habitable area near the former starship launch site and Mission Control for the Ark before it departed from Jupiter. In the ensuing melee, Don is killed.

In 2061, when Seba returns to Earth, Lily Brooke (Flood's principal protagonist) has been dead for the last three years. Thandie Jones continues to survive and has links to 'Ark Two', which turns out to be a (new) and expansive seafloor settlement which taps the geothermal energy from the submerged former Yellowstone National Park's supercaldera. Kelly meets her aged father, Edward Kenzie, and her estranged son Dexter, whom she voluntarily abandoned for a place on board. Mel has also survived, but Gordo Alonzo died defending Ark Two from ID interlopers before the rising floodwaters made further interference impossible. Human genetic engineering is postulated to assist the descendants of Ark Two to adapt to their new and arduous environmental conditions. This idea ("pantropy"), used by James Blish in his story suite The Seedling Stars, is a powerful theme in almost all of Baxter's fictional series.

Two years before Halivah arrives at Earth III, Venus intercepted a strong, brief signal of unknown origin, which was not repeated (similar to the Wow! signal), and it is speculated to be extraterrestrial. She keeps the knowledge of the signal to herself.

In 2081, the ship arrives at Earth III which turns out to be in a close proximity to its parent star, its surface is active with volcanoes and its climate frigidly cold from the weak solar heating of the red dwarf along with one side permanently facing away from the star, but the planet is nonetheless habitable enough to support photosynthetic life and by extension, human life. With only one landing craft left after the mutiny years earlier, Holle is forced to halve the crew through a careful selection of those to colonise the planet, specifically young children who are as diverse as possible to eliminate the risk of inbreeding. Wilson is selected to go for he is the only one who could fly the shuttle despite his age, and finally Helen is selected to go to educate the young colonists for the process of building a functional colony to prosper. After a painful goodbye to her mother Grace, and to her own children, Helen and the settlers disembark. However, Holle and Venus resolve to explore the star system's other planets using small warp-jumps. The novel is left open-ended: Wilson, Helen, and the forty children on board the shuttle craft successfully land on Earth III, set foot on its surface and begin planning for rebuilding human civilisation while they see the Ark for the last time before it disappears into the cosmos, suggesting that the starship has effectively become a generation ship until the rebuilt civilisation of Earth III, that may not rise for decades, centuries, or even millennia to become spaceflight capable, can reunite with the descendants of the Ark.

Pendant Stories[edit]

Three pendant stories have been published since, two in Asimov's Science Fiction: "Earth II" and "Earth III".

"Earth II" is set approximately 400 years after the events in Ark and deals with the struggles of the descendants of the 15 Ark One crew members who choose to settle there, rather than continue the journey to Earth III. Since Earth II lacks many of the resources needed to build an advanced society (e.g. oil, coal, uranium, precious metals), its peoples (who have now split into warring nations and city states) have largely reverted to pre-industrial technology, reliant mostly on stone, iron and wood to build their societies.

"Earth III" is set approximately 1000 years after the events in Ark and deals with struggles of the Ark One crew members who choose to settle on Earth III. It is revealed that Helen Gray, and Wilson Argent, and Jeb Holden subsequently fought and killed each other several years after their shuttle landed, forcing the 37 children who went with them to grow up on their own and develop their own society. One thousand years later, the belief that they still live in a simulated reality has become a religion; however, a growing movement is underway to reveal the truth of their past, and the long journey their ancestors took to escape a drowning Earth.

A third tale, "Earth I", followed in a collection called Universes (also published under the tile Landfall); it is set approximately 10 thousand years later and brought characters from several of the now colonized worlds together and revealed the fate of the raft–dwelling survivors on the original, flooded Earth. These seem to be the conclusions of the Flood storyline, since Baxter has written no more material in this continuity.

Hard science background[edit]

In an appendix, Baxter describes his "hard science" basis for what is depicted in Ark. His grounding includes references to source articles for generation ships, interstellar Alcubierre warp drive vessels, Project Orion and exosolar planets. The references can be found on pp. 456–457.

Critical reception[edit]

Writing in the Guardian, Eric Brown gave the novel a very positive review, concluding that “Never has Baxter presented a more thrilling and moving glimpse of a possible future: Ark could well be his masterpiece.”[2] In The Times, Lisa Tuttle also wrote approvingly, calling Ark “a grim but exciting tale of the ultimate in pioneering adventure, in the most unforgiving environment of all.”[3]


Warp Drive and Field References:

  • Miguel Alcubierre: Classical and Quantum Gravity: Volume 11: L73-L77: 1994.
  • C. Clark et al.: Classical and Quantum Gravity: Volume 16: 3965–72 (1999).
  • C.Van Broek: Classical and Quantum Gravity: Volume 16: 3973–9 (1999).
  • D.Weiskopf: Visualisation of Four Dimensional Spacetimes: Dissertation, University of Tübingen: 2001.
  • Journal of the British Interplanetary Society: 61:9: September 2008: Seminar on Interstellar Propulsion Systems.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stephen Baxter: Ark: London: Gollancz: 2009: ISBN 978-0-575-08057-7
  2. ^ Brown, Eric (1 August 2009), “Ark by Stephen Baxter”, The Guardian (London)
  3. ^ Tuttle, Lisa (5 September 2009), “Sci-fi / fantasy: New work by Kim Stanley Robinson, Stephen Baxter, Chris Beckett and Alexandra Sokoloff”, The Times (London)

External links[edit]