REVIEW: “Aboard the Mithridates” by Sean Vivier

Review of Sean Vivier, “Aboard the Mithridates”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 86–89 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Aboard the generation ship Mithridates, the passengers are slowly adapting their bodies – through training and gene therapy – to survive on the planet Hephaestus, the atmosphere of which contains large amounts of sulfur. Zarah Ngata is coping well with these changes, but not all kids at school are handling it as easy. One young man, Gavin, is having a hard time as his lungs seem unable to process the increased concentration of sulfur in the air. Zarah speculates that he won’t survive the next stage of the adaptation process. She’s determined to do whatever she can to help save the life of her less capable schoolmate.

In “Aboard the Mithridates,” Vivier presents an interesting take on the popular science fiction trope of the generation ship. Many stories such stories are often focused on the breakdown of the generation ship’s society, whereas here, the ship’s inhabitants remain focused on their goal. Vivier also comments on the unpredictability of the offspring and the real possibility that they’re not fit for the harsh environment of a generation ship. I was happy the story addressed these issues. Running at approximately 2400 words, the story does not have the chance to dive very deep into its themes, but it does, nevertheless, raise some interesting questions regarding the communal lifestyle that would be required in a generation ship. Is individual sacrifice acceptable if it benefits the rest of the community?

There are some plausibility issues, however. For example, I find it unlikely that Gavin’s health issues would be totally ignored by everyone except another child. It’s also unlikely that a society capable of building generation ships would not have some way of easing his pain. A respiratory aid, perhaps.