The book is about a boy whose tribe is separated from another tribe by a swamp and taboos. He breaks the taboos, finds the monster in the swamp, which is, I think, a machine, and the sky a dome with mechanical sun and moon.

Turns out it's a spaceship on a very long journey; the two tribes are kept apart, as something special will happen when they meet up and have babies.

I think the book was named after an Egyptian god and I read it in the very early '70s. I've been searching for it for ages to no avail, so it will be a big mystery solved if anyone here knows it, thank you so much!

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    Reminiscent of Harrison's "Captive Universe" but that was Aztec instead of Egyptian. See if this rings a bell en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captive_Universe Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 18:39
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    Except for the god's origin, this is a close match for Harry Harrison's 1969 "Captive Universe". On one of the Italian editions, there was a pyramid on the cover [the other two, in the same Urania collection in 1970 and 1980, shared the same, different cover with Coatlicue], and I believe that in one's memory this might well have moved the Aztec goddess character to Egypt.
    – LSerni
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 19:45
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    I was reminded of Ellison's Starlost tv show, although it doesn't match.
    – FlaStorm32
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 20:31
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    It is akin to Pierre Bordge's “Abzalon”, but there are some key differences. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 7:52
  • This is also a close match to Robert Heinlein's 'Universe', in which a generation ship has two tribes on it - the 'muties' who live in the upper decks of the ship and generally have various birth defects, and the people who live in the center of what they think is a world. Strong taboos keep the groups apart. None of them know they are on a spaceship. The story is about a young man who gets captured by the muties and eventually discovers that a mutiny generations earlier split the ship's crew, with the officers on the upper decks eventually becoming mutated by cosmic radiation.
    – Dan Hanson
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 0:48

1 Answer 1


Captive Universe (1969) by Harry Harrison...?

The synopsis on the Wikipedia page indicates that the main character is Chimal, a member of one of two tribes living within an isolated valley, and separated from one another by a river. There's a strict ban on intermarriage between the two villages, and it's believed that the river is guarded by Coatlicue, a two-headed serpent goddess. Chimal later escapes his village, and discovers that 'Coatlicue' is a machine, and that both tribes are living aboard a huge generation ship.

Chimal is a young Aztec tribesman living in an isolated valley which was sealed off from the rest of the world in ages past by a massive earthquake. Unlike the rest of his people, who are content with the way things are, he shows more interest in what lies outside the valley, and in asking questions that no one can answer. Indeed, he is altogether brighter; more intelligent than others, which often gets him into trouble, and makes him seem "unusual" to his peers.

The valley is home to two villages, one on each side of the river that flows through the middle, Quilapa (Chimal's village) and Zaachila, both of which share a temple staffed with priests who perform holy duties and interpret the laws of the Gods. This includes a ban on intermarriage between the two villages, which is strictly observed. Despite this, Chimal's mother conceived Chimal by a man from Zaachila, a fact she manages to keep secret for many years.

After Chimal refuses to marry his intended bride, and the chief priest dies of a stroke following the ensuing argument, he is arrested by the priests and condemned to sacrificial death. The Gods, angry at the sacrilege, cause the sun to fail to rise at dawn, and in the panic he is rescued by his mother, who takes his place in the cell where he is held. Before he leaves, she reveals who his real father was.

Escaping, he attempts to find a way out of the valley, while avoiding being hunted by the priests, and Coatlicue, the dreaded two-headed serpent-Goddess who stalks the land at night and kills those who foolishly wander near the river past sunset.

When he finally manages to break through the blockage at the end of the valley, Chimal finds himself in a series of many strange tunnels. He is also surprised when he meets Coatlicue, whom he followed in, in a deactivated state, and thus harmless. Travelling on, he finally meets a stranger, a woman called Watchman Steel; forcing her to lead him on, he ends up meeting more.

After initial misunderstandings, Chimal meets the Master Observer, who hails him as the "First Arriver"; he then learns the secret of the conspiracy which has been perpetrated against his people for centuries. The valley is merely the central cavity of a huge generation ship. The Aztecs are its passengers, tended by the ship's crew in the caverns, the Observers, on a centuries-long flight to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our sun.

Five hundred years previously, "The Great Designer", an Earth dictator, converted the asteroid Eros into a generation starship, spinning along its axis for gravity, and sent it on its journey. Because of the enormous distance involved, and the relatively slow speed it could attain, it would be the descendants of the original passengers who would arrive. To preserve order over the centuries, the passengers were split into two distinct groups, with each group genetically engineered for low intelligence in a different way, and given the hierarchical, self-sufficient and order-loving Aztec culture. The Observers were similarly programmed, and given a monastic culture to watch over the ship and the Aztecs. On Arrival Day, the two Aztec groups would be allowed to breed together, removing the genetically programmed recessive traits and producing highly intelligent offspring able to colonise the new system.

When he is shown the control center of the ship, however, Chimal realises there is a major problem. The Observers, too rigid in their thinking to understand the planetary observations, have over-ridden the flight plan and passed Proxima Centauri. On attempting to explain their mistake to them, he is denounced and hunted as a heretic. After pursuit through the ship, he initiates the Arrival program that breaks the barrier between the two Aztec communities and releases them from the valley section of the ship, and the Observers have no choice but to accept that Arrival Day has come. The book ends with the ship due to arrive at Centauri in decades, and Chimal anticipating the day when he will, soon, have equals to talk to.

The following excerpts from the Google Books preview for the book indicate that there's an artificial sun within the ship, which moves on tracks across an artificial sky.

Raising his eyes slowly he followed the tracks across the sky, as they grew closer and closer and finally vanished into a black opening high above, up the smooth curve of the sky. He tried not to think about this or understand it.

"About the sun being a ball of burning gas? I myself have seen the sun pass close and have touched the tracks it rides upon." "That is true, but unknown even to them, this world we live in is not the world they teach about. Listen and it shall be revealed."

Whilst searching for this book, I initially found this question with a similar premise. I checked Non-Stop by Brian W. Aldiss -- the book mentioned in the accepted answer -- but it didn't seem like a close enough match.

I then looked through the Goodreads list of books about generation ships -- a link to which was also provided within the accepted answer -- focusing on books published in the 1970s or earlier, and found Captive Universe about halfway down the list.

I checked the Goodreads page, then the Google Books preview, then a review, and finally the Wikipedia page, and deemed it a strong enough match to be worth posting as an answer.

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    Not sure what the downvotes are about, but if this is really all one big blockquote, then maybe you should break it up and intersperse some of your own commentay.
    – Spencer
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 19:43
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    @Spencer - I've often posted large block quotes in the past, and haven't received downvotes as a result. I suspect the downvoters might have assumed that I used Organic Marble's comment beneath the question to find the answer, and then posted it myself first. But the reality is that I began searching for the book immediately after I edited the question, over twenty minutes before that comment was posted, and posted my answer before seeing it. I've now edited my answer to clarify the lengthy process I went through to find the book on my own. Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 19:57
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    @DavidW - The Wikipedia synopsis does a good job of matching most of the details, though. Are you suggesting that I shouldn't have posted the answer because I didn't have direct quotes from the book, even though I had enough details from alternate sources to indicate a strong match? Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 20:33
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    Wow, that sounds like a truly terrible plan for interstellar travel. It is so terrible even the author had to admit that it would not work!
    – Adamant
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 20:42
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    Thank you. It may not have been a technically accurate book but it was an interesting analogy of race. I believe this is the book I was looking for. Thank you for your help
    – Valerie
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 15:51

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