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I'm a huge fan of SF from the golden age of SF, so this could be a fairly old book. It was a story about a "generation" starship or sublight starship. I believe most of the story was about their journey and some of the problems and difficulties. I believe that something strange is observed along the way which later turns out to be them being passed by an FTL starship which was developed, on their long voyage, after they left Earth. When they arrived at their destination they were amazed and, I believe, disheartened to be greeted by people from Earth.

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    It's a pretty common trope in scifi; tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LightspeedLeapfrog – Valorum Apr 4 '14 at 23:04
  • @Richard: It was not a common trope when Van Vogt wrote the story in 1944. – user14111 Apr 4 '14 at 23:47
  • @user14111 - I suspect he was among the first to use the idea, but not the first – Valorum Apr 5 '14 at 8:33
  • @Richard So who was the first? – user14111 Apr 5 '14 at 8:41
  • @user14111 - Dunno, but FTL and Generation ships as a concept have both been around since the 1920s. I'd be surprised if no-one had spotted the obvious connection – Valorum Apr 5 '14 at 8:43
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I'm a huge fan of SF from the golden age of SF, so this could be a fairly old book. It was a story about a "generation" starship or sublight starship.

It's "Golden Age" all right (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1944, available at the Internet Archive) but it's not a book, it's a short story: "Far Centaurus" by A. E. van Vogt.

It was a story about a "generation" starship or sublight starship.

It was a sublight starship (500 years from Sol to Alpha Centauri) but not a generation ship, it was a sleeper ship. The crew were awakened from suspended animation at long intervals, one at a time:

I leaned over the control chair, and glanced at the chronometer:

It said: 53 years, 7 months, 2 weeks, 0 days, 0 hours and 27 minutes.

Fifty-three years! A little blindly, almost blankly: Back on Earth, the people we had known, the young men we'd gone to college with, that girl who had kissed me at the party given us the night we left—they were all dead. Or dying of old age.

I believe most of the story was about their journey and some of the problems and difficulties.

They arrive at the Alpha Centauri system about halfway through the story.

I believe that something strange is observed along the way which later turns out to be them being passed by an FTL starship which was developed, on their long voyage, after they left earth.

I began to take pictures, and I felt justified in turning on the oxygen reserves. As it withdrew into distance, the miniature nova that had been a torpedo-shaped space liner began to change color, to lose its white intensity. It became a red fire silhouetted against darkness. My last glimpse showed it as a long, dull glow that looked like nothing else than a cherry colored nebula seen edge on, like a blaze reflecting from the night beyond a far horizon.

When they arrived at their destination they were amazed and, I believe, disheartened to be greeted by people from earth.

"But now"—he squirted us a smile—"permit me to welcome you to the four planets of Centauri. It is a great moment for me, personally. From early childhood, I have been trained for the sole purpose of being your mentor and guide; and, naturally, I am overjoyed that the time has come when my exhaustive studies of the middle period American language and customs can be put to the practical use for which they were intended."

The astronauts have good reason to be disheartened:

"I must, however," Cassellahat went on, "give you a warning. It is important that you do not disillusion our peoples about yourselves. Therefore, you must never wander around the streets, or mingle with the crowds in any way. Always, your contact should be via newsreels, radio, or from the inside of a closed machine. If you have any plan to marry, you must now finally give up the idea."

"I don't get it!" Blake said wonderingly; and he spoke for us both.

Cassellahat finished firmly: "It is important that no one becomes aware that you have an offensive physical odor. It might damage your financial prospects considerably.

  • Do you mind providing some details as to why you think this is the answer? – Xantec Apr 4 '14 at 22:48
  • Use14111 is correct. This is almost certainly the story you are seeking. You may remember a scene in which the crew learns their smell is very offensive to those in the future. There is also an interesting twist at the end – beichst Apr 4 '14 at 23:00
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    Thank you very much. It certainly sounds right and I've always been a big A. E. van Vogt fan. I'm looking forward to reading the story again. – Just4Fun Apr 5 '14 at 15:12
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Could be The Voyage that Lasted Six Hundred Years by Don Wilcox.

In this story there is a man called the "Keeper of the traditions" who goes the whole way in suspended animation, coming out every hundred years to see that all is going as planned. Needless to say it doesn't, and toward the end of the voyage he has to come out permanently. Not long after, he gets a message from his destination, informing him that with modern space drives the travel time has been cut to six years, and the colony they were meant to plant is already well established.

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