There was some kind of event and the passengers had begun to evolve/devolve and modified the ship's internal communications / public-address system to use musical tones. I know that's not much to go on. Of all the things I miss, I miss my memory the most.

  • Do you remember any of the characters, where were they heading in their ship, why had they left in the first place, when did you read it?
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 23:10
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    The most obvious example I can think of is Mayflower II by Stephen Baxter. I seem to recall the de-evolved crew singing to each other.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 23:26
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    My thought was Mayflower II as well, the crew devolves significantly over several millenia as a near-immortal man, Rusel, lives on to take care of the ship. There aren't a lot of generation ship stories. If this isn't it, you might try checking this list I found. It's reasonably short. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 3:25
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    I can't remember what it was I miss the most... =p
    – user62707
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


If you can accept a space station instead of a ship, "Incommunicado" by Katherine MacLean is a perfect match for the description.

There are two stations working together, Pluto Station and Station A.

Two of the characters have sons who are also distinct characters, so generations of people live on it.

(It probably just doesn’t refer to “generations” for the same reason that cites aren’t called “generation cities.”)

Computers, instruments and some people on both stations begin changing their communication to rhythms and musical tones.

Some of the genius technicians start humming snatches of tune, and some people’s voices change tonality.

Even the protagonist engineer’s young son pulls out a child’s clicker toy and begins clicking it.

Bill swayed up and down gently on his toes, clicking rapidly, and singing, “Reeb beeb. At work, Pop. The lab head has a new lead on something, and she works a lot. Foo doo.”

The station computer had the entire world’s library copied into it. A renowned genius in charge of indexing all of it for user access invented his own indexing system that used a tone-frequency base for coding the data.

He had the computer output frequencies run through frequency dividers, until they were in the audible range, so that he could keep track of computing not just with keyboard, but also by hearing it in parallel to his programming.

It was to enhance his own designing, but all library users with normal hearing also heard it.

People and computers continue interacting with the musical language of the library computer. Without even thinking about it, they start interacting with the computer and instruments using tonality. It affects them, and carries over into the rest of their lives.

The people of the space station evolve; their communication evolves.

MacLean writes an articulate passage about how people have to study most sciences non-intuitively, and learn to express it in words and numbers. But though frequency and rhythm are also science and engineering expressed in numbers, they are intuitive to most people: they don’t need years of study to recognize an instrument playing a half-tone flat in an orchestra.

He passed someone he knew vaguely, and lifted a hand in casual greeting.

“Reep beeb,” he said. It was a language.

The people of Station A did not know that it was a language, they thought they were going pleasantly cuckoo, but he knew. They had been exposed a long time to the sound of Reynolds’ machines. Reynolds had put in the sound system and brought it down to audible range to help himself keep track of the workings of it, and the people of Station A for five years had been exposed to the sounds of the machine translating all their requests into its own symbolic perfect language, reasoning aloud with it, and then stating the answer in its own language before translating it back into action, or service, or English or mathematics.

Cliff leaned back, humming, considering what had been done, and while he hummed, the essentially musical symbology of the Reynolds index sank deeper and deeper into his thoughts, translating their natural precision into the precision of pitch, edging all his thinking with music.

It's not surprising you have trouble remembering or finding this story. Katherine MacLean's stories are hard to find.

I hope you are still out there, and have access to your account, and see this answer.

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