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Space Prison

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Author: Tom Godwin
Published: 1958
Language: English
Wordcount: 55,402 / 163 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 89.8
LoC Category: PS
Downloads: 9,273
Added to site: 2007.09.10 18163

For seven weeks the Constellation had been plunging through hyperspace with her eight thousand colonists; fleeing like a hunted thing with her communicators silenced and her drives moaning and thundering. Up in the control room, Irene had been told, the needles of the dials danced against the red danger lines day and night. (Original title: The Survivors.)

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t have they done to us?"

She looked at the snow streaming from the ragged hills, felt the hard pull of the gravity, and knew where they were. They were on Ragnarok, the hell-world of 1.5 gravity and fierce beasts and raging fevers where men could not survive. The name came from an old Teutonic myth and meant: The last day for gods and men. The Dunbar Expedition had discovered Ragnarok and her father had told her of it, of how it had killed six of the eight men who had left the ship and would have killed all of them if they had remained any longer.

She knew where they were and she knew the Gerns had lied to them and would never send a ship to take them to Earth. Their abandonment there had been intended as a death sentence for all of them.

And Dale was gone and she and Billy would die helpless and alone....

"It will be dark--so soon." Billy's voice shook with the cold. "If Daddy can't find us in the dark, what will we do?"

"I don't know," she said. "There's no one to

Reader Reviews

Average Rating of 4.4 from 26 reviews: *****

When I read this book I have a feeling that I read Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Dai Alanye

Read this first as a short story many moons ago and considered it a good tale. Making it into a novel once again proves that more is sometimes less.

Chris Kane

As many reviewers already noted, this is an interesting survival story and a gripping read. What constantly annoyed me, however, is the fact that women are almost completely nonexistent in this novel. Considering that the book was published in 1958, I didn't expect to find a woman in a leading capacity, but here they only have the role of bearing children and nothing else; hardly ever is a woman mentioned by name. In fact, there are no relationships between people to speak of (except male friendship). There is of course no love story, but also no dissent, no compassion, just the constant struggle against the hostile environment. Still, in the end the Survivors rather improbably remain "decent human beings", as opposed to the sadistic Gerns ...

Eric Walker

The Space Barbarians is the Sequel to this..

Very good book.. So enjoyable.


I read the paper back book when it came out way back in the early 60's, and never forgot it, what a surprise to find it again after so many years, yes it is a good read.


Filthy humanoid race! Capture their spaceship and maroon thousands of humans; just leaving them to die on a nasty deserted alien planet, will you? You should know humans are tough and they'll be back to bite your *ss but GOOD for that nasty behavior! May take a while, though; and therein lies the story......


Wonderful read. Flowing storyline...Science fiction at it's finest. Ready for sequel.


SF fans will not want to miss this one. Excellent read.


As good a book as any ever written in ANY genre.

Not for the ignorant or dimwits.


This has to be one of the best SF books I have ever read. A great story!


This is technically a Sci-fI novel, but to me it lacks most of the elements that make sci-fi. This is a sci-fi novel in the same way that Superman is about the newspaper business. The sci-fi is just there to make possible the main theme: survival in a harsh environment.

If you like survival novels, you might like this. Otherwise, I think you will find it a disappointment.

Also the writing is poor. The plot is typical bad pulp fiction. It is weak, contrived and far-fetched (not in a good sci-fi way, either). Details of the plot are just unreasonable. I have read worse, but not often.

The characters are one dimensional and contrived. People don't act that way. A lot of the science is wrong also.

Overall, if you like badly-written survival fiction, this is what you are looking for.

Jason Balk

I came to know this book under it's alternate title as "The Survivors" when my Dad introduced it to me almost 20 years ago. He and I both agree after several readings that this is the best Science Fiction novel we have ever read out of countless other sci-fi stories. The story of human struggle, survival, and determination is a familar theme we have come to know in some similar works. However the most compelling aspect of this story is the goal of survival and redemption strengthings with each passing generation and allows the last generation to develope the tools and cunning to draw their persucutors back to them for ultimate justice. This book was a great influence on me for creative reasons and I see from reading the reviews that it appealed to most of you as well. My Dad and I have agreed for years that we would like to see this novel be developed into major motion picture because we believe it would make a great film provided if it stayed true to Godwin's original work and was produced by Steven Spielberg or Gearge Lucas. Does someone have their phone numbers? Of course writing a screenplay would be a challenging undertaking due to certain story elements, such as the 200 year span in time but it could be done right with the right people. Please share your views and opinions on such an idea.

Monroe, MI

William Butler

As a teen, this was the first novel I ever read. It makes me happy beyond words to have found it again. It remains one of the best novels I've encountered in the past 40 years.

Greg Homer

What a wonderful story! Relayed in a very unemotional, unsentimental style. A good lesson to be learned, as well. Thinning the herd leads to a stronger herd, in the long run.

The Gerns aren't like Nazis! They're like bad Klingons.


A very good story. I specially enjoyed the Robinson-Crusoe-theme. The flow of time indeed seems somewhat irritating to me, though.


I enjoyed this book. The science behind the sci-fi is basic and somewhat Asimov-like in that the author prefers to rely upon broad concepts and does not get too crunchy-- though he does enjoy descriptive geology. The characters develop well enough considering the time spanned in the novel and the scope the story. Yes, it read a bit dated at times, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated when I saw that it was published in 1955. The ending was also a bit hasty and tidy, but still satisfying considering fast-pace of the novel. Other reviewers have described the story as "epic" and I tend to agree. A fun, quick and surprising little book from the past.


Excellent Novel. Hadn't read one such in recent times. Thanks to Tom!

R Stephan

While all previous reviewers heaped praise on this survival 'epic' (it has not quite the length of Helliconia), I'd like to point out two scientific flaws that make it more a works of emotion than hard SF.

First, the scarcity of the elements iron and aluminum is inconsistent with reality in two ways: planets have either all heavier elements, i.e. those that make rocks like calcium or silicon or iron or aluminum, on the surface or they don't, depending on temperature (rocky vs. gaseous) and if this is a first or second generation star. Second gen stars like sol collect material from space that was already inside stars but spewed out when it exploded as supernova which happens quite often around star birth regions. And that dust has lots of iron, because that's the element that accumulates in supernovae because it can't undergo fusion without losing energy. Also, iron must be in your diet, else you wouldn't have hemoglobine, so it must come from either animal blood or plants that have to take it from somewhere too. So you just herd animals or plants for your 500kg of iron that you need. Much easier than searching for it. But, no rocky planets without iron.

Second, having a double star in the center of which neither is much smaller than the other guarantees a chaotic orbit for your planet, due to the famous three body problem of physics. You also don't want that if you want evolution.

I know it's splitting hairs with a novel that is quite worth a read but I wanted to show why it cannot be hard SF.

Steve Bookworm

Title should have been different. Ending was a little too contrived and convenient. An excellent survival epic which is a must-read. Once I'd started I didn't even go to the toilet until I'd finished it.

Ray Schaffer

A sheer delight of a book, so well written that you can almost feel the heat of a Gern blaster passing over your head!

The rejects must spend every day of their lives, and every ounce of courage to assure that their children have a tomorrow at all.

One of my very favorite books!


A great little book. Hard to believe it was written almost 50 years ago.

At the start of the book, the Gerns seem a bit like charicatures of Nazis - but they are soon out of the picture. What follows is epic storytelling.

Travis Greer

Great exciting story. Not a lot of character developement, but enough to keep you reading. Overall one of the best stories that I've read in a long time...

The original title was "The Survivors" which is a much better and accurate name.


Very good - although many modern readers will want more realistic explanations for some of the rather fantastic situations and occurances. A nice book that won't require too much deep thought.

Don Slaymaker

I've read this book in paper form. It is my favorite book, however it is now falling apart so badly that I am afraid to read it again. I was very glad to find it in ebook form. If you like this story, there is a sequel, "Space Barbarians" but it is not as good. Also Robert A. Heinlein wrote a story with a similar, underlying theme called "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistriss". The character of his book is very different however.

Goldfish Stew


I nearly gave up on this one on the first page after some truly shaky prose. I'm glad I didn't.

Space Prison is a story of exile. A race of humans inadequate to be kept as slaves are left by their captors to perish on an barren and harsh planet. As they die from fever, animal attacks, starvation and sheer stress all that is left to keep the remnant going is the desire for an impossible revenge.

The characterisation isn't strong, but given that the tale spans several generations it doesn't need to be. If this story was written today it would probably be 3 or 4 books, each telling the tale of a generation in extra detail. But it loses very little as an epic story packed into a shortish book.

A great scifi story.

Debbie Jones

A great SF novel.



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