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The Earth was doomed. So they built the Earthship ARK, a generation ship 8000 miles long and carrying a collection of fifty-three biospheres, each populated with a unique culture, and launched it towards another star. But early in the voyage there was an accident -- now the crew is dead, the ship is off-course, the biospheres (along with their cultures) have been isolated from each other for centuries, and their peoples have forgotten that they are even aboard a ship.
Devon (Keir Dullea of 2001: A Space Odyssey) is an inquisitive young man native to the Amish-like culture of Cypress Corners. In love with Rachel, he refuses to accept her Arranged Marriage to his friend Garth. His disruptive ways win him no love from the Elders of Cypress Corners, and eventually expand his world beyond anything he imagined: he discovers in one night both the corruption of the Elders and an access hatch to the rest of the ship. Fleeing the Elders through the hatch, he explores the ship and uses its library computer system to discover a disturbing truth: within five years the ARK will plunge into a star. Devon returns to Cypress Corners to warn his friends and family, but is tried for heresy and sentenced to be executed. Garth helps him to escape the night before his execution, and Devon convinces both Garth and Rachel to follow him into the ship on a quest to find both the backup bridge and someone who can pilot.
Originally an award-winning script for a miniseries by Harlan Ellison, it was changed into a series and ruined by the producer. For the complete, unvarnished story of what happened to the series, see Ellison's book Phoenix Without Ashes. For a hilarious fictionalized version, see Ben Bova's novel The Starcrossed.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its legendary badness, a Starlost DVD box set was released in 2008.
- After the End
- The Ageless: The titular "Children of Methuselah" appear to have had immortality applied to them just before pubescence.
- The Ark: Earthship ARK.
- Artificial Gravity
- City in a Bottle: The biospheres.
- Creator Backlash: Forty years later, Harlan Ellison still castigates everyone who ruined the show.
- Disowned Adaptation: Ellison wrote a miniseries to his usual high standards. What came out at the other end... wasn't. So he put his "warning - this is shit" pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird" on it despite pressure from the producers.
- The End of the World as We Know It: Twice -- once in the past, with the unspecified disaster that destroyed Earth, and once again in the near future with the threatened destruction of the last survivors of Earth.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: The ship's crew.
- Executive Meddling
- Follow the Leader: The ARK's design is a pretty common one for generation ships in fiction.
- Generation Ships
- Limited Wardrobe: Devon, Garth and Rachel almost never changed out of the clothes they wore when they left Cypress Corners.
- Liquid Assets: "The Pisces"
- Myth Arc: The quest to regain control of the ship.
- No Immortal Inertia: The crew of the Pisces are subject to something like this once they stop traveling relativistically. No, it doesn't make sense. Remember what show this is.
- Can't I scream a just a little bit that they missed the whole point of relativity entirely? Thank you. THEY MISSED THE WHOLE POINT OF RELATIVITY ENTIRELY!!!1!!1 AAAAAaAAAuuUUUUggHHH!!11!!1!
- Planet of Hats: The biospheres, and any other groups encountered outside them.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Every writer but Ellison. The broadcast version of the ARK is allegedly 13,000 kilometers long, although the model ship seen throughout the series didn't look anywhere that big. The Earth itself is only 12,756 kilometers in diameter. Similarly, despite being on a random course, the out-of-control ARK manages to be on a collision course with a star; given the sizes and distances involved, this is practically impossible.
- To be charitable, the gravitational effects make it more likely, if you go near a star then you will be pulled closer to it. If you manage to hit a high fraction of C so time dilation is very high, then the odds go way up since you'll go past a lot more stars. This is, however, being very very very kind.
- Space Amish: The people of Cypress Corners.
- Universe Bible: Written at least in part by SF author Ben Bova, who briefly served as science adviser to the series, and who later wrote a comic novel about the entire disaster.
- Writer Revolt: After watching the Executive Meddling get started, Ellison bailed on the project and forced the producers to use his "red flag" pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird" for all his credits.
- You Fail Physics Forever: Just about every writer other than Ellison.
- In character, the crew of "The Pisces", who although they were part of the highly-trained crew of a relativistic spacecraft, were caught flatfooted by time dilation effects that they should not only have anticipated but allowed for.