Here are some images plus a composite of my scratch built model of the Colony Ship Magellan based off of Philippe Bouchet AKA "Manchu" illustration art for Arthur C Clarke's "The Songs Of A Distant Earth".
The novel is set in the early 3800s and takes place almost entirely on the faraway oceanic planet of Thalassa. Thalassa has a small human population sent there by way of an embryonic seed pod, one of many sent out from Earth in an attempt to continue the human race's existence before the Earth is destroyed.
It starts with an introduction to the native Thalassans – the marine biologist Mirissa, her partner Brant and other friends and family. Their peaceful existence comes to an end with the appearance of the Magellan, a spaceship from Earth containing one million colonists who have been put into cryonic suspension.
In a series of descriptive passages the events leading up to the race to save the human species are explained. Scientists in the 1960s discover that the neutrino emissions from the Sun – a result of the nuclear reactions that fuel the star – are far diminished from expected levels. Less than a decade later, it is confirmed that the problem is not with the scientific equipment: the Sun is calculated to go nova around the year AD 3600.
The human race's technology advances enough for various factions to send out pods containing human and other mammalian embryos (and later on, simply stored DNA sequences), along with robot parents, to planets that are considered habitable. Sending live humans is ruled out due to the immense amount of fuel that a rocket-propelled spacecraft would have to carry in order to first accelerate to the speeds required to travel such great distances within an acceptable time, and then decelerate upon approaching the destination. However, less than a hundred years before the Sun is set to go nova a scientific break-through allows construction of the quantum drive, which bypasses this problem. There only remains enough time to build and send to the stars a single quantum-drive ship: the Magellan.
Thalassa's only connection with Earth (and anywhere else) was a single communication dish, which was destroyed during a volcanic eruption 400 years ago and never repaired, thus leaving the Thalassans unaware of later developments on Earth. The Magellan stops at Thalassa to replenish the mammoth ice shield that had prevented micrometeors from damaging it during its interstellar journey. Thalassa is the obvious choice for this operation, as 95% of the planet's surface is covered by water. At the end of the novel the Magellan continues on to its destination, the planet Sagan 2.
As a kind of sub-plot it is revealed that beneath Thalassa's oceans there live sentient beings similar to the sea scorpions of Earth, only much larger. They are discovered – and named Scorps – when it attracts attention that robots designed to seek out fish frequently go missing. The Scorps gain the robots' metal in order to make bands of honour and rank. The Scorps are proven farmers; they have created their own village out of underwater rock caves.
Some of the crew aboard the Magellan begin to consider mutiny, wanting to stay in the secure environment of Thalassa rather than make the journey on to an unknown planet that may indeed be habitable, but just as well not. The situation is solved just before take-off – the mutineers are left with the Thalassans, while the bulk of the crew and passengers continue on to Sagan 2.
The book finishes with Mirissa sending messages to her lover, Loren Lorenson aboard the Magellan, showing him their son. Loren is not going to see the child until long after its and Mirissa's death. Mirissa's last clear sight when she is old is of the fading star in the Thalassan sky that is the Quantum drive of the Magellan.