RAFT by Stephen Baxter

I have been on a sci fi binge, lately.  Just finished the Spin Trilogy, and now have embarked on what looks to be another fine series of hard science sci fi books called the Xeelee Sequence.  Raft is book #1 of this series.

A spaceship from Earth accidentally crossed through a hole in space-time to a universe where the force of gravity is one billion times as strong as the gravity we know. Somehow the crew survived, aided by the fact that they emerged into a cloud of gas surrounding a black hole, which provided a breathable atmosphere. Five hundred years later, their descendants still struggle for existence in the Nebula.

In the Nebula, are three human species locations.  One is the raft, a motley collection of edifices, topped by a control room, all built on the remains of the original space ship.  The folks there have some kind of machine that makes food, and there is a scientist class of people devoted to trying to understand the universe through physics and retro engineering stuff.    The second is the Belt.  This is a small collection of shacks in orbit around a dead sun, which they mine for iron and other materials.  The gravity within the core of this sun is so great that the miners sit in special chairs because they cannot stand in the gravity, and operate robot mining machines. They trade their mined stuff for food and goods from the Raft.

The third location is a hoot, but almost the most interesting of them all.  It is a tiny planetoid, with a strange surface of what looks like leather.  They are cannibals, who occasionally improve their diet by luring in a passing ‘whale’, a giant creature that floats around in the sky.  It turns out that the core of the planetoid is a space ship control center, upon which years, generations, of bones have been piled, actually creating the planetoid. In the ultra high gravity there, it was not actually possible to throw anything away into space, so the original stranded crew on or in their brokendown ship left the bodies to rot and the bones to pile up.  After they ran out of food, they found a way to process the meat from the dead bodies so the toxins, etc were destroyed and what was left was edible and drinkable. They used the skin to cover the surface.  After a while, as the bones added up, they had to live on top of them, and when our protagonist first met them , the Bonies, the pile was about 15 meters deep.  The small bonies population were all the descendants of that original crew.   Fascinating concept, the most original I have come across in my sci fi readings.

A spaceship from Earth accidentally crossed through a hole in space-time to a universe where the force of gravity is one billion times as strong as the gravity we know. Somehow the crew survived, aided by the fact that they emerged into a cloud of gas surrounding a black hole, which provided a breathable atmosphere. Five hundred years later, their descendants still struggle for existence.

Our protagonist, Rees, is a young man, tired of the unending brutal work in the mines, never enough food, and terrible living conditions.  His parents have died, and he is alone.  He sees the people who operate the delivery vehicles are healthy and hearty, and figures there has to be something better.  He stows away in one of these vessels, which are actually living trees on some kind of wheels, is found and taken to the Raft, where he shows a better than average grasp of physics, and is allowed to remain and start classes to become one of the scientists.

He sees, along with a couple of the old scientists, that their bubble inside the Nebula, and the Nebula itself, are dying, and they must try to get into a new Nebula, so they build a ship out of the control room on the Raft and take off with only about 40 people in it, instead of the planned 500 because those who were not on the list for escape were trying to destroy it altogether.  Can’t blame them, really.

It is a great concept, and it is not until you finish the book and think about it a bit do you come to the conclusion that even though we have to suspend disbelief in all sci fi,  the implausibility factor of people surviving for 500 years on scraps and dabs in an also implausible bubble of breathable air (how convenient!) might be a little higher than is comfortable.

So what.  I really liked it anyway, and am now reading the next in the series, Timelike Infinity, which one third into it, seems so far to have nothing to do with the events or characters from the Raft book.  But is pretty nifty in its own right.

Tried to find a picture of the flying tree vessels, but apparently nobody has a clue so no fan pics.  Sorry, guys.

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One comment on “RAFT by Stephen Baxter

  1. […] at the heart of a neutron star (Flux), in a separate universe with considerably stronger gravity (Raft), and within eusocial hive societies(Coalescent) .  The Xeelee Sequence is notable for its […]

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