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Raft [Hardcover]

Stephen Baxter
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 11 1991
Stephen Baxter's highly acclaimed first novel and the beginning of his stunning Xeelee Sequence. 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, divided into two main groups. The Miners live on the Belt, a ramshackle ring of dwellings orbiting the core of a dead star, which they excavate for raw materials. These can be traded for food from the Raft, a structure built from the wreckage of the ship, on which a small group of scientists preserve the ancient knowledge which makes survival possible. Rees is a Miner whose curiosity about his world makes him stow away on a flying tree -- just one of the many strange local lifeforms -- carrying trade between the Belt and the Raft. Accepted as an apprentice scientist, he learns that their world is dying, and that in order to live these survivors must contemplate a journey even more perilous and fantastic than that of their ancestors.
--This text refers to the Print on Demand (Paperback) edition.

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'Raft is fast paced, strong on suspense, efficiently written, and has moral weight, but it is in the creation of a genuinely strange and believable new universe that Baxter excels! rigorous, vigorous SF at its enjoyable best' Time Out 'Almost perfect! Raft is very, very hard SF and it's great fun' Interzone 'This debut novel polishes its ideas with such realistic brilliance you can see a whole civilization in it' The Times --This text refers to the Print on Demand (Paperback) edition.

About the Author

Stephen Baxter applied to become an astronaut in 1991. He didn't make it, but achieved the next best thing by becoming a science fiction writer, and his novels and short stories have been published and have won awards around the world. His science background is in maths and engineering. He is married and lives in Buckinghamshire. --This text refers to the Print on Demand (Paperback) edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Really Interesting Idea, but Flawed Execution Dec 19 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The idea behind this novel (a cosmos where the gravitational constant is one billion times that of ours), is extremely interesting. Baxter should definitely be applauded for coming up with something like this and fleshing it out somewhat. Unfortunately, his writing skills are lacking. First, the overall flavor of the novel is somewhat juvenile. Characters are flat but also inconsistent (similar to what one reviewer here said, the main character is a genius leader one minute but an idiot child the next). Second, the plot basically is held together through miraculous happenings.
But, worst of all, since Baxter is a physicist, is that Baxter's physics are inconsistent (i.e., wrong in some places). For instance, the Belt is a linked set of facilities in orbit around a "star" (which is, itself, in orbit around the center of the cosmos, the Core). There's a microgravity field from the Belt's own mass pulling things from above and below. Yet, somehow, the miners drop a chair down to the "star" by cable. Orbits don't work that way. Assuming they could get the chair away from the belt (and a simple push would probaby be enough), all it would do is go into an elliptical orbit crossing the Belt's orbit. To get to the surface of the "star," they'd need some kind of thrust (and I won't even go into how the cable would end up wrapping around the "star" as the chair changed orbits).
Another example from the Belt is when they're trying to deliver a very heavy food machine. The thing is floating above the Belt. That means it's co-orbital with it. The ropes holding the machine break and the thing falls past the Belt, past the star, and down to the Core. Sorry. But since it's co-orbital, the darn thing would just float around there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A must read. March 1 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I found review of Dec, 2003 interesting for its explaining the critic's contentions over the inaccuracies of the science, but I think the point of the book was missed. This book is a great read. It is unfortunately, one of very few of Baxter's books which have characters you can actually sympathize with. The story is moving and interesting but most of all it will set you up to read and appreciate the rest of the Xeelee sequence like Timelike Infinity and Ring (which are both amazing). Think of this book like The Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great example of Hard SF Sept. 17 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I first heard of Raft in an SF encyclopedia about extensive time lines in science fiction series. Raft is the first book in a series of 5 that span the life of the universe, from the big bang all the way to the end. The series is called "The Xeelee Sequence" and was written by Stephen Baxter, a British science fiction author whose earlier work like Raft is fairly scarce in the U.S. The books that make up the Xeelee Sequence, Raft, Timelike Infinity, Flux, Ring and Vacuum Diagrams, were written and published in this order (with the exception of Vacuum Diagrams which is a collection of short stories with some that were written and published before the appearance of Raft) but take place at different times on the time line. Ex.: Raft which was written a published before the others takes place over a million years after it's sequel, Timelike Infinity. This pattern continues with the rest of the Xeelee Sequence. Raft Takes place in an alternate universe where the force of gravity is one billion time stronger than in this one. Humans have accidentally, it appears, stumbled into this universe and somehow managed to survive. The main character, Rees, is a mine rat who lives in the belt which orbits around a collapsed star where they extract the iron ore. The story is of the Rees' search for the reasons humans are in this universe and not in one where it's easier to survive. On his journey Rees stumbles across many horrific and and amazing discoveries. Raft is one of the most imaginative books I've ever read. Baxter's universe is filled with nebulae where the breathable air is so tightly packed towards their cores that there are miles of space where a person could safely float around without a spacesuit. There is also native life in these nebulas, some of which is hunted by the Boneys; the most frightful class of survivors in the entire nebula. Baxter is, in my mind, the most under appreciated SF author in the U.S., but I don't know about his success in his native Britain. I encourage you to read his other books if you are a SF fan.
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Really Interesting Idea, but Flawed Execution Dec 19 2003
By David A. Lessnau - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The idea behind this novel (a cosmos where the gravitational constant is one billion times that of ours), is extremely interesting. Baxter should definitely be applauded for coming up with something like this and fleshing it out somewhat. Unfortunately, his writing skills are lacking. First, the overall flavor of the novel is somewhat juvenile. Characters are flat but also inconsistent (similar to what one reviewer here said, the main character is a genius leader one minute but an idiot child the next). Second, the plot basically is held together through miraculous happenings.
But, worst of all, since Baxter is a physicist, is that Baxter's physics are inconsistent (i.e., wrong in some places). For instance, the Belt is a linked set of facilities in orbit around a "star" (which is, itself, in orbit around the center of the cosmos, the Core). There's a microgravity field from the Belt's own mass pulling things from above and below. Yet, somehow, the miners drop a chair down to the "star" by cable. Orbits don't work that way. Assuming they could get the chair away from the belt (and a simple push would probaby be enough), all it would do is go into an elliptical orbit crossing the Belt's orbit. To get to the surface of the "star," they'd need some kind of thrust (and I won't even go into how the cable would end up wrapping around the "star" as the chair changed orbits).
Another example from the Belt is when they're trying to deliver a very heavy food machine. The thing is floating above the Belt. That means it's co-orbital with it. The ropes holding the machine break and the thing falls past the Belt, past the star, and down to the Core. Sorry. But since it's co-orbital, the darn thing would just float around there. Baxter uses that co-orbital floating trick later in the book when a couple of the characters float around "above" the Belt until rescued.
There are similar physics problems at the Raft. First, and very obviously, there is a "star" which is "falling" towards the Raft. It stays there for most of the book. But, since the Raft is orbiting the Core, there's no way something falling toward the Core from a higher orbit would stay fixed above the Raft. Since the gravitational constant is so huge in this cosmos, orbiting bodies move VERY quickly. That "star" would be spiralling all over the heavens on its way down.
In another Raft case, some bad people are trying to make some others "walk the plank" off the edge of the Raft. So what? Again, this thing's in orbit. Walk off the edge, and aside from local gravitational effects, you'd just hang there. This is very similar to a point near the end when the people break a big chunk of the Raft off. It goes plummeting "down" and people fall though the hole to their death. Once again, orbits don't work this way.
There are a lot of other lesser things that are wrong about the physics (the atmosphere is in orbit, too -- where's the weather?), but those are the big ones. With the plot and character problems, these essentially make the book not really worth reading. It's a shame, since the idea behind the book is so clever. But, I just can't recommend the book.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read. March 1 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I found review of Dec, 2003 interesting for its explaining the critic's contentions over the inaccuracies of the science, but I think the point of the book was missed. This book is a great read. It is unfortunately, one of very few of Baxter's books which have characters you can actually sympathize with. The story is moving and interesting but most of all it will set you up to read and appreciate the rest of the Xeelee sequence like Timelike Infinity and Ring (which are both amazing). Think of this book like The Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unique, but somewhat flawed... Oct. 14 1999
By Matthew (mk62@evansville.edu) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This has been my first experience with Stephen Baxter's works, and although I do intend to continue reading his works, I found Raft to be lacking in some key areas. A wonderful and quite unique exploration of another galaxy and human adaptation, Raft excells in the science part of its genre and lacks in the fiction part. A perfect example of this lies in Baxter's primary character. One moment Baxter convinces you to see him as a genius and a leader, but the next moment he's a weakling. In addition, some of the flow of the novel seems questionable--like how in heaven's name did he know to get inside the whale and why does the whale suddenly spring back to life? Such questions are left unanwswered drasticly weakening the incredible universe of Baxter's creation. I would have suggested covering less time within the novel or perhaps breaking the story up into more in depth books. Nevetheless, Baxter's Raft deserves examination.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good start for Baxter July 31 2002
By Robert Knetsch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
For a first novel, Baxter has done a superb job of thinking about wht would happen in a scenario where gravity is one billion times greater than it is in our universe. Imagine each person having their own gravity field! I always like an SF book that is set in the future, but also hearkens back to the "days of earth" where humans originated and the ideas that come from that. As a physics teacher, I will find it interesting to have a discussion about this scenario and I hope to bring up this book in class.

Baxter needs to work on some of his descriptive abilities, on the other hand. Granted, it may be my problem, but I was unable to picture some of the things he was trying to describe in the book and I think it lacked in being able to effectively describe what something looked like.

All in all, this book has some great imaginative features, and Baxter is someone I am happy to read again.
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