The first time I attempted to read Raft
I gave up after may be 20 pages. I just could not make head or tail of it. It was my first Stephen Baxter book and I almost gave up on him. Still, he is one of the most highly regarded science fiction authors working today and I just have to keep up with the sci-fi Jones. Baxter’s best known work is probably the Xeelee Sequence
of which Raft is said to be the first volume (in publication order). However, I do not recommend reading Raft first, especially if you have a fairly tenuous grasp of science like I have. The setting of Raft is weird and I personally don’t think Baxter explained it very clearly, I think a prologue or some kind of expository chapter would have come in very handy. In any case, not wanting to give up on Baxter I asked around for a reading order of the Xeelee Sequence and received several suggestions that Timelike Infinity
should be read first which I duly did and I quite enjoyed, a lot of the science still escaped me but the story is easy enough to follow and quite enjoyable. Then I read Ring
which is marked as #4 in the series but actually follows directly from Timelike Infinity
. I am actually reading these books as parts of the [b:Xeelee|6575201|Xeelee (Xelee Sequence, #1-4)|Stephen Baxter|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347336042s/6575201.jpg|6768426] omnibus edition (saves money you know). Anyway, Raft and [b:Flux|100681|Flux (Xeelee Sequence, #3)|Stephen Baxter|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348474788s/100681.jpg|574446] can be read as standalone novels, and I find that they are easier to understand after reading Timelike Infinity
OK, enough longwinded intro, on with the longwinded review. On this second attempt of reading Raft
I do find it much easier to follow and it may be the best of the three Xeelee volumes I read so far ([b:Flux|100681|Flux (Xeelee Sequence, #3)|Stephen Baxter|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348474788s/100681.jpg|574446] is TBR). The first chapter throws the reader into the weird setting of a universe where humans are for some reason (to be revealed in alter volumes) living in a nebula. Gravity is much heavier than our own beloved 1 gee and the people are scattered among The Raft (a floating flat metallic manmade structure), The Belt (mines located on burned-out star kernels) and a tiny “worldlet” occupied by “Boneys” humans who are somewhat deformed from living near the nebula’s core where gravity very heavy (5 gees I think). In this first chapter Rees the young protagonist is working in a foundry on The Belt and he somehow manages to stowaway on a floating tree to travel to The Raft in search of knowledge to satisfy his inquisitive nature. I am not quite clear on how these floating tree things work but they are basically used as crappy, very hard to maneuver little spaceships.
Anyway, once I became acclimatized to the unusual setting the story is quite straightforward. Basically the tiny sun in this nebula is dying which means that the nebula will soon be unable to sustain life. In order to avoid extinction the humans need to find some way of migrating from this dying nebula to a nicely functioning one.
What I know about nebula can be written on a postage stamp and leave enough room for a queen’s entire head but the novel’s plot trajectory (which is actually a keyword for this book) is easy to follow. It is a fairly exciting romp, with a race against time and Baxter even manages to squeeze in some social commentary concerning class systems and equality. As with all Baxter books I have read a lot of the science is beyond me but he is a skilled enough storyteller to convey the story. His prose is sparse as always, but he did make a valiant effort at characterization, I don't think this is his forte but it would be unfair and unkind to call his characters two dimensional. 2.5 dimensional may be. His dialogue is not too bad but the characters still have a tendency to growl a lot (I imagine that is what members of his household do at dinner time).
In spite of my complaint this is an enjoyable read, full of great sci-fi ideas. If you have a good grounding in science, especially physics you will probably have a field day. Onward to [b:Flux|100681|Flux (Xeelee Sequence, #3)|Stephen Baxter|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348474788s/100681.jpg|574446] then!