by Stephen Baxter
• Word count: 5951
• Page count: 16
Raft is a science fiction short story that first appeared in issue #31 (Sep/Oct 1989) of the British science fiction and fantasy magazine Interzone. The story is about a group of humans that accidentally entered an alternate universe where gravity is much stronger than it is in ours. It follows a young man named Rees who is apprenticed to a scientist after one of his pranks nearly kills a fellow crewmember. It takes place over several years as Rees learns more about their universe and tries to overcome its limitations so he can save his crew.
The author, Stephen Baxter, who studied mathematics at Cambridge and holds a PhD in aeronautical engineering, does a great job explaining the possibilities of such a strange universe and the complications it would present to humans. The ideas presented in this short story eventually led to Baxter’s first novel – also called Raft.
If you enjoy hard science fiction and stories that go into detail about the life cycle of stars and nebulae, then you will probably enjoy this one. But it’s more than just a description of nifty inter-stellar objects, it is also the story of a young man that changes his views about science, learns new and unimaginable things and eventually must face down former friends to save his crew and the tree-like ship that they live on.
Breathing hard, he surveyed his world.
The Raft was an enormous dish that brimmed with life. It was nearly the end of a work shift, and people slid along the avenues to their homes, skirting each others’ irritating gravity pull. Many of them, Rees knew, would be carrying rations from the supply machines that hulked around the rim of the Raft. Others carried tools after a shift spent maintaining the huge old supply devices.
If you enjoy this story you may want to check out Baxter’s Xeelee Sequence series of novels that expand on the ideas presented in Raft. You can also learn more about the author, Stephen Baxter, by reading his biography at The Zone.