Robert Reed The Well of Stars

ISBN 13: 9781841492568

The Well of Stars

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9781841492568: The Well of Stars
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The Great Ship is home to a multitude of alien races and a near-immortal crew. They have toured the Milky Way for millennia, the best and the brightest from a thousand worlds, but the true purpose of the Ship has remained hidden. Now, time is running out. The huge spacecraft is heading for the dark, immense, region of space known as the Ink Well, and the only entity in the universe more vast and mysterious than the Great Ship is lying in wait ...'THE WELL OF STARS is wonderful far-future SF of the best kind: imaginative, epic, mind-blowing, but anchored by a strong sense of character and a glorious cast of heroes and rogues. The Great Ship is surely one of the most audacious creations in recent SF.' ALASTAIR REYNOLDS

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About the Author:

Robert Reed is the acclaimed author of numerous SF novels. He has been nominated for the prestigious Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Well of Stars, The
THE GREAT SHIPI have no voice that explains where I began, no mouth to tell why I was imagined or how I was assembled, and I no idea who deserves thanks for my simple existence, assuming that thanks are appropriate. I recall absolutely nothing about my exceptionally murky origins ... but I know well that for a long cold while I was perfectly mute and only slightly more conscious than stone, sliding through the emptiest, blackest reaches of space, my only persistent thought telling me that I was to do nothing but wait ... wait for something wondrous, or something awful ... wait for some little event or a knowing voice that would help answer those questions that I could barely ask of myself ... .For aeons and a day, I felt remarkably, painfully tiny. Drifting through the cosmos, I imagined myself as a substantial but otherwise ordinary species of cosmic dust. Compared to the vastness, I was nothing. How could I believe otherwise? Unobserved, I passed through intricate walls woven from newborn galaxies--magnificent hot swirls of suns and glowing dust, each revolving around some little black prick of collapsed Creation--and among that splendor, I was simply a nameless speck, a twist of random grit moving at an almost feeble speed, my interior unlit and profoundly cold, my leading face battered and slowly eroded by the endless rain of lesser dusts.Through space and through time, I drifted.Galaxies grew scarce, and the void was deeper and ever colder ... and when I might have believed that I would never touch sunlight again ... when my fate seemed to be blackness and the endless silence ... I found myself falling toward a modest disk of stars and dust and little living worlds ... .By chance, a young species--the human species--noticed me while I was still descending through the outskirts of their Milky Way. Brave as fools and bold asgods, they built an armada of swift little ships and raced out to meet me, and to my utter amazement, I discovered that I was enormous--bigger than worlds, massive and enduring, and in their spellbound eyes, beautiful.Humans were the first species to walk upon my face, and with a quick and efficient thoroughness, they explored my hollow places. To prove my considerable worth, they fought a little war to retain their hold on me. According to law and practicality, I was salvage, and I was theirs. In careful stages, they began to wake me, rousing my ancient reactors, my vast engines and life-support systems, repairing the damage left by my long, long sleep. And they gave me my first true voice--in a fashion. A thousand mouths were grafted on to me. Radio dishes and powerful lasers, neutrino beacons and spinning masses of degenerate matter endowed me with the power to shout at every approaching sun and all the living worlds. "Here I am," I would announce. "See me! Study me! Know me, then come visit me!" In a multitude of languages, my new mouths claimed, "I hunger for your company, your friendship, and your infinite trust." I asked, "Are you, like so many technological species, a func-tional immortal?" Then I promised, "For a fair fee, I will carry your ageless and precious soul to a distant world. Or in half a million years, after circumnavigating the Milky Way, I will bring you home again. Can you imagine a greater, more ennobling adventure than to journey once around our galaxy? Or for a still greater payment, I can become your permanent home--a vast, ever-changing realm offering more novelty and sheer wonder than any other body in Creation." Then with a barker's teasing laugh, I would ask, "What kind of immortal would you be if you didn't wish for such a splendid, endless fate ... ?"Like every proud child, I spoke obsessively about myself. Addressing species that I had never met, I defined my terms and described my dimensions, my depths, and my laudable talents. I was lovely igneous stone and ancient iron buttressed with hyperfiber bones, and my skin was a thick armor of high-grade hyperfiber capable of shruggingoff the impacts of interstellar gravel and full-bodied comets. I was swimming through the Milky Way at one-third the velocity of unencumbered light. My engines were as big as moons, and I was bigger than most of my patrons' home worlds: twenty Earth masses, and fifty thousand kilometers in diameter, with a hull covering nearly eight billion square kilometers. But my skin was nothing compared to my spongelike meat. Whoever built me had the foresight to give me endless arrays of wide caverns and neat tunnels, underground seas and chambers too numerous to be counted. I could conjure up any climate, replicate any odd biosphere. To travelers who appreciate robust numbers, I spat out an impressive figure. "Twenty trillion cubic kilometers." That was the combined volume of my hollow places. On a simple world such as the Earth--a world I will never see, except perhaps in passing--there are barely 200 million square kilometers of living space. Life exists in two dimensions, not three; trees and buildings reach only so high. Only the top fringe of the ocean and the little zones by the rifting plates are productive habitats. "Not with me," I said with a seamless arrogance. My new voice was designed to sound prideful, sharp, and confident. "With me, every little room is a potential paradise. I can give you the perfect illusion of any sunlight and the exact atmosphere that you find most pleasant, unless you need a hard vacuum, which I can achieve just as easily. I can manufacture soils to fit the most delicate chemistry and fluids enough to slake any thirst, and by an assortment of means, you can wander through my public areas--my shops and auditoriums, religious sites and scenic vistas--unless it is your preference to live entirely by yourself, which is your right. If solitude is your nature, I will honor your noble choice."I accept all species," I claimed. Which was true, to a degree. I would welcome every sentient soul, but my ageless human captains always retained the final word. My voice never entirely mentioned the possibility that travelers could come some great distance, and at no smallrisk to themselves, only to be informed that they could not afford passage, or less likely, that they were deemed too unstable or too dangerous to be allowed to live among my more docile passengers.Always, always, I sang endless praises of my human caretakers. They were my captains, my engineers, my guiding hands and crafty fingers. They owned me, I admitted with a voice that couldn't have sounded more thrilled. Better than any other species, the humans knew my depths, understood my potentials, and were fully prepared to hold tight to me until the end of Creation.Perhaps I believed those boastful words, but my truest feelings remained secret, even from myself.I am rich in many things, but particularly in those things that are unknown. 
Washen was one of the first children born inside me, and that earliest little portion of her considerable life was spent in a modest house overlooking one of my warm blue seas. Her loving parents were engineers, by training and by deepest conviction, meaning that not only did they know how to build every possible structure and every conceivable machine, they also possessed the clear, un-sentimental, and pragmatic outlook of true engineers: The universe-their universe-was rich with an elegant beauty, known elements and reliable forces playing against each other in ancient, proven ways. If there were questions of consequence needing to be solved-a dubious possibility, at best--then those questions didn't involve people of their particular caliber. Engineering was a finished profession. The galaxy was adorned with many wise old species that long ago had mastered Nature's basic tricks. Humans were virtual newcomers. With nothing but science and intuition to guide them, human engineers had managed to teach themselves how to build lasers and fusion reactors and bioceramic materials. Given time, they might have invented much of the rest of what was possible. But during their twenty-first century, a moon-boundobservatory glanced at a particularly rich portion of the sky, for a few perfect moments, intercepting a tight-beamed broadcast from a distant civilization that was bound for an even more distant world.Inside that dense and highly structured burst of blue light were enough tricks and fancies to fuel a dozen intellectual revolutions. Hyperfiber was perhaps the greatest of the alien gifts. Built from deceptively ordinary materials, it was a lightweight and potentially immortal substance that could endure almost any abuse, and do so while shouldering almost any burden.There were many reasons not to expect to find a great ship wandering on the fringes of the Milky Way. But no competent engineer was surprised to learn that my skin and bones were composed of hyperfiber. What else would a godly power employ in such an enormous construction? Perhaps my particular hyperfiber was a better grade than what people and most other species had cultured in the past, or even in the brilliant present. And yes, the scale and perfection of my spherical body demanded resources and quality controls that not even a thousand worlds working together could achieve. But nothing about me seemed genuinely impossible, much less threatening to the status quo. Yes, I was grand and highly unlikely, and marvelous, and enigmatic, but I still resided firmly in the grasp of an engineer's venerable, often-proved theories.When Washen was a young girl, her parents helped first culture the finer grades of hyperfiber, using my hull's armor as their inspiration. They taught themselves to do the magic in sufficient quantities to patch my old craters and the occasional deep wound. Their house was littered with scraps and useless shards--failed experiments brought home from the factories--and sometimes Washen would pick up one of the bright pieces, staring at her own reflection. She was a slender girl, a pretty girl, a little tall for her age, her black hair worn long and oftentimes damp from swimming in the sea. Even though she was the offspring of deeply committed engineers, she lacked theirnarrow curiosity. One day while sitting at the breakfast table and staring at a ball of sweet new hyperfiber, she suddenly inquired, "Where did this come from?"Her father was a handsome man, young-faced but in his second millennium of life, and even on his most poetic day, he was a literal soul. With a calm, studied voice, he explained what was obvious and essential. A nanoscale foundation was laid down in the factory. Each atom had to be doctored before it was set in its perfect space, aligned with its neighbors, then every quark allowed to find its perfect resonance. Then if a certain standard was achieved, the entire batch was turned into a quasi fluid, thick and gray and ready to fill molds or one of the ancient craters scattered across the ship's hull. The material's final grade depended on subtle, oftentimes invisible, factors. Unfair as it seemed, luck played a powerful role. But he didn't wish to bore his daughter with dense technical terms. Using a few convoluted sentences, he had answered her question, adding, "That's where this comes from," as he gestured at a mirror-faced ball barely bigger than the hand that was holding it.Washen nodded agreeably. Her question had been answered, if not in the manner she had hoped. There was no reason to act rude or complain. No, she realized the best course was to turn in her chair, turn and smile, and ask her mother the same essential question."Where did we get this?"Washen's mother had different gifts, different strengths. She was very much an engineer, but she possessed a more rarefied appreciation for theory and high mathematics. Quietly and with a seamless patience, the woman explained. "We call it hyperfiber for good straightforward reasons. The name refers to the hyperdimensions that we can't actually see. Dimensions other than up or over or back. Dimensions other than time, which isn't a true dimension anyway. You see, it takes eleven dimensions to build the universe. Or thirteen. Or twelve. The exact number depends on which Theory of All you happen to subscribeto. But in every important way, the answers are the same. Some of these invisible dimensions are enormous and others are quite tiny, and what you are holding there ... that very tiny piece of hyperfiber ... well, its fibers stretch into these other dimensions, both physically and through deep subtle forces ... ."The full lecture continued for a long while. The woman could be pleasantly loquacious, and Washen accepted her mother's nature just as she accepted the fact that she couldn't understand what was being said. But she nodded politely. She sometimes smiled. When bored, she looked at her own skeptical reflection. Perhaps she had thought her question was very simple, and it plainly wasn't simple, and how could she make herself understood?"When you strike a piece of hyperfiber," her mother continued, "the impact forces don't spread just through our three dimensions, no. They dissipate through all eleven of them. Or thirteen. Or twelve. Or twenty-three. There are approximately seven distinct universal theories. Your father and I like the eleven-dimension theory, but all give the same conclusion: Even when hyperfiber fractures, a quantum echo lingers in the upper-dimensional realms. What you're holding there ... it's really a much larger object than you can see. It extends out into every corner of the universe, in all of its manifestations, and even if you could grind that ball down to dust, the ball remains intact. If only as a theory, of course. As a delicious mathematical concept existing in the shadow realms--""No," the young girl blurted, finally interrupting.Offended, her mother stiffly asked, "What is the matter, dear?""What's wrong?" the old man growled. "Darling, you're talking nonsense, that's what's the matter. The girl's barely half-grown, and what are you doing? Jabbering about quantum mechanics and ghostly physics ... !""I know she's young.""Hell," he said. "Your song barely makes sense to me. And I passed the same classes you passed""You didn't have my grades," her mother countered."Who remembers that?" he snarled. "Besides you, I mean."There was an ugly, much-practiced pause, then a gnawing discomfort. It was unseemly to argue in front of a child, even one of your own. The two old people stared at each other, making their apologies with the tiniest of winks, and into that silence came the stubborn voice of someone demanding an answer to her insistent little question."Where did this come from?" Washen repeated.Then she explained, "I don't mean how we cook it up, or why it works. I just want to know where we got it in the first place.""Oh," her parents said, with a shared voice."Hyperfiber was a gift," Father replied "An accidental gift from an alien civilization.""The Sag-7 signal gave us the essential recipe," Mother added.Washen shook her head."I know that much," she promised. "That's history, and I got that in school, plenty of times already."With genuine confusion, her parents asked what she really meant.Washen concentrated, her chocolate-colored eyes r...

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9780765347640: The Well of Stars

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ISBN 10:  0765347644 ISBN 13:  9780765347640
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction, 2007
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9780765308603: The Well of Stars

Tor Books, 2005
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