A 40 -year old memory...

This was in a collected paperback in my local library, author, editor, and title unremembered.

From ground level, a primitive youth observes gigantic floating blimp-like creatures. They are transparent, like jellyfish. He knows they cross, thru space, from the planet to a place for unremembered reasons. (Breeding? Mating? Feeding?) He decides to go see for himself what's up, and finds a way to climb inside one of the creatures. He watches his homeland dwindle & transition into hard vacuum. There's narrative about his discomfort at the pressure difference, and his "sunburning" since the creatures body doesn't filter the raw starlight. And, that's all I can recall. I remember that there was no dialogue, as he was very primitive and alone, no mention of any peers/tribe (iirc).

It has remained in my vague recollections for decades, and I would love to re-read it with some maturity & critical abilities. Only a few of the many, many SF collections' short stories I crammed in back then have lingered in mind like this one.

Many thanks in advance!

  • This is one of the best story-ID questions from a new user that I've seen. You say which details of time, author, etc. you do remember and which you don't (so people don't have to ask), and describe enough of the story that there should be few 'false positives'. +1, and welcome! – Rand al'Thor Sep 5 '15 at 16:37
  • possible duplicate of scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/40580/… (which is not accepted but has a confirmation via OP comment) – Otis Oct 11 '15 at 21:57

Portions of Brian Aldiss's Hothouse aka The Long Afternoon of Earth bear a close resemblance to what you remember. In this book, far-future tribal humans enter transparent "urns" (really a kind of plant) which adhere to the bodies of giant blimp-like spiders. These spiders travel through space. The effect of sunlight/radiation on the travelers once they enter space is a major plot point because it causes them to change into a different kind of humanoid.

There are some differences from what you describe:

  • Although the characters are each sealed in an individual urn, several make the trip at the same time.
  • The spiders/"traversers" are not described as transparent as far as I remember

Although Hothouse was incorporated into the fix-up novel, it has been anthologized several times on its own. You might recognize one of the story collections listed here.

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I also have a similar memory of reading a science fiction novel featuring a young male protagonist who hailed from a giant space station, who, at some point, climbed inside the body of a giant, transparent space whale.

I have definitively identified that story as Raft, by Stephen Baxter: 224 pages, published July 11, 1991. ISBN: 978-0246137067

I cannot be certain if this book is what the thread's author is looking for, but I am immensely gratified to have finally discovered the source of a long-lost memory of mine.

What if we exponentially reduced the scale of the galaxy so that the sun was only 50 yards across, extinguished its raging burn so that only a solid metal lump remained, and set a chain of a few hundred dwellings to orbit around the cold sphere that remained? Imagining as such, you would have the opening of Stephen Baxter’s 1991 Raft. By its conclusion, however, Raft reveals itself as a highly original mix of science and fantasy that continues playing with the scale of the universe while telling an uplifting yet sobering tale of personal and societal evolution.

The title of the book comes from the remodeled space craft that hangs above the mini-ringworld orbiting the dead star. Exactly like a raft in space, this large disc of metal is home to a few thousand that depend on the metals the miners extract below, just as the miners depend on supplies from the raft above, for survival. A prime opportunity for class discussion, Baxter takes advantage, contrasting the poor working class conditions of the miners against the more civilized and technically advanced version of life on the raft. Gravity increasing to 3, 4, and even 5 gees the closer one gets to the dead star’s metal center, work in the mines, like industrial work on earth, is not always a picnic, and compared to life on the raft, it’s hell. Suffice to say, relations between the two locations are not always on the best of terms and provide a good portion of plot tension.

Though the physics are not always clear, base plot is motivated by the slow death of the nebula beyond. Atmosphere breathable anywhere in the galaxy, the raft and orbital nevertheless depend on the nebula’s light for sustenance. Catalyzing the need for action while facing this threat is the book’s main character, Rees. A young man who starts as a miner, his moral choices take him to amazing places as the story progresses, the canopies of floating trees, the belly of a space whale, and to live amongst one of the more grisly societies in sci-fi, the Boneys. Part adventure and part bildungsroman, a large portion of the story deals with Rees’ development into a responsible person and awareness of the burden he bears in saving the small community drifting through the dying nebula.

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  • It’d help to add in what matches the description to this answer. – Mal Apr 30 '18 at 1:42

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