I’m trying to find the name of a science fiction novel(ella) that I read in the mid-1980s. It featured a mining colony that was in a small ring orbiting a cold, collapsed dwarf star. The miners would go down to the surface of what was now a cold metal sphere, and use some sort of mechanical assist to move around on the high-gravity surface and mine the extremely dense metal. (Unfortunately I don’t think I remember much more than that.)

Due to the obvious similarity in at least one detail, I checked out the Ringworld series, but that does not seem to be a match.

I am fairly certain that this is a book that I read in school pre–1988, and it was something that a teacher recommended to me, so it feels likely it would be older than that.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. This is a very nice question; do you perhaps recall the cover art?
    – DavidW
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 15:06
  • @DavidW Thanks, but alas, I do not recall the cover art. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 15:09

1 Answer 1


Could this be the short story Raft by Stephen Baxter? It was originally published in Interzone in 1989, You can read it in full here.

It was adapted into a full novel (of the same name) in 1991.

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.

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  • The metal sphere

Rees had often worked through in his head the sequence of events which had brought this spectacle into being. The star must have reached the end of its active life many centuries earlier, leaving a slowly spinning core of white-hot metal. Islands of solid iron would have formed in that sea of heat, colliding and gradually coalescing. At last a skin must have congealed around the iron, thickening and cooling. In the process bubbles of air had been trapped, leaving the sphere riddled with caverns and tunnels -- and so making it accessible to humans. Finally the oxygen-laden air of the Nebula had worked on the shining iron, coating it with a patina of brown oxide.

  • The machines used to move around on the surface

The Mole was a cylinder of dull metal, some five yards long. It moved on six fat wheels. The prow of the Mole was studded with a series of cutting devices and with handlike claws which worked the star iron. The machine's back bore a wide pannier containing several nodules of freshly cut iron.

  • The miners themselves use modified wheelchairs

The wheels of his chair impacted the surface of the star and a full five gees descended on his chest, making him gasp. With a heavy hand he released the cable lock and allowed the chair to roll toward the nearest mine entrance.

  • Thanks! Gosh — some of that sounds about right, but the only thing that gives me pause is the “First published January 1, 1991” date, which puts it after the time I’m fairly certain I read it in school. Still, close enough that seems worth checking out. Perhaps I misremembered my dates. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 15:22
  • @swizzlevixen - See edit. It was a short story before it was 'fixed up' into a novel
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 15:25
  • Thanks. I am nearly certain that I read it when attending a middle school that I was at between summer 1985 and summer 1987, so that still falls outside my time window, but I admit that it was nearly 40 years ago, so I may be misremembering. I will check out the short story and see if it rings more bells! Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 15:31
  • I read the short story, but it doesn’t really include anything about the mining. I’ll have to seek out the full novel. — The wheelchairs bit that you quote here does seem familiar though. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 15:54
  • 1
    @swizzlevixen - Honestly you're describing the book as far as I can tell. The only thing that doesn't match is the year.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 16:00

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