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Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Book Name: Rendezvous with Rama
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Publisher(s): Spectra
Formatt: Paperback / Audio Book
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Release Date: June 1973

The universe’s mysteries are innumerable, unknowable and perhaps inconceivable, but science fiction takes a hold and shakes them out into the written word. Clarke brings them into our collective consciousness throughout his writings, no more so than here. He explores and plays with ideas so thought provoking and so well, that Asimov himself agreed that he was the number 1 science-fiction author.

Buoyed by the success of the movie-book collaboration with Stanley Kubrick of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1964, Rendezvous with Rama, published in 1973, revisits some of the same tropes: the universe’s infinite mystery & majesty, taken to an overtly human setting – the solar system. Rama won all the biggies – the Hugo, the Nebula, the Campbell, the BSFA and others on publication, and continues to have prestige and win over hearts; mine included.

By the 22nd Century, man has colonized the planets. There is political rupture amongst the interplanetary council, particular from Mercury, newest and hardiest of the colonies. And then, into the picture, comes Rama. At first thought to be an asteroid, the unmanned probe Sita is sent to photograph it, showing it to be a perfect cylinder: 20 Kilometres in diameter, 54KM long. An alien artifact, from inter-stellar space, that has travelled on a perfect trajectory for perihelion for hundreds of thousands of years.

Endeavor, and its captain, Commander Norton, are sent to investigate it by necessity – they are the only ship that can dock with it as it speed into the galaxy. The main area of the book is concerned with exploration of the interior of the ship, from the five cities, to the Circular Sea, to the elusive Southern Continent. There is little overall plot, instead, the focus is on exploration and that which hampers it – time, nature, political wrangling and strange alien goings on. In the space of 250 or so pages, Clarke introduces masses of conflicts against exploration, and deals with them all in a satisfying manner, while still creating a living, breathing world. Yes, we end still in mystery, but the journey creates majesty and an unsurpassed longing for the wonders of space. We see the effects of the discovery of politics, religion and psychology, we explore the depths of the world through the eyes of those exploring, and due to the little plot involved, we actually get a more intricate knowledge and appreciation of the cause-effect relationships as a result of this object than we would or could otherwise.

While world-building is excellent and exposition minimal, characterization is the one major weak point. I felt certain characters could have done with more input into their mindsets, that broad brushstrokes were perhaps used too often. Yes, commander Norton is excellent – with a smattering of great details, like his admiration of that previous Endeavour captain, Captain James Cook – but minor characters are often bulldozed over with interchangeable character sets. There’s an argument that their characters beyond those sets aren’t necessary, but as a lover of long novels, I feel it could perhaps have done with a bit more to that regard.

Nevertheless, that is the only negative I can see, and it is far, far outweighed by the wonders of the world building. In my mind, right now, I can see Rama. I can see the crew, the action and the wonders of the world. I can see New York, the Circular Sea, the great staircases. That is the mark of genius. That is Clarke in a nutshell. Genius. The late, great, Arthur C. Clarke produced many fine books, but this work of genius is amongst his best. Highly recommended.



  1. Avatar Dan Jones says:

    This book is incredible, deservedly one of the classics of the genre. Part of what makes this book so great is the mystery. We’re investigating a completely alien artifact, with no clue to the background or culture of the race which created it to provide context for what we’re seeing. There’s a sense of continuity and purpose but the details are just out of reach. The book perfectly captures what such an experience would be like. So I certainly second the recommendation.

    Just don’t make the mistake of reading the sequels. The sequels are credited to Clarke and Gentry Lee and came out starting seventeen years after the original. I have no idea how much input Clarke actually had on the books but they are abysmal. The writing is horrible and the books seem to be more concerned with supporting a particular theological point of view than continuing the themes and plot of the original. Avoid them at all cost.

  2. Avatar shigzeo says:

    Rama (and its derivatives) are some of the best SF around, though I admit that once Rendezvous was over, the series went Space Opera. I’ve not read Rendezvous in about 15 years, but it was one of the books that established Clarke as my all time favourite hard SF author. The other, Fountains of Paradise, burns him into the corneas of every page I read.

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