Book Review: “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke

Warning: Spoiler Alert: If you intend to read the book, please do not read this review.

Rating:

  • Harlequin level: n/a
  • Plot/action/story: 5
  • Solid conclusion: 5
  • SciFi thrill: 5
  • Fantasy thrill: n/a
  • Part of a series but doesn’t skimp: n/a (I consider this book to be a standalone; later books based on Rama seem to have been an attempt to cash-in on its success)

Overall thoughts about the book

Rendezvous with Rama (RWR) is my first Clarke book and I choose it from the Kindle owner’s library based on the highest rating for his books. I know that he is quite famous for “2001 a Space Odyssey”. I vaguely remember the movie and I’m not sure if the novel interests me since it was written to complement the movie and not before it.

Anyway, back to RWR – where to begin? The build up of the book is really slow, and I initially thought it would be one of those “and a weird alien ship showed up, and it left…the end”. It’s hard to describe the book and maybe that’s the charm of it. The whole book is about aliens that you never meet. The closest description is towards the end of the book, where a holographic library displays the clothing of a typical Raman (and no – it has nothing to do with noodles). You really only see the effects of the Ramans but not the Ramans themselves.

I suppose that another way of looking at this book is that it is like a description of negative space, describing what’s not there by describing what’s there (I know – that this sounds like a crazy way of describing the book…but that’s what it feels like to me). The description of the environment and the ship is extremely rich. I had a hard time in fully comprehend the Cylindrical Sea and how everything was positioned in terms of magnitude and size. There was one part of the book that made me feel some nausea, and I’ve never had that happen to me. Roller coasters equal nausea for me but never a book. That was an unexpected and delicious surprise.

There have been some interesting attempts to model Rama. I wish I was a physics teacher so I could assign a full modeling of Rama as a project to my students. It would be an interesting study in celestial mechanics and a great investigation into the accuracy of Clarke’s physics and description. Besides, I would LOVE to explore a 3D model of Rama with accompanying passages from the book so I could fully appreciate the work. On the other hand, maybe I just need to go back to the book and re-read it more carefully because at the end of the day my imagination will never match someone else’s rendered view of Rama.

The use and description of technology is interesting in that it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. The novel was written in 1972 but the tech talk doesn’t jar you as a reader. I suppose that this is another aspect of its brilliance.

Rama’s use of the sun to refuel reminds me of Stargate Universe and how Destiny refueled. There’s also the Tin Man episode from STTNG where where the bioship uses spin to generate an energy pulse. Rama’s spin and the associated cocoon reminds me of Tin Man.

The book parallels Rama’s arrival – a slow build up of suspense, the wonder of exploration, a bomb that’s ready to destroy everything (those crazy Hermians), and a conclusion that leaves one slightly unsettled. If you’re into any sort of science fiction, RWR might be extremely fulfilling. It’s one of the few books that is a worthwhile read and a re-read.

Favorite quotes:

“In every earlier landing, he had known what to expect; there was always the possibility of accident, but never of surprise. With Rama, surprise was the only certainty.”

“Things were not what they seemed; there was something very odd indeed about a place that was simultaneously brand new and a million years old.”

“He had learned a lesson, though it was not one that he could readily impart to others. At all costs, he must not let Rama overwhelm him. That way lay failure, perhaps even madness.”

“To most people, Mercury was a fairly good approximation of Hell; at least, it would do until something worse came along.”

“He would hate to engage in a dogfight with anything larger than a pigeon.”

“He looked back upon the towers and ramparts of New York and the dark cliff of the continent beyond. They were safe now from inquisitive man.”

“It was a good plan—and it failed completely.”

To act or not act—that was the question. Never before had Norton felt such a close kinship with the Prince of Denmark.”

“Whatever honors and achievements the future brought him, for the rest of his life he would be haunted by a sense of anticlimax and the knowledge of opportunities missed.”

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