Friday, January 7, 2011

Garden of Rama

Arthur C. Clarke, Gentry Lee
Bantam Spectra, 1991 (my copy is from 1992)
Size: Average (my copy has 518 pages)
Theme: Interaction with alien civilizations
Narrative: Third-person
Main character: Several
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This book is the third in the Rama series. It continues the previous story about alien spaceships travelling the universe, picking up where “Rama II” has left off, namely, the three cosmonauts who are still inside one of the Rama spaceships and travelling to an unknown destination. Along the trip, these astronauts, Nicole, Michael, and Richard, sired 5 children. In “Garden of Rama”, we follow the developments inside the Rama spaceship and how this family of humans copes with their situation. At about a third of the book, and approximately 12 years after the events of “Rama II”, we witness the arrival of the spacecraft at a large central station for interstellar travel, called a node.

The book plot focuses on the purpose of these Raman space crafts, and how that might affect the human race. In the node, the humans are asked to help retrieve a larger population from Earth to be humanity representatives in the grand schemes of the Raman intelligences, and are sent back to Earth for that purpose. However, this will not be a trivial task, even because the Earth leaders have their own perspective on how to select this group in order to best serve their interests. On the way back, we witness the struggle of the small original group of cosmonauts to keep their family united.

The book keeps a veil of secrecy over several of the fundamental reasons for the Raman actions and their purpose in the universe, but at the arrival to the node, several things are explained. By slowly unveiling these mysteries, the author keeps us hooked to the story. The interactions with different types of alien species along the book are also interesting and adequately employed to reinforce our bond with the pivotal small family of humans.

As is frequent in series, you will want to read this book only after “Rendezvous with Rama” and “Rama II”. And, as in the previous book of the series, this one ends in a way that makes you go out and grab the last installment. It also continues to explore sensitive issues about the human nature, social stratification and xenophobia. I found it as good as book #2, even though the framework changed considerably.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
As could be expected when larger groups of humans are put together, conflict soon arises within the selected 2000 humans. The original cosmonauts are forced to stand up for their beliefs, leading to the final events of the story. The book end leaves the reader hanging in mid-air, with the execution of Nicole (one of the original cosmonauts) scheduled to take place in the next day, even as her daughter Katie continues to sink further into a decadent lifestyle.

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