Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rendezvous with Rama

Arthur C. Clarke
Bantam Spectra, 1973 (my copy is from 1990)
Size: Short (my copy has 243 pages)
Theme: Interaction with alien civilizations
Narrative: Third-person
Main character: Several (Endeavour crew)
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Rendezvous with Rama is considered a classic in space sci-fi. The level of scientific detail and rigor is very high, as is the author’s concern with describing the science behind all the technology and events, which creates a very realistic scenario for the reader. Everything about it is familiar enough for readers to understand, while exploring the possibilities that alien civilizations allow.

This is the first of a series of 4 books, and it sets very well the story for the others. However, according to the author, only this first book was initially planned. In that setting, it leaves many questions unanswered and the mysteries of Rama unrevealed, reason why you will definitely want to follow it up with the sequels. Along each book, more explanations are provided, and there is a definite crescendo along the series.

This first book describes the story of a crew of astronauts tasked with traveling to an alien spacecraft, Rama, which is believed to be travelling across the universe, and which was identified in space as it passed near Earth. The astronauts are to travel aboard the Endeavour, a solar vessel, and the only manned vehicle which can reach Rama in time to meet it before it leaves our solar system. We follow the astronauts as they attempt to get inside Rama, explore its immense size and its possible inhabitants, and survive through their stay.

The story is captivating and rich with details and wondrous discoveries. Nevertheless, the book is relatively short and thus the characters end up slightly superficial. There are no deep and complex sociological or psychological layers, and it is essentially a space adventure. As a stand-alone, it is quite good, but it works much better when framed in the series, in which case it becomes excellent.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
In this book we only see the first hints of alien life and very little about alien culture and motives. At a late point of the story, Rama makes a maneuver which many people believe will endanger Earth, forcing the astronauts to employ nuclear missiles in an attempt to stop it. The Endeavour manages to launch off Rama as its crew witnesses what they believe will be the alien’s ship latest moments as it moves closer to the sun. Nevertheless, the ship completes its maneuver and slingshots out of our solar system by taking advantage of the Sun’s gravity.

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