Sunday, February 1, 2015

Review: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Published: Galaxy Science Fiction (1973), Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1973), Gollancz (2006)
Series: Book 1 of the Rama Series
Awards Won: Hugo, Nebula, John W. Campbell Memorial, Locus SF and BSFA Awards

The Book:

At first, only a few things are known about the celestial object that astronomers dub Rama. It is huge, weighing more than ten trillion tons. And it is hurtling through the solar system at inconceivable speed. Then a space probe confirms the unthinkable: Rama is no natural object. It is, incredible, an interstellar spacecraft.

Space explorers and planet-bound scientists alike prepare for mankind's first encounter with alien intelligence. It will kindle their wildest dreams... and fan their darkest fears. For no one knows who the Ramans are or why they have come. And now the moment of rendezvous awaits -- just behind a Raman airlock door.”

Through a weird twist of fate, I actually read all of the sequels to Rendezvous with Rama when I was a teenager, but somehow managed to miss ever reading this award-winning science fiction classic. Happily, this oversight has now been corrected! 

My Thoughts:

Rendezvous with Rama is a classic example of a hard science fiction Big Dumb Object story.  The mysterious, alien spacecraft Rama is the setting, the main character, and the point of the entire novel.  The exploration of Rama is undertaken methodically and carefully, and resourcefulness and careful thought is often required to overcome or predict the difficulties that they encounter.  I enjoyed the depiction of how humans might explore and study an alien spacecraft and what conclusions they might be able to draw from it.  The story was therefore pretty simple and straightforward, but the topic is one that I found to be very interesting. 

In my experience, Clarke’s novels tend to be about exciting ideas, but not to have much in the way of memorable characters. In Rendezvous with Rama, the characters did not really have anything in the way of character arcs, and they were mostly defined by a single trait, skill or characteristic.  Typically, a character would be introduced when their particular trait or skill became important to the exploration, and they would fade back into the background afterward.  Thus, the characters served the plot and the ideas of the novel, rather than the other way around.  In this case, I think the characters were sufficient to fill their roles in the story, and Rama was enough to hold at least this reader’s attention.

Arthur C. Clarke’s writing style is very noticeable in Rendezvous with Rama (though less so in the sequels).  He has a very plain, precise style that I have generally enjoyed.  Clarke pays careful attention to detail in the story and in the setting, and I think that his straightforward style enhances the sense of wonder upon which the story depends. Rendezvous with Rama might not have much in the way of character drama or development, but I think that the exploration of Rama is a story that will capture the imagination of readers for many more years.

My Rating: 4/5

Arthur C. Clarke’s award-winning classic, Rendezvous with Rama, tells the story of a brief human exploration of an alien vessel. I thought that the novel was very characteristic of Clarke’s style, with its careful description, sense of wonder, memorable events and ideas, and forgettable characters. The story is pretty straightforward, and I am surprised, in this era of adaptations, that it hasn’t yet been made into a film (apparently there are script-writing issues).  I think the novel will continue to be loved for many years to come by fans of hard science fiction. 

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