Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur Clarke

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Nerd Culture Podcast  is a popular culture website and podcast about featuring news and reviews of books, films and graphic novels.  As a friend is on the podcast it’s only natural that I should listen in but I’ve come to love the segment called Dust Jacket

As a group they are reviewing the classics of science fiction and as a result I’ve read along.  I think of it as my science fiction book club and it’s certainly opened my experience to stories I never knew existed

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke is one I had read and in the past been underwhelmed.  Not that it’s badly written or that the story is unconvincing, but the lack of good strong well-rounded characters for me to follow like a lost puppy through the alien landscape of Rama was a severe disadvantage. 

Rama is an alien artefact, a tube 10 miles long spinning through space.  A ship   from their mission near Jupiter to investigate.  What they find provides more questions than answers and the characters and you are left wishing you’d had just a little longer on board Rama.

The Ramans do everything in threes.

 This statement, the last of the book, is the crux of at least appreciating the story.  I heard on the podcast that some people felt cheated that the mystery of Rama is not conveniently solved for us.  But this book is only the start of the story.  The story continues past the pages of this book into three others (how very Raman):  Rama II,Garden of Rama and Rama Revealed.

There were also comments about the lack of drama but there’s plenty of drama, just nothing that really excites the characters of the story and us.  The lack of connection I felt with the characters and their blasé acceptance of events made even the most spectacular event pale.  An example of this would be the cracking of the ice of the Cylindrical Sea.  In the perpetual gloom during a rest period Commander Norton is shocked awake by a terrible crashing.  A massive spotlight trained on the sea.  The sea runs in a ring right around the inside of Rama so from the character’s place it climbs the wall and miraculously sticks to the roof of the tube.  The sea, once frozen solid is now melted and the surface ice has cracked sending ripples and further cracking all through the sea.  And yet, this event, once explained is forgotten.

 No heart in mouth moment, no panic natural to humans as we understand them. These explorers seem a little too confident of their place.  They never really feel in any danger until they find Rama’s life forms and by then it’s too late to care. 

Maybe it is the blasé confident attitude reminiscent of the original Star Trek series (of which this book is a contemporary) that grind against a modern reader’s understanding of human nature.  Our heroes are rattled, bruised and battered by events, but pick themselves up and find a way through. The boring professionalism of the characters in Rama, their lack of depth and detail doesn’t give the reader a chance to accept them.  It makes me wonder who’s more alien, Rama or the humans exploring her.

 Definitely a book based on setting in the future on an alien vessel with little attention to character or language.  I’d recommend this book to book clubs looking for a classic sci-fi to discuss.  Rendezvous with Rama is a book worthy of discussion.

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