06 August 2012

Rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama by Sir Arthur C. Clarke
1974 Hugo Award Winner (1973 Nebula Winner)
Got it from: Public Library
243 Pages

I know, I know.  I have been getting further and further behind on my last few reviews.  Well, I actually caught myself up this week.  If you’ve read this book, you probably know why it was so easy.  Not only was it short, but it was freakin’ awesome!

When a ten trillion ton asteroid wanders into the solar system, you take a second look.  And when that asteroid turns out to be massive alien spacecraft, you really start to pay attention.  This is precisely what happens in Rendezvous with Rama when the crew of the Endeavor ventures to board the vessel and unlock it’s secrets, whatever they may be. 

Did I just get smarter?
Of the two titles I’ve read, and especially in the case of Rama, I’ll say that Arthur C. Clarke has an interesting style.  There were some truly slow passages, yet it was never boring.  There were also some adrenaline fueled moments (including a fun spin on the classic defuse the bomb trope) but even at its most exciting it never stops feeling…clinical.  The combination made Rama at once a fast-paced and just plain old fun-to-read book, but it also felt very deliberate, serious and real.  You have fun and even feel a little…I don’t know, smarter for having turned the pages?  I mean, it’s not that strange an idea, Clarke’s name is practically synonymous with excellence in science and Science Fiction literature.

Throughout Rama, I was getting really strong sensations and recalling the smart but chilling moments from Michael Crichton’s, Sphere (for me, this was a good comparison).  Not only was my skin crawling every moment of the exploration of Rama, but it was also realistic and just freaking COOL!  Okay, the characters were “cardboardy” yet somehow Clarke had a way of presenting every development in a way that is not only intelligent and logically consistent, but makes you feel like you could have thought of it on your own.

I think the interesting factor comes in, not so much as a result of a simultaneously realistic and imaginative science (though it is probably the strongest point of Clarke’s writing), but in the source of the tension and the (admittedly thin) philosophical vein that runs throughout.

I know that many people struggle with Clarke’s characterization (or lack thereof).  To be totally honest, I’m sort of okay with it.  Clarke throws in a few dramatic moments for the characters, but they aren’t that strong, and while I know that should be a problem for me, I looked past it.  Instead, the drama of Rama goes beyond individuals and lies in the vast mysteries of the universe and the ship’s seemingly unbreakable secrets.  I mean, the greatest source of tension for me was easily the threat that the Hermians would destroy Rama before we had cracked its shell, rather than the possible and seemingly imminent death of the Endeavor’s crew. 

The other half of the interesting factor came from what I understood as Clarke’s teleology.  It wasn’t really developed enough to really claim he’s actually making a strong teleological argument, but it is at the very least a sentiment, and one which for one reason or another, resonates with me.  For Clarke, whether there is any design or purpose in the universe is a wholly irrelevant question as we likely will never make any sense of it whatsoever, and if we do, that purpose may be totally indifferent to us.  I know, this is not the best or most thoroughly developed theme in the book, but I’m kind of a sucker for it anyway…

This is one of those books that after I put it down, I just kind of shake my head and whisper to myself, “shiiiit”.  It’s exciting and dark and sometimes scary or philosophical and the science doesn’t feel like fiction.  Okay, that is practically…everything that I want in a book.  Yes, characterization sometimes languishes, but Clarke makes up for it by slowly marinating readers in intrigue and suspense.  This is required SF.


Universe 5/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 3/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5
Characters 3/5

Overall 21/25

This week’s book is The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov.  My last book from the 1970’s!

Next week’s book is Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh.


  1. I LOVE the first two or three Rama books (I can't remember where it started getting a little too un-Clarke-y for me, but it was with either 3 or 4). I read and re-read this one SO MANY TIMES in high school.

    1. Cool! I am very excited to continue this series myself. So many of the Hugo winners have been parts of a series and not all of them have made me want to continue. Rama is NOT one of those books. It was actually painful not to find out more and then painful again that I don't have time to check the next one out from the library!

  2. This is one of the classic Clarke novels that I haven't yet read. I love his style too, and how realistic he makes his science feel through his style of writing. Characterization is definitely not his strong point, but I usually feel like his scientific ideas make up for that. I've read only the later parts of the Rama series (my father had them lying around the house when I was a kid), and I agree with essjay that they seemed very un-Clarke-y. I still enjoyed them at the time, though.

    1. I hope you get to it. It really seems like something you'd enjoy. I agree, his science could carry the literary equivalent of a dead elephant.


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