Rendezvous With Rama starts off where lesser books would climax. To begin with parts of Italy are wiped out by an asteroid leading to the creation of the Spaceguard system for detecting future asteroids well in advance of collision so that preventative measures can be taken. Along comes another huge object initially mistaken for another asteroid but as it draws nearer turns out to be a ginormous spaceship with no apparent mean of propulsion. The ship is given the named Rama and the crew of Earth's survey ship Endeavour land on it and enter to investigate.
This is the father of the popular Big Dumb Object
sci-fi trope which features humongous alien artifacts befuddling humanity when they are discovered or unexpectedly show up. I just reread this book immediately after finishing another BDO classic Gateway by Frederik Pohl
. Gateway totally confounded my expectation because while it features a BDO the focus of the book is on the impact of this object on the life of the protagonist. Being confounded in this case is not too unpleasant as Gateway is a good though provoking read. However, it still left me with a hankering for some BDO adventure and Rendezvous With Rama
provided this in spades. This book really is what it says on the tin and if you are in the market for some jaw dropping sense of wonder this is the one to pick up.
Arthur C. Clarke was a stupendous writer of sf, unlike a lot of scientist sf authors he could write with excellent transparency and clarity of vision. He is particularly brilliant at describing the minutiae of space voyages; just the simple act of walking up and down stairs in near zero gravity can become a vivid and fascinating adventure in his stories. Certainly with "Rama" Clarke gets a lot of millage from the cylindrical shape of Rama, the gravitational and centrifugal effects, the weather, the visual impact of the north and south poles, the sea as a cylindrical band etc. That said it is worth noting that this is a novel of exploration, not essentially a pulse pounding action adventure on a dangerous planet, although there is an element of that also. The emphasis is more on the sense of wonder than sense of danger. There are many vividly imagined scenes in this book so clearly described that if you do an image search for "Rendezvous With Rama" on on Google you will find quite a few excellent artworks inspired by this book, a similar search on Youtube will also yield quite a few fan made videos (this short student film
is my favrorite).
As usual Clarke did not write with literary flourishes and characterization was clearly not a priority for him. I find the central characters of this book almost interchangeable in their blandness. However I am not sure this is a weakness of Clarke's writing because his books are generally not very long and by not allocating many pages on developing the characters he is able to do a lot of world building, describing the minutiae and implications of his settings, and a spring a few surprises on his readers from his plotting.
I feel that Rendezvous With Rama
complements Phol's [b:Gateway|218427|Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1)|Frederik Pohl|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388262265s/218427.jpg|1668837] very nicely, one is about the BDO, the other is about the psychological impact of a BDO. I recommend reading both.