Review: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke

Brian G Turner

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#1
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The trouble with science fiction classics is that they tend to be vehicles for new ideas for their time, but over the years can become dated. Worse, the ideas they originate are easily absorbed into the genre mainstream, meaning they are no longer the surprise they once were.

First published in 1973, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke is a science fiction classic for all of these reasons.

It's a surprisingly short book, and in terms of plot and character it's pretty thin. The basic premise is that a mysterious giant cylinder has entered the solar system - and is given the designation of Rama - before a group of astronauts reach it, explore it, then leave. What story there is is mainly about the exploration, but it still takes a while to get going - the first 40% of the book can be summarized as "people wander about in the dark".

When things do happen it verges on the fantastical, but nowhere near as much as later authors science fiction authors. Clarke remains dedicated to trying to explore the cylinder in a methodical and scientific way - which means that while his terminology is often badly dated, it's as much an exploration of scientific principles as much as anything else - though for dramatic effect, the astronauts sometimes seem unaware of these.

The tone tends to be very objective - all tell and no show. While we are constantly told that Rama is a low-g environment, we never see this in the general movements of the astronauts. The characters themselves are differentiated mainly by name and it's easy to forget who is who, but, ultimately, Rama is the only character in the story that matters.

Overall, Rendezvous with Rama is more of an episodic short story than a novel. There was so much potential to make this an epic, but it ends with more questions than answers at the end. Despite his predilection for exploring the technicalities, plainly Clarke felt that futuristic technology must remain enigmatic. While that allows for a sense of wonder and mystery, the lack of any real conclusion means this feels more like a dry-run for an idea to be further developed. Perhaps it's no wonder that Gentry Lee pushed on developing it into a more indulgent trilogy.

Additionally, as would be expected for a 45-year old story, it's dated quite badly - so the methods and technology the astronauts use are likely to seem very anachronistic to a modern reader. Even still, there are gems to be had - and, knowing Clarke, some of the technology in Rama is predictive of our own future.
 

Av Demeisen

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#3
The way I remember Rama, not only doesn't it have any answers, but nothing of note happens. Awful.
 

picklematrix

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#4
There is a lot of clunky writing in there, but the concepts and atmosphere are probably what have made it popular. The sense of adventure and the ideas must have been ahead of the curve when it was published.
If it weren't for Clarke awkward prose and thin characters, I would use this as a book to show people an example of pure Sci fi, with everything that Sci fi adventure stories are about.
 

Ashley R

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#5
For all of his faults, I find myself re-reading Arthur C. Clarke; returning to his classic stories, of which Rama is one. Yes the story style is dated, but the story told is a classic.
 

William Delman

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#6
I recently went back to this book and, while it is dated, I found myself deeply enjoying this novel. The sense of adventure and (unknowable) mystery that drives the narrative still proved more than enough to keep me turning the pages. Now, the sequels are a different matter...
 

Al Jackson

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#7
I read about 2 chapters of the first Gentry Lee sequel, it was awful , I put it down and read no more.
I wonder if Clarke even wrote a word of those books.
 

Parson

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#9
I'm old enough to have read "Rendezvous with Rama" when it was brand spanking new. I was stunned by it. I thought it to be most wonderful and that's how I will remember it. --- Granted I was not as clued in as an obserever of fiction as I am now after hobnobbing with authors for the last 10+ years, but I think it is a wonderful example of the wonder which can be found in pure Science Fiction.
 

Al Jackson

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#10
View attachment 49431

The trouble with science fiction classics is that they tend to be vehicles for new ideas for their time, but over the years can become dated. Worse, the ideas they originate are easily absorbed into the genre mainstream, meaning they are no longer the surprise they once were.
In terms of ideas it is true , well at least in the prose form, that they get recycled and used by later authors.
For instance in The Expanse* series by James S. A. Corey there is almost nothing that did appear in the pages of Astounding between 1940 and 1960. Even the planetary political and military conflicts in the solar system are in Robert Heinlein's young adult novel Between Planets (1951) (the story there was also on the page by other authors too)… and there is a lot of 'forward seepage' , for instance Enders Game evolves from Star Ship Troopers, Dorsai and The Forever War... on the other hand within cyber punk fiction I don't know of a novel like Bester's The Stars My Destination (1956) … and even something as old as Foundation , taking account how much of that Galactic Empire was borrowed from, does not have quite a unique replicant , so to speak. Even Dune borrowed from van Vogt , Asimov and other SF in the 40s and 50s.
Now when comes to visual media , whew, TV and Film has , until recently, skimmed ideas from classic SF , usually ignoring them all together.
For a long time 2001 and Blade Runner were the exceptions, 2001 is the odd one being a Big Thinks story and Clarke-like.

*The charm of the TV Expanse is it's realization of the framing and the milieu of hard scrabble space opera which was so common in the prose form starting in the 1940s. The story there is channeled from Heinlein (well before 1960) and all of Campbell's boys!
 

Al Jackson

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#11
I think Rendezvous With Rama is Clarke's best straight forward SF novel, it is less a Popular Mechanics story than A Fall of Moon Dust or Prelude to Space, Sands of Mars, Earthlight … others like that... it is not Big BIG THINKS like Childhood's End others like that. It is true Clarke is not a great writer of characters and also his best strength is his short stories. Rama is interesting as a 'mystery' story , the crew trying to solve the riddle.
It does have elements of Big Thinks aliens , hints of a technology so advanced that it is indifferent to the minor meddling of humans , a recurrent theme in Clarke's work.
I still think it would make a good movie,
Seems Morgan Freeman still owns the option on it, has for nearly 20 years now, as late as 2012 there were words about a movie, lord know these days, seems Netflix is trying to make everything a visual narrative!!!
 

elvet

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#13
I still think it would make a good movie,
Seems Morgan Freeman still owns the option on it, has for nearly 20 years now, as late as 2012 there were words about a movie, lord know these days, seems Netflix is trying to make everything a visual narrative!!!
This thread caught my eye on the home page. There is an adventure video game based on this book. I played it in the early 2000’s, and still have a boxed copy.
Rama adventure game
 

picklematrix

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#14
Books like City and the Stars have a slightly better fleshed out set of characters, so I suppose he could form a semblance of a three dimensional character if he really tried, though even in that book they exist only to move the story and world forward. I'd say the sacrifice of character for plot and setting is worth it, as I always read Clarke books in record time.
 

psikeyhackr

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#15
I liked it way back when, when I read it and still like it. But since the 70s so many people have made a bigger deal of it than I think it deserves, though not as absurdly as Neuromancer. LOL
 

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