May 30, 2016

Science Fiction Classics: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Rama copy.jpg
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I was quite excited to read Rendezvous with Rama, because it's one of those larger-than-life classics of science fiction, a book that pops up on every SF reading list  and a few of the regular ones. Rama is a first-contact novel; a mysterious cylindrical alien ship enters Earth's solar system, and a group of scientists investigate. The book was published in 1973 and it's hard science fiction, so I knew what I was getting into. (To be honest, this isn't my favourite kind of science fiction. I think "hard" is an apt name for the sub-genre.)

Hard science fiction isn't exactly known for its character development, and Rama proved no exception. It feels like the characters are only there so Clarke can show us how Rama works and sneak in fun science facts, like how a waterfall would work on this kind of world. Having said that, I found the book surprisingly engaging. I actually read it in a few days, not switching over to another book once. (I have this system, where I'm always reading one science fiction/fantasy classic, one literary classic, and one or two just-for-fun books at the same time. Then, if I feel one of the classics is heavy going, I can alternate between the books. I love it when a classic turns into a "fun" book.)

Rama doesn't really have that much of a plot; the focus is mainly on the world-building, showing us this amazing thing Clarke thought up. The sense of wonder, that "Wow" feeling, is my favourite thing about science fiction, and this book delivers. The part where they're entering Rama and going down the stairs in the dark? Goosebumps. There's also a feeling of mystery that stays with the reader until the end. Why was Rama built? Where are the Ramans? Who were they? Those questions kept me reading until the final sentence, which is really cool, by the way. 

I actually liked that we didn't get straight answers: that would have spoiled the mystery. On the flip side, I don't think Rama has that much re-reading potential for me. The books I read again and again tend to be about characters I love going through hell and surviving. Re-reading book is like wanting to spend time with an old friend. Mostly, the friend is a character you identify with, but the world is important, too. Sometimes you just want to visit Middle-Earth. I wonder, why do people re-read hard science fiction novels? Do they just really love the technical stuff, or is it the sense of wonder? 

Rama won the Hugo and Nebula awards when it came out, and I can see why. Clarke makes science fun, and you can almost feel his excitement for exploring his cylindrical world in the prose. It captures the imagination. There are three sequels, but I've heard they're pretty bad. Some people even say they ruin the first one, so I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. 

All in all, an interesting read. There are quite a few of Clarke's novels on my reading list, and I'm looking forwards to the next one. 

Science fiction classics read: 39/193.


  1. It's funny. I'm actually in the process of running through the same science fiction classics list that you are. Most recently, I've read "A Canticle for Leibowitz," "The Demolished Man," and "Gateway." Of the three, I'd say that I enjoyed "Gateway" the most by far, while I didn't really care for "The Demolished Man" at all. Bester's "The Stars My Destination" was far better, I thought. Anyway, "Ringworld" is next in line for me, which I see you are also reading.

    I read "Rendezvous with Rama" for the first time about a year ago and have to say that I pretty much agree with your assessment. I love the sense of discovery and awe throughout, but, as typical with Clarke, character takes a backseat to plot and concept.

    1. Cool! Hey, have you read the sequels? What did you think?

      I loved Leibowitz, and both of the Bester books, but maybe Stars was a bit better. I read that it's loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a favorite of mine.

      I'm about 60 % through Ringworld. The concept is interesting and the aliens, but it's proving to be a bit of a slog so far.

  2. I'm in the same boat with you as regards to "Rama." I enjoyed it, and didn't necessarily want to ruin that experience with what I heard were inferior sequels. "Gateway" brought up the same issue with me: I dug the first book a lot, but decided to go with "Ringworld" instead of its five or so sequels for my next selection. This Classics list isn't going to read itself!


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