Wednesday, January 17, 2007

5. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama cover pictureWow. Rendezvous with Rama is one of the few books labelled "sci-fi classic" that I have actually found to deserve the accolade. Jarrett recommended it to me. I found it for a buck and yet I was still wary. It sat on my on-deck shelf for almost a year. But I finally picked it up, with my new resolution to get through some classic sci-fi. I am very glad that I did.

The story takes place late in the 22nd century. Man has colonized several of the planets. One day, a strange object appears in the telescopes. It is a giant cylindrical vessel, heading obliquely towards the sun. Judging by its route, the earth forces decide that there is only a few weeks to study it and the nearest ship is sent. The book is mostly about the exploratory ship and what they learn as they slowly explore this foreign vessel.

A fantastic book that restored my faith in clear, classic science-fiction. Several times I exclaimed out loud, "Cool!"

**WARNING SUBTLE SPOILERS BELOW-If you are planning on reading Rendezvous with Rama, I recommend you don't read any more.**

What first struck me about this book was how clear the physical descriptions were. My nerdy brain is so filled with other worlds that I have very little attention span left to dedicate to a new one. I get distracted easily and completely fail to grasp the fantastic extra-terrestrial image the author is trying to impart to me. Somehow, Clarke describes the ship in such a way and with such plain language that I had a clear image of the structure in my head the whole time.

The second good thing was that about halfway through I started to get the idea that this book was populated with mostly reasonable people. Nobody was going to do anything stupid or crazy or emotional that would cause a "conflict". I am growing more convinced that the necessity of conflict in modern narrative is a false construct created by a divergence of undergrad literary and writing courses and capitalism. Too often, a writer uses arbitrary human frailty to drive a story forward. Clarke is confident enough of the coolness of what he is showing the readers (and the richness and complexity inherent in life and humanity itself) that he doesn't need to rely on any of that.

And Rendezvous with Rama truly delivers a sense of wonder and mystery. Each chapter (and they are quite short) delivers a new wonderful surprise, slowly unravelling the layers of mystery surrounding another life form Behind it all, is a solid internal logic, so that even though very little is actually discovered, the reader is left feeling very satisfied.

A classic.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Holy crap man, slow down and smell the roses - - 6 books in 18 days, that's crazy!

Jarrett said...

What a relief that you liked it. I have read the whole series and quite enjoyed each book on its own and the entrie narrative arc. The last book left me sad that It Was Over.

I found that I liked 2001 so much when I read it that I went with some other Clarke. That's how I found Rama.

A math teacher was reading it on hall duty last week and as I walked by I stopped dead in my tracks to see it.

I read 2001 (excellent), 2010 (excellent), and 2061 (weak), but skipped over, what is it, 3001, because I understand that Frank Poole has been cloned, or something. Not into that, though that may just be another warrior polar bear that I fear for no reason.

Anyhow, I definitely recommend you read at least Book 2.

Olman Feelyus said...

Interesting. I was really psyched to continue with the series, but what I read in the wikipedia about it left me less interested. It sounds like the co-author emphasised human conflict over exploration. But if you recommend them, then I will put them on my list. It will be a while though. I have so much else to read in my sci-fi survey!