At first, only a few things are known about the celestial object that astronomers dub Rama. It is huge, weighing more than ten trillion tons. And it is hurtling through the solar system at an inconceivable speed. Then a space probe confirms the unthinkable: Rama is no natural object. It is, incredibly, an interstellar spacecraft. Space explorers and planet-bound scientists alike prepare for mankind’s first encounter with alien intelligence. It will kindle their wildest dreams… and fan their darkest fears. For no one knows who the Ramans are or why they have come. And now the moment of rendezvous awaits — just behind a Raman airlock door.
There is something about the unknown that draws us, intoxicates us and keeps us tantalised, Rendezvous with Rama is just such a book. Giving us a setting of astronomical proportions that sticks in the mind years after the tome has been returned to the shelves from whence it came.
There is a solid build up and background to the story, exploring the state of the Earth in political and social terms, the exploration of what alien contact could mean for science and religion which teases the reader with possible answers to such a provocative riddle. I rather felt it had a certain reminiscent feel to the exploration novels of old like Allan Quatermain, The lost World etc.
There is a tendency with sci-fi for the characters to sometimes be a little two-dimensional as is the case here. Whilst this would usually bother me, in this instance it doesn’t, because the characters are really only tools to allow us to view the edifice of the ship that is Rama itself.
I can forgive the characters being two-dimensional because they are clearly secondary here, the faint whiff of almost soap opera-ish leanings don’t diminish from the book, in fact the clichés work in its favour. Those plot points which seem a little silly in the face of the big object flying near Earth make a nice contrast and beg the question how much are life’s worries really worth in the face of such a behemoth of a discovery on humanity’s doorstep.
In fact the human intervention in itself is a key plot point but the individuals are essentially there as a vehicle for the reader to discover the visually huge and stunning ship. Indeed the ship is the star…even though it is not a star but a ship and is the main character in itself. An enigmatic wonder that throws up the old chestnuts of who is out there and how old are they, where do they come from and what is it that they want?
Although Clarke does like to get his real science into the book, rather than take a way from the story, it gives it an extra layer of realism and makes the plot feel that little bit more believable. There is a sense of discovery and wonder to be had here and yes as usual I am being deliberately lacking in anything that may be seen as a spoiler.
It is a short book but packs in a lot of stuff and has three sequels which were co written with Gentry Lee which are a lot bigger and well worth a read as well, although lacking in the same impact. Still this is a great read for all those who like to muse on our place in the universe and if we are alone and the start of series that really is an unforgettable journey.