Dennis Littrell's Reviews > Rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
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Apr 18, 10

bookshelves: fiction

Clarke, Arthur C. Rendezvous with Rama (1973)****
A "SF classic" ageing gracefully

Celestial objects are traditionally named for the gods of Mediterranean peoples, although neither Yahweh nor Allah has yet made an appearance to my knowledge. And so perhaps the very cosmopolitan and worldly Arthur C. Clarke, celebrated author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and long time resident of India's neighbor Sri Lanka thought it was time the people of the Ganges got some due, and so he named the artificial world that is the center of this splendid novel, Rama, after one of the manifestations of God in the Hindu pantheon. This is "old school" science fiction, written in a not very fancy, but entirely agreeable style that emphasizes communication first and curlicues not at all. This is "hard" SF with a firm scientific basis from which to take flights of fancy. Political correctness, space age romance, galactic shoot outs, ghastly horror, laser light swords, etc., and other stables of the contemporary genre are pleasantly absent in favor of a carefully developed plot based on plausible events. One gets the feeling that something like this could really happen.

Rama is a self-contained world that is both space ship and planetoid. It is a 50 by 20 kilometer cylinder that has entered the Solar System and is headed for the Sun. The time is 2130 and humankind has colonies from Mercury to Titan and a governing body called the United Planets. The story of the novel is the exploration of Rama, which Clarke does with clarity and a sense of wonder so that we are carried along, enthralled. There are charming Clarkean touches, the "simps," lovable human-engineered monkeys who clean and fetch for humans; world leaders whose simple emotions remind us of our neighbors; aliens that are cute rather than venomous; and bad guys that are not really all that evil. There is a certain rational morality to Clarke's view of humankind that I wish were more in evidence in our own lives. In Rendezvous with Rama, the lawyers argue over the number of objects orbiting Jupiter that should be called satellites, not over how to extract as much money from their adversaries as possible. Those who would destroy and murder aliens, just to be safe, are in the minority. World leaders disagree but no one brands the other as a hated enemy, etc.

Some observations: On page 31 Clarke implies that a proper human population for the earth would be about one billion. Elsewhere he has gotten rid of automobiles. I like both ideas, imagining they lead to a more idyllic biosphere. On page 35 he has 1,000 miles a minute as a reasonable speed for earth transportation. On page 259 he mentions a US president named Perez...

As with other works of Clarke, what really charms here is an infectious sense of wonder, something most of us lost many years ago, a sense of delight in the possible, recalling the magic of childhood and first love. For that, Sir Arthur, thanks.

--a review by Dennis Littrell
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