Patrick's Reviews > Rama II

Rama II by Arthur C. Clarke
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

it was ok

So. Two stars. That’s a really low rating for me. Normally, if I really don’t like a book, I just move on with my life. But this one had elements that hit close to home for me.

Sorry, I realize that I was just speaking Midwestern Understatement. What I meant to say was that this book is a tangible manifestation of my nightmares.

Is this an awful book? No.

Did I enjoy it? No. It frustrated me from the first page. From *before* the first page, actually. More than that, even. This book made me angry.

But is it a bad book in itself? No. Which is why I’m writing a review of it. To explain this strange situation and to talk about the danger of sequels.


First and foremost, you need to know that this is a review of a sequel.

For those of you who haven't read my review of the first Rama book, here's a link. This review will probably make better sense if you’ve read that.

For those of you who are too lazy to read and/or have a bizarre fear of clicking, I liked the first book. It's a very lean, tight piece of what I'd consider "Classical hard sci-fi" by which I mean there's a focus on the science, and an emphasis of plot over character.

This sequel was written more than 15 years later in collaboration with a different author: Gentry Lee. From what I've gathered, I think it's safe to say that Clarke provided some ideas for this sequel, while Lee is the one who actually wrote the book.

What went wrong:

Ultimately, everything that made me dislike this book stems from the fact that it’s a sequel to Rendezvous with Rama.

1. Enormous stylistic shift from the first book.

This book was much longer (more than twice as long) and much more descriptive than the first book. The structure itself was much more meandering, and non-linear.

Now I don't mean to say that Gentry's writing is unpleasant. Honestly, his style is much more like mine than Clarke's is. So I can't throw stones.

The problem is that it’s almost the opposite of everything Clarke did in the first book. Clarke’s description is lean to the point of austerity. And as I mentioned in my previous review, Clarke’s pacing and structure is so tight that it almost doesn’t allow room for tension. (Almost).

The result is that this sequel doesn’t just feel entirely different. (Which would be a big enough issue by itself) it’s that when held up against the first book, this one feels huge, loose, ponderous, and slow.

2. Huge shift in tone.

In the first book, Clark tells a story of humanity coming together and working against incredible odds to investigate a mystery. And by extension, improve the sum total of human knowledge.

It’s true that some people in the book react with fear, but wiser heads prevail. The story was optimistic and full of heroes. This makes it a book that’s hopeful about the future of humanity.

In the sequel, pretty much everyone is a bastard, by which I mean they’re motivated by self-interest. There are a few people that stand up to them… but that leads to an entirely different kind of story. A world where everyone’s a bastard except for 3 people isn’t an optimistic book.

The other huge change in character deals with the cleverness of the characters. In the first book, the characters are really clever. When investigating the alien ship, the Astronauts move with great deliberation and forethought. They’re painfully aware of the fact that they don’t know what’s going on. They treat the alien ship with reverence, and are careful… well… not to be total dickbags when interacting with the ship.

For example, when investigating the ship, they talk about cutting through walls so they can see the inner working of the ship or the contents of some of the structures…. But then they don’t, because they realize that that could be viewed as aggressive by the ship (Which has shown itself to be automated.) Also, when they encounter creatures on the ship, they decide *not* to try and capture and/or kill them. Because again, that would probably be seen as aggressive/destructive.

In the sequel, when they get onto the ship, almost the very *first* thing they do is try to attack/capture one of the creatures they see. And when it goes wrong a lot of the folks are like, “Holy shit, who ever thought it would come to this?!?”

Well, everyone who read the first book, I’m guessing. And probably anyone who wasn’t a total self-interested bastard, too.

3. Huge focal shift from the first book.

The first book of the series was focused primarily on the ship itself. There were was some backstory to the world, and there was some information on the characters, too. But all of that was in service to the center of the story, which was about the aliens and the mystery of their ship.

The sequel focuses on the characters themselves. There are twice as many, and nearly every character is a POV character at some point. And they all have backstories. And flashbacks. And ulterior motives that have nothing to do with unraveling the mystery of the ship.

The odd thing is that I actually *like* this kind of book more. Character stuff is my bread and butter. But that's not why I started reading this book. I started reading this book for answers to the mysteries that were brought up in the first book. But honestly? This book kinda didn't give a shit about the previously established mysteries at all.

And if you think I'm just being pissy, consider this:

The original Rama was 243 pages long. But in this second book, the crew doesn't even get to the ship until page 170 or so.

But ultimately, here's the real dealbreaker for me....

4. It turns out Clarke wrote Rendezvous with Rama as a stand-alone novel.

He mentioned this in his introduction. And when I read that piece of information, my initial reaction was genuine anger and disgust. As the opening to a three-part series that slowly unravels mysteries about a spaceship(s) and the alien race that created it, Rendezvous with Rama was a great book. But as a stand alone novel it has all the appeal of half a hand job. Half *dry* hand job. By a dumpster behind gas station.

Now this might seem a little harsh. But it really isn't. There's an enormous difference between a story that doesn't give you all the answers (either because of subtlety in the storytelling or because the answers will be coming in future books) and a story that has no answers to give. The main difference is that the latter story is utter bullshit.

This is what I mean when I said this book disappointed me from before the first page. What I found out in the introduction to this book actually made revise my opinion of the previous book, and lose respect for Clarke as an author. I’d assumed he was teasing us with a mystery. I’d assumed he had answers he was going to give us eventually.

But he didn't. And that is a betrayal of trust. It makes me go back and resent the book that I'd previously enjoyed. It actually makes me want to go back in and change my rating of the book here on goodreads. (And I may. I'm not sure...)

This is also what I was referring to when I mentioned that this book is my worst nightmare. It's proof that a sequel can be more than a disappointment. It can retroactively ruin a book you had previously enjoyed.

And yeah. That's a spooky thing to me. And it lets me know that I'm right to be careful with my own sequels.

I actually bought the third book of the series. But I'm not going to read it. It's a rare thing for me to give up on a series like this. But I feel ill-used by Clarke. And there are many other books to read....
326 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Rama II.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

January 20, 2016 – Shelved
Started Reading
January 23, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 80 (80 new)

message 1: by Joe (new)

Joe Schmidt Wow! I have never seen you rate anything below 5 stars. Well done! I enjoyed Rendezvous with Rama, but heard this one is not as great. Bummer.

message 2: by Nate (new)

Nate That's unfortunate, Patrick. I read "Rendezvous with Rama" a few weeks ago for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you haven't already, I would highly, highly, highly, recommend "Childhood's End". Admittedly, the only reason I knew of the book's existence was from the SyFy miniseries, but I went back and did my homework/read the novel, and I was over the top impressed. In my opinion, exactly how Sci-Fi should be written. Enough philosophical themes to keep the book interesting but not overly verbose. There is a fine line and I think Clarke knocked it out of the park with this one.

Patrick By "This one" do you mean Rama 2?

message 4: by Michael (new)

Michael Cummings I think Nate meant Childhood's End - I remember reading it back in the 80's and enjoying it the most (but I'm not a huge Clarke fan - too much of Michener Syndrome for my tastes).

message 5: by Michael (new)

Michael T Rama 2 the revenge of Rama

message 6: by Newton (new)

Newton Wise Rama 2: Rama Harder

message 7: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Will you be writing a review? I recently read Rendezvous with Rama and enjoyed it but I haven't decided if I'll continue the series or not. I enjoyed the detailed exploration, but it was a bit dry.

message 8: by Brian (new)

Brian Johnson Rama 2: Electic Boogaloo

message 9: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Rama 2: Ramalamadingdong

message 10: by T.S. (new)

T.S. Pettibone Patrick, you're such a voracious reader. It's amazing! About how many books do you read per year?

message 11: by David (new) - added it

David Ocepek I agree with Patric on this one. I enjoyed Rama and I had the same hopes for the sequel. Which I did not even finish.

message 12: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight pat,read draggons egg. At least look it up.such an underrated gem.has much of the things i loved about the first rama book.also the gods themselves by asimov.also can you explain why rama 2 drained balls so bad? I have always heard rama 2 wasnt good,but dose it at least answer some qeustions posed in rama 1 ?

message 13: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight Dragon's egg. Robert.l forward

message 14: by Erin (new)

Erin Hannah: Rendezvous with Rama was written as a standalone novel. The sequels were written much later with another author, and have a completely different feel. I found them disappointing, and I agree with the above rating.

message 15: by Jer (new)

Jer Wilcoxen Rama 2: Bad MamaRama

message 16: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Bowskill Rendezvous with Rama is on my to-read list. Is the first one standalone/ concludes well enough that I won't be bothered if I never read the sequel?

message 17: by Cobra. (new)

Cobra. please accept friend request

message 18: by R.K. (new)

R.K. Syrus Man, how does Patrick KNOW these things: "For those of you who are too lazy to read and/or have a bizarre fear of clicking"? It's like he's in our Magic! (Has anyone seen him and the Raven King together, ever?) :D

message 19: by Roland (new)

Roland Nathan wrote: "Rama 2: Ramalamadingdong"

I'm more interested in how many books he writes per year.

Too much reading, not enough writing.

message 20: by Michael (new)

Michael T Rama 2 the last temptation of Rama

message 21: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Moore Roland - this is for you:

message 22: by Justine (new)

Justine What Andrew said :)

message 23: by Andrew (new)

Andrew J. Anyone would feel used. I had similar thoughts after I finished watching, nay, *investing* days of my life in LOST, but on the opposite spectrum. The tension that was so artfully built over 5 seasons was diffused so quickly and so flatly.

message 24: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Andrew- thank you.

Roland- in the words of Pat himself, "why don't you work more and read less too?"

message 25: by Erin (new)

Erin One of the things I love most about Rendezvous with Rama is that we don't get all the answers. I think that's how such an event would actually occur. It's less about making a mystery and revealing everything later; it's about imagining, as fully and intricately as possible, the leftovers of an alien race. There's no way it would all become clear in the end.

message 26: by Aaron (new) - added it

Aaron Moss I actually read the first two Rama books this fall too, but I came at them from an odd angle: one camping trip as a child I'd read through half of the library copy of The Garden of Rama (#3) Dad had brought along. I vaguely recalled some interesting plot details about interactions with aliens and somewhat salacious (at least for 12-year-old me) interpersonal relationships among the humans, and wanted to finish the story, so when I found a copy of Rama II in a used bookstore I picked it up. I agree with Pat's criticisms, though, and I haven't yet gotten back to finishing the trilogy after reading the first two books.

message 27: by Aaah (new)

Aaah > 2. Huge shift in tone.

I disagree that this is a bad thing. John le Carre did it and it worked beautifully.

message 28: by Marthie (new)

Marthie Elice Hey Patrick, try reading Deltora Quest Series by Emily Rodda, with your kids :) I would love to hear your thought on that series. I loved them myself, eventho I was "too old" at the time :P

message 29: by Aaah (last edited Jan 24, 2016 05:59AM) (new)

Aaah "The main difference is that the latter story is utter bullshit."

I have to profoundly disagree. I've seen it done successfully. There has to be a point to it, of course, but nahhh.

Graham Yeah, by the time the sequels pulled out the anal beads (and they do), the sense of wonder generated by the original had been truly trampled to fuck. I plugged on to the end of the series and the big payoff was another dick in the face too. And not a gentle one either, I can tell you. It was a 12 inch whanger moving at just under the speed of light to the chops. Two stars is beyond generous, btw.

message 31: by Keith (new)

Keith Dickens Rama 2: Rama Goes West.

message 32: by Claudia (new)

Claudia Has anyone else read #3? What did you think? I have it and have been pondering starting it but I'm having short -attention- span -syndrome I need a little encouragement. Read # 1 and #2 years ago. Cheers and thanks!

message 33: by Rob (new)

Rob I loved the first book and always meant to read the rest of the series. Now I think I'll pass. There are far too many other books waiting on my bedside table.

message 34: by Sparrow Knight (new)

Sparrow Knight Now I know why I was so dissatisfied after reading the second book & never went on to the third. And never will.

message 35: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Lock Stock and Two Smoking Ramas

message 36: by Michael (new)

Michael Cummings Roland wrote: "Nathan wrote: "Rama 2: Ramalamadingdong"

I'm more interested in how many books he writes per year.

Too much reading, not enough writing."

Writers read. Anyone who tells you different is selling you something.

message 37: by Garrett (new)

Garrett Brzozowski I haven't been a series reader until recently, so this review definitely opens my eyes. Great review.


message 38: by Mike (new)

Mike It's rare for me to give up on a series, too. I recently have though, unfortunately.

message 39: by Anne (new)

Anne C. The only huge shift in tone (but not of style) that I've seen done well - and that because it was by the same man, 20 years later, after having lived a while in this world - was Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and then its sequel World Without End. Fascinating study in how a youth sees the world vs. how a mature person sees the world.

And of course, after a review explaining why so much care needs to be taken for sequels, someone has to be tone deaf and ask if the sequels could be hurried along. I really wonder about some people's reading comprehension skills sometimes.

message 40: by Sean (new)

Sean Hillman I never felt cheated by Clarke (in any of his works) and definitely not by Rendezvous with Rama. The journey is absolutely the destination with this book that was never meant to have a sequel. Or at least that is what we are told in retrospect. Rama comes and goes, the proverbial summer intimacy before leaves fall and our mystery lover boards a ship for Europe, never to be seen again. One might also consider it a Schlieffen Plan unaltered by Von Moltke the younger, which is able to bag the French army with its flanking maneuver on the right. The experience is tantalizing either in its limited reality or in the limitless possibilities.

The point being this: the book is meant to be a moment in time for a people (humans) who live in a vast universe but still think of themselves as the center of it. Something special comes and goes, leaving us more questions than answers, but compelling us to seek out those answers and answer the questions. We will never really find out in our own lifetimes what Rama is all about but we can prepare the future human race for that audacious task.

It is a valid and I think lost art to be able to tell a novel length idea in something under 300 pages, but for science fiction in general, and hard sci fi in particular, it makes absolute sense. Clarke wrote at a time when the quick hits were much more common and something speculative could fit in your back pocket without the aid of Steve Jobs' electronic progeny. Ultimately though I think the real issue here is one of head scratching and a little bewilderment at how such a small book can be so damn good.

To put in vaguely sexual terms (because that seems to be the new standard) Clarke could do with a "quickie" of 240 odd pages what some authors can't seem to do in 1000, 2000, 10,000 or dare I say 14000... he satisfied his readership, which is all that matters in the end. His "hand job" wasn't half-assed or dry, but astonishingly good for being so quick. In a less vulgar metaphor, he pulled the X-Wing out of the swamp in a time frame that "Luke" couldn't quite fathom. Its like kids who don't believe you can survive without a "device" and wifi, or ironic social commentary without recourse to seminal metaphors or people who do not know what the Schlieffen plan was. It looks like magic, but it's just being a competent human being or in this case, a Grand Master author.

I have never (and likely won't) read Rama 2 because I was completely satisfied with the first book. I understand at least some of the context under which Clarke might have had Lee write the second book but I want to answer the questions of Rama in my own way. Though I might just read it to see if it does change my opinion of the first book. My impression is that Lee was tantalized enough by Rama and Clarke enamored enough the idea (and payday, let's be honest) to knock the dust off his own version of the story. Pure speculation on my part of course.

message 41: by Roland (new)

Roland Andrew wrote: "Roland - this is for you:"

Disagree, don't care.

The paying customer is always right.

message 42: by Roland (last edited Jan 25, 2016 06:32AM) (new)

Roland Carolyn wrote: "Andrew- thank you.

Roland- in the words of Pat himself, "why don't you work more and read less too?""

I work a lot, and I don't make promises to customers and then keep them hanging. I do what I say I'm going to do, when I say I'm going to do it, and I don't waste time nattering on social media about what I'm doing instead of honoring my obligations to my customers.

Writers of fiction are entertainers. They are paid to produce content which entertains their audience. And if they know what's good for them in terms of maintaining that audience, they don't publicly loaf about and irritate those upon whom they depend to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Suzette I agree with Sean. A book can leave questions or mystery and still be great. Not every question has an answer. Rama was a passer by. That being said I liked the other books as well. I was not at all disappointed. I've read a lot more books lately with a lot less humanity that have gotten very high ratings. The characters are who they are. I enjoyed all of the books and was thrilled that they were original and weren't " borrowing" their story from half a dozen other books mashed together which also seems to be a thing now. So I'll just respectfully disagree. I'll take an original story over some of the crap being churned out and onto the bestseller list for no reason other than that the author had a previous good book.

message 44: by Roland (new)

Roland Michael wrote: "Roland wrote: "Nathan wrote: "Rama 2: Ramalamadingdong"

I'm more interested in how many books he writes per year.

Too much reading, not enough writing."
Writers read. Anyone who tells you differe..."

I understand that.

But they oughtn't to waste time reading crap books like Rama 2 (all that was required to know it was a stinker was to read reviews of the book, not the odious tome itself), and then go post about how crap those books were on social media.

message 45: by Michael (new)

Michael Sanchez Roland-
No, writers aren't entertainers, they are artists. And the best ones are engineers, building something that has never been built before and must stand on it's own. The more complex the thing they are trying to build the longer they need to get everything right. You could design a beautiful building but if you didn't make sure that the load bearing wall in the southwest corner was designed to handle the weight, then the building starts to fall down. Any artist can do a painting, many very quickly but that doesn't make that artist Picasso or Rembrandt.
You have some writers who can writer very quickly, like Sanderson, and others that take more time, you are paying for each individual writers efforts not the finished product. You didn't commission book three (if you did you could complain because you already paid for it) and reading the previous books doesn't buy you into being owed the next book. True because you bought the previous books you helped the latest book be written but you also paid taxes and that doesn't mean you own that fancy new military vehicle the government produced.

message 46: by Sean (new)

Sean Hillman I will just echo some of what Michael said. Assembly line art will rarely produce a product for the "paying customer" that is worth cherishing. If you want art that at least has a chance of being something worth cherishing and talking about then you have to let the artist do his or her thing and this can take time.

People also understand that with these larger books you are getting more book than in the days of old. If you can devour a thousand pages in a day, thank your English teacher don't blame the artist.

I will also point out that a writers need to read, voraciously we are told. It keeps you fresh and it keeps you in the writing mindset. So you should be encouraging your favorite authors to read books that help them keep the juices flowing.

message 47: by Eric (new)

Eric "There's an enormous difference between a story that doesn't give you all the answers and a story that has no answers to give. The main difference is that the latter story is utter bullshit."

Which is why LOST pissed off so many people.

message 48: by Scott (new)

Scott Sauyet I think all the analysis of _Rama II_ is spot on. It's pretty miserable, and two stars is plenty. _III_ is even less worth a read.

But to allow this feed back into the analysis of the original misses the point. Think of this book as it stood for fifteen years, and as it was originally intended. Except for the very last line ("They do everything in threes," or some such), the reader has no hint at all that there is any follow-up to this.

And so the reader is left with questions. Lots of questions.

That puts _Rama_ in what I think of as an excellent sub-genre of hard-SF: the stories that raise a lot of questions, answer some of them, but intentionally leave a great number unanswered. Think Stanislaw Lem, Samuel Delaney, or even occasionally Ursula LeGuin. (Am I showing my age yet?) This to me is actually more fulfilling than the Asimov/Heinlein style, which often feels a little too much like an Agatha Christie, everything-will-be-revealed-if-you-read-to-the-last-page model.

Patrick, you do this extremely well in your first two Kingkiller books. I really want to know more details of Kvoth's trial, and about the ship voyage where he lost almost all his possessions. Of course it's easy to see how you manipulate me into wanting to know, but that doesn't stop my curiosity. (Actually, I'm curious as to whether you actually wrote the trial and then cut it for either artistic reasons or for length; it really feels that way.) But leaving those as unknowns actually *helps* the story. It's improved by this mystery. You have to understand what can be left unknown, and what has to be revealed. It would annoy readers to no end not to eventually learn the nature/identity of Denna's patron, for instance. But leaving mysteries, even grand ones, is not a problem at all.

So if you read this book with no knowledge that there were sequels, would you have felt cheated by the ending? I certainly didn't when I read it as a kid. And when I reread it a few years ago before reading the sequels, it held up fine.

The sequels, though? Not worth it, not at all.

message 49: by Kristin (new)

Kristin Great explanation. I think I will read this one first.

message 50: by Kristin (new)

Kristin Eric - nail, meet hammer.

« previous 1
back to top