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  • TITLE: Rendezvous With Rama
  • AUTHOR: Sir Arthur C. Clarke
  • PUBLICATION YEAR: 1972
  • AWARDS: Neb, Hug, BSFA, Locus, JWC awards
  • WEBSITE: http://www.arthurcclarke.net/

 

1972. In a galaxy far, far, away . . . Ya don't get much closer to Golden Age Reflux than this one. It's the ole artifact-in-the-sky variety combined with the always-popular First Contact conceit(1). I'm not gonna say anything new about this exalted canon of SF, and certainly not anything to tinge Sir Arthur. He's a God. Childhood's End and 2001: A Space Odyssey alone gives him the throne. He put more metal(2) in hard science fiction than just about anyone. Besides, he's kinda the Ansel Adams-like elder for the genre, isn't he?

In fact, here's the summation from author Clarke's webpage:

 

"In 2130, a new celestial body is discovered heading toward the Sun. Earthlings name this object 'Rama'a vast cylinder, about 31 miles long and 12 miles across, with a mass of at least ten trillion tons. The spaceship Endeavor, directed by Commander Bill Norton, lands on Rama and has three weeks to explore its hollow interior. Inside the vessel they discover a completely self-contained worlda world that has been cruising through space for perhaps more than a million years."

 

This giant soup can that's spinning at about 650 mph, and on a loopy arc through our solar system before heading outbound, is coming too close to the sun for human comfort. However, if Rama has overseen direction, it can pull off an orbit somewhere through the closer planets by retro-rocket re-positioning. And, since Mercury is inhabited(3) by a society of hardliner miners, they can claim jurisdiction and attempt to blow the damned thing up, since they're hidebound "termites" who claim this outsider from space an "appalling threat"(p.204). So, to explore this tube of mysteries(4), there's a ticking clock.

Everybody's read this one, right? So, onto Spoiler City, because we all know that all they find of the required so-called "intelligent" life is a pair of overalls "with three armsand presumably three legs"(p.225) for a being standing about 9 feet tall, supposing they have heads as well. After that discovery, it's a mad dash for the airlock as Rama turns into the sun for some needed sunbeams. Then spacewards it goes, leaving Earthlings with no useable technological paradigms even close to the internet or the iphone. But, it'll smoke the history kindles as the greatest American exploration since Lewis & Clark. And not a man lost, either.

Yeah!

Character-wise, well, it's not about characters, so they are all amicable, do their duties with stalwartly strength, and never stray into their emotions for very long. And that's fine, 'cause it's all about The Machine which is dormant dead until it heats upthey're approaching the Sun, remember?then, ah, Thingies start animating in the "organometallic soup of the Cylindrical Sea"(p.203), then different Thingies identified as "biological robots"(p.186) looking like three-legged spiders, start performing rote programs of re-arrangements, maintenance, and garbage removalours, btw. All of this is fascinating because author Clarke can turn an alien machine in the clockwork world into serviceable, visualizing prose with the joy of discovering something truly meaningful yet incomprehensible as well. And, although our spacemen never encountered living, breathing UFOers with big brains, we revel in what that can evidently do. As a final coda, Clarke even grudgingly gives Rama some back-handed, emotional characteristics, musing that "it had given a final, almost contemptuous proof of its total lack of interest in all the worlds whose peace of mind it had so rudely disturbed"(p240).

And, as we all knowsimply by the final words of this novelthe Ramans are gonna orbit back eventually to collect their royalties.

 

 

 

 

 

1) is it 1st Contact even when you don't encounter anything living, just machinery? Shall we extend this status to meteorites as well?

2) or is that mettle?

3) massive amounts of precious metal on the shadow side. Who knew?

4) it's full of breathable oxygen and a frozen sea, but I flunked science, so don't ask me why.

 

© text only © copyright 03/30/2014 by Larry Crawford

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