Rendezvous with Rama
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Much like The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov, Rendezvous with Rama is an excellent throwback science fiction novel by a master of the genre. Here, Arthur C. Clarke tells a classic story of first contact with an alien presence, but makes it entirely original by changing the location of the meeting to an outer space vessel that is possibly abandoned. Out of all the award winners I’ve read, this book was closest in plot and style to Ringworld by Larry Niven, however I enjoyed this book even more as the pace was very brisk and Clarke built excellent suspense despite little action.
Set a few hundred years in the future, Earth has created a monitoring agency for asteroids after a large one has crashed into the Earth. Man has also colonized several outer space locations, including Mercury, the Moon, Mars and several other moons. When a large object is seen flying towards the sun but not following usual comet or asteroid behavior, a nearby space ship is sent to investigate what is the first definitive proof of intelligence elsewhere in the universe. As the perspective hops around, we discover that the trajectory of the ship shows that it has been traveling for thousands of years and is probably either a dead vehicle or unmanned.
The focus of Rendezvous with Rama is much more on the idea and the exploration than on any characters. Aside from Captain Horton, the man charged with leading the exploration, the rest of the characters are either crew members who have sporadic involvement or counsel members that are identified more by philosophies than names. Even the crew members are easily distinguished by traits like religious, doctor, or daredevil. Character driven it was not.
The highest compliment I can pay this book is that there was no part that dragged. Clarke uses short chapters to keep the plot moving throughout. The entire story takes place over a few weeks, and a day can pass over a few pages. The jumping around in perspectives also helps advance the plot when needed. Add all that to a truly alien landscape, and I was continually interested to keep picking up this book and finding out what would happen next.