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on 26 July 2014
Is Rendezvous with Rama the greatest science fiction novel ever written? It is certainly the best one that I have read, and its impact remains undiminished after several re-readings. Clarke's supremacy as a writer of science fiction lies in his ability to describe fantastic events, scenarios and phenomena in clear, accessible prose that enables even the scientific layman (such as myself) to appreciate the marvels he describes. He also has a gift for mingling the magical with the almost mundane, which always lends that extra verisimilitude to his books.

Rendezvous with Rama is set in 2130, and opens with the discovery of what appears to be a new asteroid trundling through the outer reaches of the solar system. This is, in itself, of little moment until astronomers notice that it appears to be perfectly symmetrical, and moving abnormally quickly. As every available resource is directed to studying this celestial visitor it becomes apparent that it is not a natural object at all but a huge cylinder, fifty kilometres long and thirty kilometres across. The human race has to come to terms with the fact that it is, at long last, bout to encounter another civilisation.

The manned solar survey vessel Endeavour, under Commander Bill Norton, is sent to study Rama, as it is the only ship close enough to do so during the brief period that Rama will spend in our solar system. Endeavour manages to rendezvous with Rama one month after the space ship first comes to Earth's attention, by which time the alien ship is already inside Venus' orbit. Norton and his crew find it surprisingly easy to gain entry to Rama through one of a series of triple airlocks. They soon come to realise that everything in Rama is done in threes.

Once inside they are faced with a vast internal landscape laid out across the internal surface of the cylinder, including a band around the centre of the craft which they soon recognise as ice. This is dubbed the Cylindrical Sea. One bonus is that the atmosphere within Rama is breathable, which facilitates wider exploration. Their time in Rama is limited as there is no way that the Endeavour could survive going too close to the sun, and will have to depart within about a month of landing there.

The nature and purpose of Rama, and the identity and home of its creators remain enigmatic throughout the book. Inside Rama, the atmosphere is discovered to be breathable. The astronauts discover several features, including "cities" (odd blocky shapes that look like buildings, and streets with shallow trenches in them, looking like trolley car tracks) that actually served as factories and seven massive cones at the southern end of Rama – believed to form part of the propulsion system.

Clarke maintains the reader's sense of awe throughout the book, partially because it is matched by that of the characters themselves as they continually discover new aspects of the wonders of Rama. Clarke also investigates the political and religious impact of this sudden manifestation of other civilised life elsewhere in the universe, with the colonies on Mercury, the Moon and Mars all having different responses to the presence of Rama. He even manages to throw in a fair amount of humour, and captures it all in just two hundred and fifty pages. An excellent novel, that is as compelling now as when I firt read it about thirty-five years ago.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 November 2013
First published in 1972 this is one of the major SF classics - and it aged well, even if the description of human civilization in the Year of Grace 2130 is... well, quite weird.

In 2130 the "Spaceguard" early warning system, designed to protect Earth and other colonized planets in Solar System from wandering asteroids, detects an object of quite respectable size (about 55 kilometres long and 20 kilometres large), coming from interstellar space. This newcomer is named Rama and observed by astronomers with considerable interest, as it is the first asteroid from outer space ever to be identified in Solar System. But as Rama comes closer to the heart of the Solar system, scientists start to discover discrepancies in its movement and aspect. And finally there is no more doubt: Rama is not an asteroid but a giant artefact, made by intelligent creatures. Is it a giant scientific probe? Is it an interstellar missile send to destroy human race? Is it a starship? Or maybe only the dead wreck of a starship? Is there something inside Rama? Is there SOMEBODY inside Rama?

Because of Rama's peculiar orbit and late discovery of its artificial character, only one human ship can catch up with it and explore, before this giant "artefact" leaves our Solar System forever. Spaceship "Endeavour", on a routine "solar meteorology" survey mission, will manage to land on Rama... All the rest is for you to discover.

There are two reasons for which this book MUST be rated five stars. First, there is the great quality of writing. The suspense is permanent and almost insufferable - I didn't sleep most of the night to finish this book, because I simply COULDN'T wait to discover what will happen on the next page, and then on the next one, etc. etc. The second reason is the scientific quality of this book. Arthur C. Clarke did his best to stick to the "hard science" and it gave this book a very unique flavour, rarely seen in recent SF (by recent I mean post 1990). Author also managed to convey the scientific points in a very accessible way. I humbly admit that I am not very good at mathematics, physics and astronomy, but even me I managed to understand most of the scientific aspects of "Mission Rama" (or at least I believe I did). To say things shortly - "Rendez vous with Rama" is a great story, told in a great way!

Now, this book also has some weaker points, the same which (in my personal opinion), always hurt a little Arthur C. Clarke books. His visions of possible future societies were always somehow blurred by a mixture of three factors: his misanthropy, his detestation of religions (all of them) and his troubled sexual life, of which the homosexuality was possibly the LESS unorthodox aspect.

In this book Clarke's misanthropy runs rampant when he describes, with an evident pleasure, the forced reduction of human population of Earth to one billion - and extremely draconian laws preventing it to ever go over this limit... The very idea that any centralized, planet wide bureacracy could so completely control human's reproductive rights only 120 years from now is a really depressing thought... Clarke's deep dislike of religions is well illustrated by the joke placed in this book about the last Christians surviving still amongst more "enlightened" people - but in this reality those "Christians" actually believe that Jesus was an alien and they expect Him returning in a spaceship...

Another weird Clarke's prejudice was his pathological, visceral contempt towards farming and farmers. In his reflexion on "Raman" civilization he makes one of the explorers say "there is no way that a civilization so advanced could still tolerate the existence of an activity so low as farming". That is in my opinion one of the most irrationally stupid statements in all the "hard" SF... (but, to be fair, being myself a descendant of peasants, I am probably particularly touchy on this point...).

But it is the future societies attitude towards sexuality that is possibly the most troubling element of this book. Clarke clearly hoped that all sexual rules of our current Western societies would disappear in XXII century, to leave place to "anything goes" - an almost total absence of any rules and traditions. In this book both polygamy and polyandry are a perfectly normal thing and are legally recognized - and we are expected to believe that two or more wives of the same man are good friends... Marriages are also open - nobody even expects men and women to remain faithful to their partners. Sex is considered to be such a completely casual thing, that a polygamous married man can still bed openly a third woman without hesitation and everybody thinks it is just fine. Which is more, for Clarke there was clearly nothing wrong when in a hierarchical structure the commander of a ship called one of his female subordinates to lay with him. Homosexual relations and marriages are in this society accepted by everybody without exception - and even more, homosexual relations between crew members of a spaceship are ENCOURAGED, especially if they work together in the same field! Even more curious was his invention of bisexual-triangular marriage, in which two men first marry before taking together a common wife (or the contrary, two lesbians marry first and then add a man)...

Well, 120 years may be a lot of time, but I really do not see general acceptance and legal consecration of such practices coming easily... And religions are also not going anywhere - if anything they now play an even stronger role in world affairs that 40 years ago.

But other than those somehow extravagant elements, reflecting author's personal obsessions, this is an absolutely splendid book! I had great time reading it! Enjoy!
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on 15 May 2013
This was the first novel of Clarke's novels that I have had the pleasure to read and I can't even begin to imagine how powerful it must have been to an audience on release some 50 years ago, it has lost none of it's power at evoking big ideas and filling readers with a sense of true awe. What struck me the most was how easily Clarke could transfer his massive ideas into the minds of readers.

Rendezvous With Rama is set during the 22nd century where humanity has come a long way with space technology. The Moon, Mars and Jupiter are amongst the new home-worlds of mankind as space travel within the solar system has been fully realised and with it a vast amount of new possibilities has awoken. After several terrifying encounters with meteorites, 'Spaceguard' is established as an early warning system with the intention of mapping all natural satellites and their future paths however it's first true success story comes in 2130 when it identifies something that appears much bigger, much smoother and much less natural... Members of the United Planets (UP) waste no time in debating the significance of this discovery and soon realise that there is only one ship within its local area capable of exploration. Commander Norton of the Endeavour invested more hours than he cared to count getting lost in books on the adventures and discoveries of Captain James Cook, his favourite explorer and hero, but he never even fantasised that one day he would have such an experience that would parallel that of the great 18th Century explorer...

Rendezvous With Rama, is one of Sir Arthur C Clarke's and of all science fiction writers greatest attempts to capture the excitement of the next great first encounter, that of encountering evidence of sentient beings outside of Earth. Clarke manages to convey a true sense of wonder, successfully imagining just how a futuristic, 22nd equivalent of James Cook or Marco Polo would react as they took their voyage of discovery of an alien ship. Despite it's surprisingly simplistically form, Rendezvous With Rama, produces truly vivid and believable characters and encounters within such a fantastic new world. The story follows Norton and his crew as they attempt to unlock the secrets to Rama, a completely incomparable object and literally an inverted planet. The true success of the novel comes from the complete lack of absolute answers throughout, with each answer comes three more questions and three more opinions of characters who we have to debate along with ourselves; as well as having us think Clarke also demands for us to stretch our imagination, Rama, the encapsulated world follows different laws has a highly varying gravity from axis to centre, has a sea in the sky from one perspective, the world is impossible to peg to a metaphor or from anything familiar forcing the reader to create and think in alien terms.

I can never hope to explain the true genius of Clarke and RWR but can strongly advise anyone with a passion for SF to buy this book, every S.F Masterworks is a jewel and this is a diamond amongst them
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 June 2012
First published in 1972 this is one of the major SF classics - and it aged well, even if the description of human civilization in the Year of Grace 2130 is... well, quite weird.

In 2130 the "Spaceguard" early warning system, designed to protect Earth and other colonized planets in Solar System from wandering asteroids, detects an object of quite respectable size (about 55 kilometres long and 20 kilometres large), coming from interstellar space. This newcomer is named Rama and observed by astronomers with considerable interest, as it is the first asteroid from outer space ever to be identified in Solar System. But as Rama comes closer to the heart of the Solar system, scientists start to discover discrepancies in its movement and aspect. And finally there is no more doubt: Rama is not an asteroid but a giant artefact, made by intelligent creatures. Is it a giant scientific probe? Is it an interstellar missile send to destroy human race? Is it a starship? Or maybe only the dead wreck of a starship? Is there something inside Rama? Is there SOMEBODY inside Rama?

Because of Rama's peculiar orbit and late discovery of its artificial character, only one human ship can catch up with it and explore, before this giant "artefact" leaves our Solar System forever. Spaceship "Endeavour", on a routine "solar meteorology" survey mission, will manage to land on Rama... All the rest is for you to discover.

There are two reasons for which this book MUST be rated five stars. First, there is the great quality of writing. The suspense is permanent and almost insufferable - I didn't sleep most of the night to finish this book, because I simply COULDN'T wait to discover what will happen on the next page, and then on the next one, etc. etc. The second reason is the scientific quality of this book. Arthur C. Clarke did his best to stick to the "hard science" and it gave this book a very unique flavour, rarely seen in recent SF (by recent I mean post 1990). Author also managed to convey the scientific points in a very accessible way. I humbly admit that I am not very good at mathematics, physics and astronomy, but even me I managed to understand most of the scientific aspects of "Mission Rama" (or at least I believe I did). To say things shortly - "Rendez vous with Rama" is a great story, told in a great way!

Now, this book also has some weaker points, the same which (in my personal opinion), always hurt a little Arthur C. Clarke books. His visions of possible future societies were always somehow blurred by a mixture of three factors: his misanthropy, his detestation of religions (all of them) and his troubled sexual life, of which the homosexuality was possibly the LESS unorthodox aspect.

In this book Clarke's misanthropy runs rampant when he describes, with an evident pleasure, the forced reduction of human population of Earth to one billion - and extremely draconian laws preventing it to ever go over this limit... The very idea that any centralized, planet wide bureacracy could so completely control human's reproductive rights only 120 years from now is a really depressing thought... Clarke's deep dislike of religions is well illustrated by the joke placed in this book about the last Christians surviving still amongst more "enlightened" people - but in this reality those "Christians" actually believe that Jesus was an alien and they expect Him returning in a spaceship...

Another weird Clarke's prejudice was his pathological, visceral contempt towards farming and farmers. In his reflexion on "Raman" civilization he makes one of the explorers say "there is no way that a civilization so advanced could still tolerate the existence of an activity so low as farming". That is in my opinion one of the most irrationally stupid statements in all the "hard" SF... (but, to be fair, being myself a descendant of peasants, I am probably particularly touchy on this point...).

But it is the future societies attitude towards sexuality that is possibly the most troubling element of this book. Clarke clearly hoped that all sexual rules of our current Western societies would disappear in XXII century, to leave place to "anything goes" - an almost total absence of any rules and traditions. In this book both polygamy and polyandry are a perfectly normal thing and are legally recognized - and we are expected to believe that two or more wives of the same man are good friends... Marriages are also open - nobody even expects men and women to remain faithful to their partners. Sex is considered to be such a completely casual thing, that a polygamous married man can still bed openly a third woman without hesitation and everybody thinks it is just fine. Which is more, for Clarke there was clearly nothing wrong when in a hierarchical structure the commander of a ship called one of his female subordinates to lay with him. Homosexual relations and marriages are in this society accepted by everybody without exception - and even more, homosexual relations between crew members of a spaceship are ENCOURAGED, especially if they work together in the same field! Even more curious was his invention of bisexual-triangular marriage, in which two men first marry before taking together a common wife (or the contrary, two lesbians marry first and then add a man)...

Well, 120 years may be a lot of time, but I really do not see general acceptance and legal consecration of such practices coming easily... And religions are also not going anywhere - if anything they now play an even stronger role in world affairs that 40 years ago.

But other than those somehow extravagant elements, reflecting author's personal obsessions, this is an absolutely splendid book! I had great time reading it! Enjoy!
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on 20 February 2012
The star of this novel is the enormous spaceship with a design similar to the proposed o'Neill cylinder. Clarke succeeds in describing the scale and alien qualities of the vessel whilst also suggesting that the creators are at not wildly different from humans yet in many ways beyond our understanding. The descriptions of the ship and its internal characteristics, the encounters and the fact that no easy answers are ever given leaves one with many questions - but in a very stimulating way that sets off one's imagination. It is so much better done than Niven's Ringworld.

It has been noted that character development isn't strong, in fact i sometimes forgot 'who' from among the cast i was reading about at times but it didn't matter as all the characters tended to be diligent professionals leaving us, the readers, free to explore Rama with them. It may seem odd to praise a book for its lack of character development but I will, because excessive 'human stories' would have muddled the book. I understand the later rama novels change completely in this regard, not only going into almost soap opera style 'human stories' but also seeking to answer the mysteries of rama. I'm glad i havent read those!

There are, as so often the case in sci fi novels, some elements that belong to the time it was created. Written just after the 1960's the novel posits two things that at the time may have seemed likely to happen and now seem somewhat innocent and dated. First there is widescale spaceflight in the solar system and settlement of various planets and moons, something that may have seemed very plausable back then now seems unlikely to happen by the 22nd century in any case. Secondly the notion that, partly as a result of living on multiple worlds, polygamy has become normal for travellers. It is credible but seems to me to have been thrown in as if to say "hey, guess what happens in the future" rather than because it adds anything. One minor but forgivable 'miss' was just how powerful computation and communication has become, its difficult now to contemplate what it will be like 50 years from now let alone in the 22nd century.

Those are not complaints and Clarke is good enough to minimize the coverage of those aspects just enough to get the plot running along, the plot itself being sufficient to get to Rama and explore it - and Rama itself is enough reason for the 5 star rating.
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on 25 May 2011
I had a real yearning for a good, old fashioned sci-fi story and recalled hearing about this book a while ago so thought I'd give it a whirl. Rendezvous with Rama is a very interesting story of a group of astronauts who are sent to dock with an enormous cylinder that has appeared in the sky and which also appears to be on a direct collision course with the sun, giving them a short period of time to explore this strange object. Upon arrival they finally enter the cylinder, christened Rama and discover what lies inside. It can be quite difficult to imagine certain aspects of this - I suggest searching online for images/videos of Rama to see some artist's conception pieces which really help you get a picture of what Clarke is trying to describe.
The idea of such a world is quite fascinating and Clarke also goes into great detail concerning the laws of gravity and the struggles that the astronauts have to overcome throughout their exploration. Clarke's use of the laws of physics is one of the reasons I chose to read this book as I wanted the so called hard sci-fi and Rendezvous with Rama really delivers in this respect.
One of the unfortunate aspects of this book is the poorly defined characters, at first I thought it may not matter as the idea of the contained world would be enough to keep me hooked, however as the book goes on I realised that I would have liked to have seen Rama from varying characters perspectives in order to really 'get the feel' of the place. Overall I enjoyed the book, purely because I found the idea so enthralling, it could have been better character wise but I am pleased that I read it and am already on the hunt for another Sci-fi tale!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 January 2011
Unfortunately, one of the Amazon reviewers somewhat spoilt Rendezvous with Rama for me by revealing the ending in his / her review, but I still enjoyed it hugely. This is because it starts from a premise with universal appeal: an alien spaceship suddenly appears in the Solar System, and takes a realistic and credible approach to it.

Clarke, before being a science fiction author, served in the Royal Air Force as a radar technician (1941-1946). He also devised a satellite communication system that was a precursor to what is in use today. Perhaps because he was a scientist by background, Clarke paid more attention to verisimilitude than other authors of the genre. Rendezvous with Rama, first of all, takes place in a realistically distant future, the twenty-second century; it does not assume man was already on Mars and reaching for the outer Galaxies twenty years after the first Moon landing, as do some SF books written around the time. The novel focuses in what is inside the alien spaceship (or probe, or ark: its nature is not given away, but is the book's very point), and it gives a believable story of its exploration and the surrounding politics. This is not a tale of swashbuckling spacemen and alien bugs, or some supernatural fantasy: it is a logical and at the same time, or even because it is logical, exciting story of discovery. The human mission to Rama explores the alien craft step by step, and the reader with it. It is a fascinating story and a tale full of dangers even though it fails to veer into space opera. Rama itself is full of surprises, though they are surprises to which we are inclined to nod in understanding. But I don't want to spoil it for you...
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on 4 June 2012
Arthur C Clarke might be a little formulaic, but he did write a few outstanding novels, of which this is one.
It looks to a future where the limitations of then-known physics were respected, but of course could never have predicted some technologies, and Clarke hadn't really woken up to the changes in society that were already happening around him.

The basic storyline, the theme of which he seemed to borrow for one of the sub plots 'Fountains of Paradise', recalls the concepts around '2001' -Mankind gets a visitor from the stars. This time, though, we've got enough spacecraft around to send one to check it out. The crew spend some time visiting the inside, whilst the politicians and scientists elsewhere get into the same kind of rows we see anywhere. The fiercely independent Mercury colony's reaction to events recalls contemporary troubles with China and the USSR of the 1970s.
Themes from other Clarke stories - the 'super chimps' and 'Dragonfly' - make appearances, and some very clear, modern, limitations are there too. We still haven't got past rocket fuel for propulsion, and the concept of a satellite based meteor detector is already in place.

Still can't understand why no-one had turned this into a film. BBC Radio 4 did a very clever adaptation of it no so long ago.
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on 6 March 2013
"Rendezvous With Rama" is a rare book indeed.

There is no villain (well, not exactly), and a lot of the book is spent with not much happening.

But there is buckets of mystery and intrigue. To summarise the plot, and alien object (christened "Rama") enters the solar system and Mankind dispatches the spaceship Endeavour to investigate. Finding the craft apparently empty, Endeavour lands and explores.

Whilst this is ostensibly a science fiction story, it moves beyond the conventional tale because of all the detail. Clarke has gone to great length to paint his universe - explaining the trigger events, colonies, current philosophies (legalised bigamy was great) - but does so without burgeoning the book with unnecessary appendix or footnotes.

If you want to criticise the story, there is no resolution. There is no answer to "Rama", but that in itself does set up for the rest of the series ("Rama 2", "Gardens...", and "Revealed..."). However, I don't think the mystery needs to be resolved. Why? Because this is not a story about an alien spaceship - it is a story about Man's reaction to an alien spaceship, and that subtle difference is where this tale succeeds.

Well recommended.
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This is a really interesting look at how alien first contact might actually be - it has a lot of elements of Lovecraft in it, especially as the first humans to visit Rama explore a thoroughly alien geography within. It's also surprisingly brisk in its pace as compared to much classic sci-fi - it reminded me a lot of Asimov's Foundation books, in that there's very little time devoted to characterization, and a few rough sketches of personality are used only to illuminate larger and more interesting themes.

If it has a fault though, it's that it's all a bit sanitized - the first hundred or so pages do a wonderful job of building up a sense of palpable menace, but it becomes obvious shortly after that it's not going to pay off - as dangerous as Rama is made to seem, nobody is ever at any genuine risk of death or dismemberment. I wasn't expecting it to morph into Starship Troopers, but given the context I would have liked to have seen a little more recognition of how dangerous this kind of scenario could genuinely be.

Still, well worth reading and one of the better works of classic sci-fi that I've read.
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