I've never been quite sure how to react to Arthur C. Clarke's novels. I use Asimov as the prototypical sci-fi writer whose prognostications of the future I found completely unconvincing: the technology was hopelessly grounded in the 1950's, and his understanding of the social consequences was usually monotonic, in the sense that he saw only one or two social consequences of his technology, and handled them poorly at that. Not that I don't find some of Asimov's stories interesting; I just don't view them as very good examples of science fiction.

Clarke's novels have some of the same problems, but at the same time they are more convincingly real. I found quite believeable the concept of SpaceGuard?, the telepresence of one of the members of the Rama council, and a few other smaller scientific details. On the other hand, there are some scientific and social details I found quite implausible. The bit where characters have multiple legal sexual partners is not something I see happening in the near future. While polygamy and polygyny have been tolerated in various technologically primitive cultures, but usually only extreme environmental conditions or in societies with enormous power disparities. I suspect that the modern world is too different from those circumstances to allow anything but the two person marriage paradigm; while multiple marriage may be tolerated, I doubt it will become a majority choice. More on the topic of scientific problems, the idea of Mercury being colonized is ludicrous: the radiation and temperature extremes on that planet are tremendous. Mercury is tidally locked in a 3/2 orbital to rotational ratio, so all parts of the planet are exposed to the close side of the sun at some point. While the temperature extremes are no worse than those of the moon, the additional radiation and the much greater distance would make it impractical. My personal bets for objects in the solar system to be colonized are the Moon (proximity to Earth), Mars (closest planet and the least hostile environment), then perhaps some of the outer moons. For instance, if Europa has a tidally warmed ocean under the ice, then living beneath it would provide shelter from radiation and the most important human necessity, liquid water. I believe this would be a lot easier than trying to survive on Mercury, the only problem being the long journey necessary to get there and Jupiter's extremely treacherous radiation belts.

My other problems center around the difficulties I have with most older science fiction: I think that the technology of the next century is going to be dominated by the progress of computerized intelligence and biology/medicine, and where appropriate, the melding of the two. Computers are going to increasingly take over many specialized tasks from humans, leaving humans more as directors than as active participants. Simultaneously, I think once we develop the capability to extend human abilities, whether strength, intelligence, or less obvious characteristics, many people will indulge in them. This points to the connection between the two: cyborg implants might be a quicker way to create enhanced humans, and eventually someone is going to work out the neural user interface, which will simply make manipulation of the information in computers much easier. I think these factors will increase in importance when people try to do things like interplanetary space travel that stretch the limits of ordinary human bodies and minds: years cooped up in a tiny spaceship, sailing with only moderate radiation protection through the vast empty reaches of space.

As for the more mechanical elements of the novel's structure, RendevousWithRama has a decent plot, rather weak characterization, and the setting is . . . problematic. I found the plot interesting enough, though it is rather straightforward. I could not guess the ending or even too much of what might happen next, which was unusual; I'm not sure whether to take it as inadequate foreshadowing or an evocation of the incomprehension of the characters faced with Rama. The characters were all rather one-dimensional: they never really showed any growth or development, but rather carried out their duties in the service of the plot. I think part of the problem is that RendevousWithRama is rather short (274 pages) and Clarke writes from the viewpoint of at least five or six different characters. The result is that the narrative is spread too thin and no one character develops enough of a voice to be distinctive. As for setting, this novel could have been aided immensely by the addition of a few illustrations. While it goes against tradition and probably publishers' profits as well, I wish that novel authors had the option to include pictures. Sometimes even a thousand words are not worth a single picture, when you're trying to describe something outside your readers' experience to them.

All in all, RendevousWithRama is a worthwhile read, but not without its flaws. I may have to look at the sequels, in the hopes that they might close the story a bit more.


In this work, Clarke demonstrates the same problem he has in much of science fiction- his characters are mere vehicles to observe the setting, which is the real focus of the story. Interesting if you only care about technology and planets, but kinda boring otherwise.


It's not a bad book; Clarke does do the style pretty well, and those parts that he does poorly (characters, plot) are made largely irrelevant by the book's shortness (hell, lack of characterization in Asimov stories didn't bother me until *really* recently). I read the first of the sequels, and would have to say that it reads like it's in a completely different universe...except that it is unfortunately chained to the one that it's in. I have not yet gotten bored enough to read anything past RamaII?.


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