Reading Challenge #76: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Welcome back for another reading challenge post. This time I got to read one of my all-time favorite books, so my review might be a little biased. It’s Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, first published in 1973.

As I work my way through this reading list, every time I get to a book I have read before and remember enjoying I get a little worried. Will I still like it? Does it hold up well? Is this re-read going to make me hate something beloved from my childhood? Luckily for me this time, Rendezvous with Rama is just as amazing as I remembered.

Some books I enjoy because of the characters, others because of the intricate worldbuilding. Rendezvous with Rama I love because it is a beautiful thought experiment. The book is about humanity’s first encounter with aliens. Or rather, with an alien artifact. Dubbed “Rama”, a huge cylindrical spacecraft passes through the solar system, and there’s a rushed scramble to mobilize an expedition. The closest vessel gets conscripted for this task, and have to do their best to gather as much information about Rama as they can before it travels on its way past our sun.

Rama is a fascinating enigma. There’s no explanation of where it is from or why it came. When the expedition gets inside, there’s no reception waiting for them, just an inside-out world full of more questions. The place is so alien that when the explorers finally run into “creatures”, they aren’t even sure if they are animals or robots. Then, just as they finally discover a tantalizing archive of alien artifacts, they have to leave Rama or risk being carried too far away to return safely.

There’s a few moments of tension, with threats from people afraid that Rama might be a weapon, and from the spaceship itself. Mostly, however, the book is content to simply lay out the curiosities of the alien vessel for the reader to consider. It works because the idea of it is so intriguing. The biggest failing is that the characters are not very developed. The crew do their jobs with little conflict beyond good-natured competition over who gets to explore new things first. It’s honestly exactly what you would want from humanity’s first expedition to an alien artifact, even if it doesn’t make for dramatic reading.

The end leaves your head full of questions in the best possible way. Yes there are several sequels, although my understanding is they were mostly written by Gentry Lee with some input from Clarke. I remember enjoying them too, although I suspect they won’t stand up nearly so well to a re-read. For now I like the purity of Rendezvous with Rama. I truly can’t recommend this novel highly enough.

TL;DR: An alien spacecraft passes through our solar system, and leaves behind more questions than answers. One of my all-time favorite books.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Rating: 5/5 stars

Next up: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

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