Fiction Reviews

Rendezvous With Rama

(1973 / 2006) Arthur C. Clarke, Gollancz, 6.99, pbk, 252pp, ISBN 0-575-07733-6

(2009 reprint) Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 246pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08253-3


This is another in the excellent Gollancz series of reprints, and this time of the classic Clarke Rendezvous With Rama. Back in 1973 his was Clarke's first novel in five years, since the publication of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), though four collections of his short works had appeared in the interim.

In truth, 'not much' happens in this book, but then this is precisely the story's purpose. What does happen is that a gigantic alien spaceship makes an incursion into the solar system and is investigated by humans. Asteroid-sized, it is hollow, containing empty cities and a small sea (large lake) but otherwise seems totally impervious to human enquiry...

Without going into the exact ending, the book's point is that we humans are inconsequential to greater powers in the Universe.  Clarke delights in tweaking our Sense of Wonder, emphasising the scale of the artefact and maintaining its mystery, but gives us little by way of character and plot. Nonetheless it is the development of the extra terrestrial trope that counts and which appeals to the SF reader, and so Rendezvous With Rama swept the awards in 1974, winning a Hugo, Nebula, John W. Campbell, and British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel, as well as topping the annual Locus readers poll for best novel. Whether the novel directly inspired Eon by Greg Bear is a moot point, Rama did however give rise to three sequels written with Gentry Lee during the late-eighties and early-nineties. The first of these was the best and the rest rather dull excursions into the enigma of Rama. They did little to enhance Clarke's reputation. They were: Rama II (1989), The Garden of Rama (1991), and Rama Revealed (1993). However Rendezvous With Rama stands head and shoulders above these, so it is not surprising Gollancz has included it in its SF Masterworks series. If you are into alien encounters (surely one of SF's core tropes) then this is a landmark work in the history of SF novels.

Jonathan Cowie

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