Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 3-5

So, let’s dive right into this. (The first post in this re-read discussion is here.)

Note that spoilers abound.

Chapter three (briskly) covers a meeting of the Space Advisory Council, grappling with the decision to re-route a probe to go past Rama, which reveals it to be an alien ship. The next chapter introduces Commander Norton, whose ship Endeavour has been sent on an intercept course with Rama. Norton and other crew members reach Rama and land on the one end of the cylinder. The element of uncertainty, and whether the Endeavour and its crew will survive, is raised; that after all this time in space, humans have grown to have certain expectations that Rama thwarts. In chapter five, Norton finds a way into the ship.

That summary might be short, but so are the chapters. They are snappy. And the characters (all men) are described in the briefest terms possible, with little to no physical description and only broad personality signifiers. It works in the context of this story because Clarke fills the remaining space with intricately detailed descriptions of Rama and of the work the humans do to get there.

One is left with the strong suspicion that the human characters are the least important part of this story — the main character, the true protagonist, is Rama. The humans provide a vehicle through which the reader can explore and experience Rama.

It’s not just attention to detail that is so marked in Clarke’s work, especially this book. It’s that he clearly invested a great deal of time working out the science, of considering the possibilities and how technology might develop.

Tension and interest in these chapters are the result of general curiosity regarding Rama, as well as the uncertainty regarding the crew’s safety. It’s a good mix, although the particular characters are not, as yet, well differentiated.

There are aspects of the book that seem dated, not least of which is the dearth of women. There is also the odd phrase or word usage (one I thought was particularly noticeable was ‘space-probe’ which sounds a little clunky compared to just probe). But for the most part, as a result of the detailed description and attention to plausible science, it could have been written today.

Can I say again that the chapters are really short? Like 2 or 3 pages short? It’s a little jarring, because it’s at odds with what I have grown accustomed to, but it does keep you turning pages (in a Dan Brown-esque way). I had forgotten this and I will have to go and see if other Clarke books use a similar structure.

As a writer, my main takeaway so far is really the brisk tone and how Clarke is so focused on the technology.

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