Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 15-17

I’ve been re-reading Arthur C Clarke’s 1973 book Rendezvous with Rama and considering it from my perspective as a writer who was very influenced by the book when I first read it as a young adult (many years ago now!). Previous posts are here (and note that spoilers abound!).

Chapter fifteen continues with the exploration of the interior of Rama. The chapter opens with an explanation of how this is being done (skeleton crew left of the ship, numerous groups exploring the interior, etc).

The group led by Laura reaches the Cylindrical Sea that marks the middle of Rama. The surface is, as expected, ice and a sample is taken. They do not attempt to reach the island in the middle, as they have no way of crossing the ice easily and the temperature inside Rama is warming. The chapter ends with some foreshadowing (Laura feels what might be a breeze on her cheek).

Again, this chapter is thick with description. The vividness with which Clarke describes Rama is really one of the best parts of this book. The characters range from bland to annoying, but the sense of exploration is wonderful.

Chapter sixteen opens with further explanation of how the heating of the exterior of Rama will result in strong winds. This is told through experts on the Rama Committee, but the scene then switches to Norton, who is camped out inside Rama and composing a message home (addressed singularly, but to be sent to each of his wives, <gag>). Norton receives a message from the committee (who he was, apparently, previously unaware of) telling him of the need to evacuate the interior temporarily.

That Norton didn’t know about the committee is another one of those weird quirks of communications that mark the book. It makes sense in retrospect, because even for Clarke, our highly interconnected current situation is so at odds with what we knew or expected in the 70s.

The chapter wraps up with Norton considering Captain James Cook of the original Endeavour (the same name as his current ship) and his admiration of him and such. There’s a bit of history given (again) and it is revealed that Norton considers “what would Cook do?” when faced with difficult decisions.

In the reflection here, a notable element is Norton talking about flying over the Great Barrier Reef and how spectacular it was. Of course, today the Great Barrier Reef is at risk due to various environmental threats and this assumption that it is just fine in Norton’s time is a little jarring (although the current issues are not things Clarke could have predicted).

At the end of the chapter, Norton abandons the unfinished letter to his wives, because he’s now preoccupied with other matters and, after all, Captain Cook’s wife rarely saw him at all, his wives have “nothing to complain about” (ugh).

The first part of chapter seventeen describes the explorers being woken by loud noises as the ice of the Cylindrical Sea begins to break up, violently, as the heat from below/the exterior causes the lower ice to melt. Seeing the changes that are beginning, the humans leave the interior. The remainder of the chapter is from Norton’s point of view as he climbs first the steps and then the ladder to reach the hub. This is described in extreme detail, about the physical demands and requirements. The chapter ends, dramatically, when, part way up the ladder, Norton and the others are surprised when the interior lights of Rama abruptly turn on.

The short chapters and frequent cliffhanger final sentences contribute to the drama of the story and push you to read that next chapter. It is very effective even with a weak story (see The Da Vinci Code), but even more so with a story such as this one, that has more interest to it.  (I really hated The Da Vinci Code for many reasons that I’m not going to explore here, but this book is a very good historical corrective.)

More later!

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