Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 18-20

I’m almost halfway through with my re-read of Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama from my perspective as a writer of science fiction. You can read previous posts here and beware that spoilers abound. (The book came out in 1973, so I’m not sure if ‘spoilers’ is the correct word, but you know what I mean.)

So far, the stylistic element of the book that really stand out is the short length of the chapters. As you would expect, this builds tension and propels the story onwards at a good rate. And, although the chapters do end at moments of excitement or foreshadowing, it doesn’t feel cheap, if that makes sense. The moments are of actual importance and tend to lead directly into the next chapter. For example, chapter 17 ends when the interior lights of Rama abruptly turn on. Chapter 18 begins with Norton’s immediate reaction. It is seamless (which is what keeps you reading!) to the point that they could be part of one larger chapter. Clarke’s decision to break the chapters when and where he does is very skilful and increases the drama and tension in a way that would not be present if the same scenes, in the same order, were part of very long chapters. I am fascinated my how clear this is.

Now let’s move on to today’s chapters.

As I’ve already said, chapter 18 explores the first moments of the lights being on inside of Rama. Much is made of how, despite knowing what was there, the full display of it is awe-inspiring. One of the initial discoveries is that the previously-explored trenches are light sources. There is also the matter of determining relative ‘up’ and ‘down’ and how to orient oneself in reference to the space. (This is an interesting element and Clarke has Norton consider in depth.) As Norton leaves the interior, he sees, as predicted, the beginnings of a tropical storm, with mist coming from the Cylindrical Sea and trade winds developing.

This chapter is a lot of minute description covering a very short period of time, but a large space.

Chapter 19 returns to a meeting of the Rama Committee, which begins with the weather and then turns to the suggestion of the possibility of a  malevolent motive on the part of the Ramans. (There is also a diversion about Mercury and its inhabitants that, while not particularly relevant, displays the depth of Clarke’s worldbuilding.) There is also discussion about whether Rama has a propulsion system (which they conclude it does, based on the height of the cliff on the southern edge of the Cylindrical Sea, which would allow the water to be ‘pushed’ back and up by the forward movement).

Again, and I’ve mentioned this previously, there is this sense that the characters exist solely to move the plot forward. Of course, that should always be the case to some extent (a character that doesn’t advance the plot is rather pointless), but it is really noticeable in this book. The members of the committee, for example, are each given a characteristic or two to differentiate them, but that’s all. They exist merely to convey necessary information. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

We’re back on the ship at the beginning of chapter 20. One of the crew (Rodrigo) approaches Norton with a request to send a message back to Earth. It concerns his religiously based theory that Rama is there to ‘save’ people (a second ark) and that it will go into a parking orbit intersecting with Earth after perihelion.  Norton agrees to send the message to Rodrigo’s church (Fifth Church of Christ, Cosmonaut as previously mentioned) along with the Rama Committee.

I’ll be back with more later!



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