Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 21-23

I am slowly continuing this re-read of Rendezvous with Rama. 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 were warned.)

Chapter 21 begins with the humans returning to the interior of Rama. The storm has passed, leaving only clouds (which hang above the the sides of the tube, forming a smaller, interior cylinder of clouds).

Upon descending the ladders, they find that the oxygen level within Rama has risen, along with the temperature and general climate. It is warm, humid, and the Cylindrical Sea is now a green colour one would associate with plant life.

This chapter is brief and deeply descriptive, but only barely hints at what might come next.

In chapter 22, the narrative has skipped ahead a few days and a small raft, capable of carrying four people, has been constructed and transported to the edge of the Cylindrical Sea. Four set out to reach the island in the sea that they have called ‘New York.’

They have also found single-celled microorganisms in the water, although in numbers that appear to be dropping (as if they peaked earlier, when the sea melted).  Norton observes, as they approach New York, that there is a tendency within Rama of triple redundancy — seen in the layout of New York, as well as the three ladders, the three sets of lights in each end, and so on.

They reach New York with no obstacles, Norton goes up the stairs, and finds the ‘city’ empty and ready for them to explore.

I have a couple of writerly observations at this point. One is that the conflict that one normally sees (in any story or novel, the obstacles, whether violent or not, that arise) are almost completely absent from this story. It kind of sneaks up on you, because there is story and things happen. But none of those things are happening in opposition to particular problems or difficulties. The storm and retreat from Rama’s interior is sort of an obstacle, but they all cleared out well before there was a problem and went back in after it was done with. There was no tension or excitement around anyone’s safety, certainly. And at this point I am almost exactly halfway through.

The other observation is how well, generally speaking, this book fits the traditional division between literary fiction (being character-centered) and genre fiction (being plot oriented). Even with the general lack of tension, this is definitely a plot oriented book. The only ‘tension’ that hangs over the story is the constellation of questions surrounding Rama: what is it, where is it from, are there living beings associated with it? But that is big picture tension. Clarke is more concerned with showing us this world he has created.

Chapter 23 begins partway into their exploration of New York, which they have quickly determined to be a machine or processing plant of some, undetermined type, as it lacks any sort of accommodations or other necessary conveniences. There is a suggestion that the machine uses water from the sea for whatever it does. However, as with the other buildings they have found, they have no windows, doors, or any other obvious way to enter.

In this chapter, Norton also considers his reluctance to use an explosive or other extreme method to open one of the buildings, which he attributes both to pride (he’s no barbarian) and fear (over what the Ramans may have planned for).

And that’s that for now.

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