After a bit of a break, I am continuing with my Rendezvous with Rama re-read. You can read my previous posts here if you’d like, spoilers, etc, etc (to the extent that you can spoil a book that came out 46 years ago).
Chapter 36 begins with the introduction of another character, Pieter Rousseau, who watches the ‘biots’ (what they have decided to call the biological robots) through a telescope at the hub. He has identified the various different types of biots and their purposes, but he is also keeping an eye on the teams exploring the Raman plain.
I like this device of Clarke’s, introducing individual characters in a brief but focused way when they are required. It keeps the story at arm’s length, but that works, because the scope of what is being told is so great.
When he introduces the use of the word ‘biot’, he says, “No one knew who invented the word ‘biot'”. I’ll have to go back, but I think Clarke used a similar phrasing previously for a ‘new’ word, although I actually appreciate Clarke’s wish to stress how new terms tend to arise spontaneously within groups.
Another crew member comes with the message for Norton which Rousseau tosses down to the plain (taking advantage of the varying gravity, etc). The message tells Norton that Mercury has launched a missile in Rama’s direction, although there has as yet been no official announcement.
As chapter thirty-seven opens, the missile is closer and Rama has been evacuated for a second time. This chapter includes a brief description of the human settlement on Mercury, which is harsh (although individuals are quite protected from the environment) and has a rather brutal social structure.
Norton receives notice that the representative from Mercury is going to address the General Assembly of the United Planets. Depending on what is said, Norton may need to quickly leave the vicinity of Rama.
Chapter 38 covers the meeting of the General Assembly. The United Planets has seven members – Mercury, Earth, Luna, Mars, Ganymede, Titan, and Triton and meetings take place on the Moon.
The Ambassador from Mercury addresses the assembly, beginning with a summary of the situation. He concludes by saying that, although they do not know if Rama has malevolent intentions, they need to assume that is possible and Mercury is ready to destroy Rama at the first sign of such malevolence.
This is really the first moment of true conflict in the book, as opposed to the preceding series of obstacles (all easily overcome). This is fascinating as there are fewer than forty pages remaining in the story (paperback edition).