Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 39-41

And my Rendezvous with Rama re-read is finally approaching completion (there are only 46 chapters). 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 in the 70s).

In Chapter 39, Norton has to decide what to do with the armed missile that Mercury has sent to destroy Rama (if they determine there is a threat, the missile is there, but on stand by). Rodrigo approaches Norton with the suggestion that he is confident he can disarm the missile (and Mercury won’t know until it’s been done because of the ten minute time delay).

Norton wrestles with the decision and ultimately decides to have Rodrigo disarm the missile.

This, which really begins the climatic sequence of the book, is the first time there is a true barrier for Norton and the crew to face. Previously, the obstacles were slight and easily dealt with (often by circumstances outside of Norton’s control)

An interesting technique that arises again in this chapter is the use of references to historical Earth, presumably to give the reader something to connect to. What I find curious are the elements that Norton has full familiarity with (eg Shakespeare) versus those he does not (eg not knowing what a “buck” refers to). It doesn’t matter in the context of the story, but as a writer I’m intrigued.

The next chapter, forty, is from Rodrigo’s perspective as he makes his way to the missile to disarm it. There is a lot of detail about the technical aspects of reaching the missile and beginning to work.

There is an unintentionally amusing bit about a plate on the side of the missile with contact information for the manufacturer and it is a mailing address (on Mercury), without any other imagined contact details, which is oddly quaint (and funny coming from Clarke, who was usually quite forward thinking and imaginative).

Then, as Rodrigo works, Norton receives notice from Mercury that they will blow up Rama (unrelated to Rodrigo, as they have not seen him yet because of the time delay).

Meanwhile, the missile repositions itself to hit Rama and Rodrigo easily deduces that this is what is happening, but he works quickly, disarming the missiles, cutting the connections to the camera and radio transmissions and then setting off back to the ship.

Chapter 41 is a short, context providing chapter. Norton is dictating another letter to both of his wives, which provides the opportunity for Clarke to share the information that 1) they are getting quite close to the sun and only have 48 hours before the ship needs to leave Rama and 2) the crew is going back into Rama one last time.

And that’s that. More soon.

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Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 36-38

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).

Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 33-35

My Rendezvous with Rama re-read continues. 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).

At the beginning of chapter 33, Norton has instituted rules for monitoring the inside of Rama for any signs of the creatures. Nonetheless, as they are watching, a tripod-like creature with a round head and three eyes appears. (I don’t know how often I have mentioned it previously, but there is a continuous repetition within Rama of things in 3s.)

These spider-like creatures are then observed all over the place, examining the humans objects but leaving the humans themselves alone. One of the creatures falls while trying to ascend to the hub and is broken/killed and Laura, who has wanted to capture and examine one, takes it onto the ship to dissect. The chapter ends with an unarticulated surprising discovery.

An interesting element of this chapter is the eagerness on Laura’s part to capture and examine one of the creatures. There is an acknowledgement that, if the roles were reversed and there were aliens on Earth trying to capture, this is potentially problematic, although the identified problem is more about triggering war, rather than personal autonomy or rights.

Also, and this is a slight thing, but it is very questionable judgement for Laura to take the creature onto their ship to dissect it.

Chapter 34 switches back to the perspective of the Rama Committee, who are considering the change in rate of spin and attitude that coincided with the energy discharge from the horns and the implications that has for Rama’s future behaviour.

I like how Clarke uses the committee as a way of conveying information that would be unknown or difficult to observe for the humans on Rama. It keeps the story moving, without resorting to characters (Norton or one of the other crew) talking about what they’ve been told.

The committee also discusses the results of Laura’s dissection, which appears to indicate that the creatures are very specialized biological robots. They have what are essentially batteries to power them, but are largely organic.

Chapter 35 is very brief. A message for Norton’s eyes only is received on the ship. He, of course, is inside Rama and has his executive office, Kirchoff, open and read it (against protocol). Kirchoff doesn’t want to convey the important-but-not-urgent content over the radio, so leaves the ship under Laura’s command (also against protocol) to take the message into Rama for Norton. The contents of the message are, of course, not mentioned.

Clarke does love his cliffhangers, but, as I have previously talked about, like with Dan Brown, they do serve, along with the short length of the chapters, to keep you hooked. While I have no wish to be the next Dan Brown, I appreciate the technique and think it is something I need to work on.