For several years, I took courses through the Writers’ Studio online. (They were great. Pricey, but worth it, if you’re interested.) This post isn’t about those courses, but part of their approach is to read short stories (or excerpts) and poems, analyze their component parts, and then write something that uses those same parts, like tone and mood and point of view.
I found this really useful and it improved my short stories dramatically. I’ve been thinking recently about doing a similar thing, on my own, with novels, in particular some that have really influenced my preferences and ideas around science fiction.
So, I’m starting with a re-read of the Rama books from Arthur C Clarke and Gentry Lee.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the first book, Rendezvous with Rama, was written by Clarke alone and came out in 1973. Beginning in 1989, three novels written by Clarke and (mostly) Lee followed: Rama II, Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed.
(Lee wrote two further books that take place in the same universe, Bright Messengers and Double Full Moon Night. I may re-read them as well, while I’m at it.)
I’ll be reflecting on the books as I go through them, largely to think through how the stories are structured and what works and what doesn’t. I haven’t decided yet how often I’ll write something, probably a couple of times a week. (I should come up with a schedule.)
So, on to my initial thoughts on the beginning of Rendezvous with Rama. There will be spoilers.
Rendezvous with Rama (1973)
Chapters 1 and 2 (note: the chapters are very short)
The most notable aspect of the first chapter of RWR is the lack of characters. I wonder how easy a sell this would be today (or even then, had Clarke not been who he was). The first chapter is a dense scene setting, providing the context for the story. Extrapolating from two actual meteorite strikes in the first half of the twentieth century, the story is set in the aftermath of a catastrophic one in 2077 and the resulting development of a system to monitor the solar system for possible threats.
The second chapter brings us to the story’s present, 2130, and the detection of a mysterious object that is named Rama by those tracking it. A scientist character is introduced, but as with the first chapter, there is a lot of information presented –a basic, scientific, statistical description. In less capable hands than Clarke’s this could be a drag, but instead he invokes curiosity. The excitement related to the unknown object is palpable.
What I like most about these initial chapters is how briskly the context is established. Clarke explains why humans are able to detect the object and then how. It really skips along. It feels like introducing characters would have simply slowed down the exposition.
That’s all for now. More later.