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.


Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 30-32

And my slow re-read of Rendezvous with Rama continues. You can read my previous posts here if you’d like, but beware that spoilers (to the extent that you can spoil a book that came out 46 years ago) abound.

Chapter 30 opens with Jimmy still stuck in the souther part of Rama, with no way of returning to the others (the steepness of the south shore of the Cylindrical Sea being the barrier).  As he makes his way to the shore, hoping that the others will find a way to rescue him, he makes a tour of the squares that make the Raman surface, each different and surprising. The only similar ones resemble unplanted farming fields covered in a thick plastic-like fabric. In a field covered in a dense trellis, there is a tear in the plastic and a single plant, with an unusual flower, has grown. With difficulty, Jimmy makes his way through the trellis and picks the flower. The plant then withdraws into the ground. Jimmy sees the flower as his ‘rightful due’ as Rama has ‘killed him.’

Also, this is a tiny thing, but indicative of other aspects of the book, but it is jarring to see the word ‘unmanly’ in this chapter used in an unironic way.

The story’s perspective finally returns to Norton in chapter 31. Norton himself has mentally gone through many possibilities for rescuing Jimmy and they have also received many suggestions from elsewhere. The plan they go through with is for Jimmy to jump into the water, using his shirt as a makeshift parachute to slow him down a little. Due to the height, gravity, and so forth, there is little risk, although he does spend a few minutes in the water before being rescued.

Following Jimmy’s rescue, the horns in the south end of Rama light up again, this time stronger, and there is an earthquake (Ramaquake?), followed by a tidal wave those in the boat can see form on the other side of Rama (‘above’ them).

Chapter 32 picks up immediately following the previous chapter. The quake has resulted in a slight course correction by Rama (obviously the intention). Meanwhile, the boat is trying to avoid being capsized by the wave.

The female crew member captaining the boat, the only one with boating experience, is a good, strong character (if lightly developed) and is able to maneuver them to safety. As they approach the north shore, they encounter a broken starfish-like being that, again, is indeterminately organic or robotic. Smaller beings appear and break it up into pieces to take away (as happened with Jimmy’s sky-bike). They are happy to make it to shore and Norton determines that no one will be going back out on the sea.

This is a typical series of chapters, with obstacles being constantly thrown up and promptly overcome. I think that is one of the fascinating aspects of this book, as I have mentioned before. There are definitely obstacles put in the characters’ ways, but they are overcome with little difficulty. For example, Jimmy’s sky-bike is knocked down, Jimmy walks to the impassable-looking south shore, they think of a way for him to descend, he does, there’s a tidal wave, they successfully evade it, etc. There isn’t a lot of try/fail, which I find intriguing. (Also, I do essentially the same thing as Clarke, which I usually see as a problem, but maybe not.)

And a final observation: There is so much in this book in particular (but I think in other of Clarke’s books, too) that has influenced how I write SF.

Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 27-29

And today we have more of my re-read of Rendezvous with Rama. Previous posts are elsewhere on this website, but beware that spoilers (to the extent that a book published in 1973 can be spoiled) abound.

Chapter twenty-seven opens with Jimmy Pak beginning his return from the far end of Rama in the Dragonfly. He has not made much progress before he notices an electrical field and the beginnings of a thunderstorm, of sorts, at the small spikes (Little Horns as they are referred to). There is a lot of turbulence and, eventually, flame from the Big Horn that reaches to each of the smaller ones. A concussive burst of wind hits him.

The following chapter continues immediately on from the last with the Dragonfly being damaged and Jimmy falling (very, very slowly) to the surface of the southern part of Rama. (I can’t stress the ‘slowly’ part enough, it takes the whole, short chapter.)

Chapter 29 begins with Jimmy regaining consciousness. A creature is dismantling the now-destroyed Dragonfly. He initially cannot tell whether it is an animal or robot. The creature, which he dubs a crab, then leaves in the direction of the Cylindrical Sea with the debris. Jimmy follows. The crab dumps the remainder of the Dragonfly down a deep well-like structure, but ignores Jimmy. Looking into the hole, Jimmy sees other, different creatures.

The exclusive focus on Jimmy and the Dragonfly and his solo exploration of the southern continent of Rama over these last several chapters is a departure in the structure of the book, which before this goes roughly back and forth between Norton and the rest of the crew in Rama and the committee and doesn’t focus on any particular person. Prior to this, as well, the point of view on Rama is almost always Norton.

The departure is an interesting one, because it provides more specific detail about the experience of Rama from a particular perspective than had previously been provided. There is also more character development of Jimmy than other characters receive.

The introduction of a creature, whether organic or robot, is also significant, of course, and changes the feel of the story. The presumed sterility of Rama had already been challenged by the storms and the organic content of the Cylindrical Sea, but the presence of a larger creature takes that to another level of complexity.

More later!