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.


Rendezvous with Rama, chapters 18-20

I’m almost halfway through with my re-read of Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama from my perspective as a writer of science fiction. 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 know what I mean.)

So far, the stylistic element of the book that really stand out is the short length of the chapters. As you would expect, this builds tension and propels the story onwards at a good rate. And, although the chapters do end at moments of excitement or foreshadowing, it doesn’t feel cheap, if that makes sense. The moments are of actual importance and tend to lead directly into the next chapter. For example, chapter 17 ends when the interior lights of Rama abruptly turn on. Chapter 18 begins with Norton’s immediate reaction. It is seamless (which is what keeps you reading!) to the point that they could be part of one larger chapter. Clarke’s decision to break the chapters when and where he does is very skilful and increases the drama and tension in a way that would not be present if the same scenes, in the same order, were part of very long chapters. I am fascinated my how clear this is.

Now let’s move on to today’s chapters.

As I’ve already said, chapter 18 explores the first moments of the lights being on inside of Rama. Much is made of how, despite knowing what was there, the full display of it is awe-inspiring. One of the initial discoveries is that the previously-explored trenches are light sources. There is also the matter of determining relative ‘up’ and ‘down’ and how to orient oneself in reference to the space. (This is an interesting element and Clarke has Norton consider in depth.) As Norton leaves the interior, he sees, as predicted, the beginnings of a tropical storm, with mist coming from the Cylindrical Sea and trade winds developing.

This chapter is a lot of minute description covering a very short period of time, but a large space.

Chapter 19 returns to a meeting of the Rama Committee, which begins with the weather and then turns to the suggestion of the possibility of a  malevolent motive on the part of the Ramans. (There is also a diversion about Mercury and its inhabitants that, while not particularly relevant, displays the depth of Clarke’s worldbuilding.) There is also discussion about whether Rama has a propulsion system (which they conclude it does, based on the height of the cliff on the southern edge of the Cylindrical Sea, which would allow the water to be ‘pushed’ back and up by the forward movement).

Again, and I’ve mentioned this previously, there is this sense that the characters exist solely to move the plot forward. Of course, that should always be the case to some extent (a character that doesn’t advance the plot is rather pointless), but it is really noticeable in this book. The members of the committee, for example, are each given a characteristic or two to differentiate them, but that’s all. They exist merely to convey necessary information. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

We’re back on the ship at the beginning of chapter 20. One of the crew (Rodrigo) approaches Norton with a request to send a message back to Earth. It concerns his religiously based theory that Rama is there to ‘save’ people (a second ark) and that it will go into a parking orbit intersecting with Earth after perihelion.  Norton agrees to send the message to Rodrigo’s church (Fifth Church of Christ, Cosmonaut as previously mentioned) along with the Rama Committee.

I’ll be back with more later!


Almost time for Camp Nanowrimo 2019

So, I know I’ve slowed down on the Rendezvous with Rama re-read, but other things have intervened. I am continuing with it, though. Hopefully, the next installment will be posted tomorrow.

But today I thought I would write about Camp Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo (or National Novel Writing Month) is in November each year. The premise is that you promise to write a 50 000 word novel in a month. That’s it. It’s essentially a huge accountability group. Obviously, it’s not for everyone, but I’ve done it for many years now and find it a great way of getting out a first draft quickly. (It’s also a great way of practising writing first drafts! Mine have certainly improved dramatically over time.)

Camp Nanowrimo is slightly different. It takes place in April and July and participants are sorted into cabins (either randomly or you can set up/join a specific one). Your cabinmates form your direct accountability group. And the content of camp is more flexible. It can be a first draft or editing or a series of stories or anything really. You set your goal in words or hours or lines or pages, depending on what you’re doing.

Anyway. I have, in the past, used Camp Nanowrimo to do editing or write backstory pieces (to insert at a later date) or write short stories. I have had more mixed results than with Nanowrimo, largely because I have found it challenging at times to find a way of measuring my work (particularly when editing) that allows me to set meaningful goals.

This April I’m working on the novel that I began this past November. I have just over 51 000 words and a good framework for the plot, although it is missing depth on the subplots (that’s where most of the additional words will come from).

I’ve been working on developing the subplots and fine-tuning things for the last couple of months, on and off. I’ve been working on a chapter by chapter outline that takes into account what I have written already, as well as what needs to be added. The outline covers the first seven chapters and I’m debating whether to do more before Monday or to do the first seven and see what needs to be adjusted. Either is probably fine.

My goal is a chapter a day, as I have details of what to add and what ‘new’ writing needs to be done will be, I think, less than 2000 words a day (which is what I tend to write in November and find doable for a month). I’ll re-assess after the first week, regardless.

Some new-to-me books and tools I’ve been using lately as I work on this novel:

  • Story Genius (this book helped a lot with developing my current story)
  • One Stop for Writers (monthly subscription website, tools for writers like thesauri of aspects of character and worksheets and story maps and other cool stuff)
  • Plottr (software, basically a visual timeline program. I have Aeon Timeline, which is more robust in most ways, but Plottr works differently and is pretty close to exactly what I was looking for with my current project.)

More later!