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.

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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!

Camp Nano: This novel sucks

fullsizeoutput_21b7There comes a time in the life of every story I write when I think that it is absolutely awful and I don’t know why anyone would ever want to read it. I had this over the past week with my current Camp Nanowrimo project.

When I first started to seriously write, this stage did me in every time. What was the point in continuing with a story that was so clearly already a failure? Obviously, the story was trite and used ideas and concepts that had been used over and over again. What could I possibly add?

What I have come to realize (for myself, since all writing advice or observations are inherently personal) is that I can’t listen to that voice. I have to keep writing. I have to ask myself what it is that I think is the problem.

Are there particular elements to the story that aren’t working? Sometimes there is a character that is behaving in a way that doesn’t work in the context of the specific story. Maybe their motivation doesn’t make logical sense. Maybe there are plot holes. If there are specific elements that are wrong in whatever way, I make adjustments to try and eliminate them.

Do I know where the story is going? I rarely know exactly how my story is going to end when I start. Part of me feels like a failure for writing this way, but I know that it’s just a style and there are plenty of successful writers who do the same thing. But even if I don’t know the specific ending, I do need to know the direction that it is going in. It’s hard to keep writing without that and that, in turn, leads to the sense that the story is just bad and going nowhere.

Is the story actually not working? Sometimes, I go through the various considerations and, at the end, determine that the story is actually not working at all. Most often what I realize in these cases is that I don’t have a clear idea of what the story is about. I have an idea or a character or maybe even both, but there is no story to hang them on. For me, this is usually in the context of a short story, as I am more rigorous in my planning with novels (so I typically abandon a non-working concept much earlier in the process). With some stories, I am able to work through this, but with others, I need to put them aside, at least for a while.

Most often, especially with novels, my problem lies with the first or second question. And those are the things I can work on. I can plug plot holes, figure out the direction my story is going, or add aspects to my characters. The key, for me at least, is to keep going. Writing is more than words on the page — it is thinking and note-taking and finding pictures of people who look like my characters, it is research and listening to other writers talk about their processes.

I don’t pretend that I know all the answers. In the depths of hating my current WIP, it can be difficult to remember the path out of that. But I do know that I need to remember to keep going.