It’s fitting that Rendezvous with Rama comes directly after Ringworld on this list, as both books deal with mysterious mega-structures built by unknown alien civilizations and our attempts to understand their purpose and meaning. But where the mysteries of the Ringworld require an expedition into deep space to investigate, the star ship Rama happens to be traveling directly towards our solar system. And while Clarke’s novel also leaves us with few concrete answers in regards to who built the ship and why, I felt like it did a much better job of describing the wonder and awe of coming into contact with the product of an advanced alien species. I remember being fascinated by this book when I first read it and devouring its three sequels in an attempt at finding answers to the questions posed in the first book.
Rendezvous with Rama Summary: Although it’s originally thought to be a large asteroid, Rama is quickly revealed to be a synthetic structure hurtling through space at unprecedented speeds. Along with this comes the realization that it is in fact a spacecraft and that humanity is about to have its first encounter with an alien civilization. The book spends most of its time following a group of astronauts who have been sent to rendezvous with the starship and learn as much as they can about it. The crew soon learns that Rama is a perfectly cylindrical structure whose near-hollow interior contains an earth-like landscape with fields, oceans and even an island with tall buildings that resembles New York. The only alien life forms that the astronauts encounter are small robot like creatures who ignore the humans and seem to be preparing Rama for some sort of transformation. Each of these revelations serve to deepen the mystery of the space craft and its ultimate purpose.
There is a brief sub-plot in which leaders on earth become convinced that Rama might in fact be hostile and pose a threat to humanity. Although they eventually do launch a nuclear warhead, it has little effect on the object. Unfortunately for the crew (and the reader), Rama eventually gets too close to the Sun for them to continue their investigation and they are forced to leave as the ship is catapulted back out into the solar system (using the Sun’s gravitational field as a slingshot).
Rendezvous with Rama Review: While there are certainly parallels between Clarke and Niven’s takes on the Big Dumb Object trope, I felt that Rendezvous with Rama came closer to capturing the sense of wonderment and excitement that would come with probing and exploring the mysteries of an alien species, as well as getting the reader involved and invested in figuring out their ultimate purpose. Having read all three sequels to Rama (but none of Ringworld’s), I am probably partially biased – but hey, books connect with different people in different ways and I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the ones that have affected me more than others.
Rendezvous with Rama Series: Rendezvous with Rama | Rama II | The Garden of Rama | Rama Revealed