Literature: Rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama is a Science Fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke, in which a giant asteroid comes shooting through the Solar System, circa 2131 AD. By the time it's realized that the visitor is actually a hollow artificial cylinder, only one human spaceship can even briefly reach the object and explore it before it slingshots around the Sun and returns to the depths of space. Captain William Norton and the crew of the Endeavour discover that the structure, dubbed Rama after one of the major Hindu gods (the Roman and Greek naming reserves having long been exhausted), is actually an entire miniature world stuffed with ever-more-amazing technology, which Clarke spends the bulk of the narrative detailing. The novel garnered much acclaim and won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Although Rendezvous ends with a large Sequel Hook, Clarke never seriously intended to write a follow-up, and many people agree that he shouldn't have. In fact, the three belated sequels were not written by Clarke, but by a friend of his, Gentry Lee, with Clarke merely providing ideas and support. While Rendezvous with Rama was pretty high on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness, the sequels fell squarely on the soft side. The science is largely overshadowed by commercial conspiracies, government corruption, scientists having sex, and Lee's views on religion. It also changes the nature of the setting to some degree, ratcheting it significantly farther to the cynical side and turning up the Used Future level.

The books in the series are:
  • Rendezvous with Rama
  • Rama II by Gentry Lee
  • The Garden of Rama by ] Gentry Lee
  • Rama Revealed by Gentry Lee

A movie version of the first novel has been languishing in Development Hell for decades.


"Rendezvous with Rama" includes these tropes:

  • Absurdly Long Stairway: The interior of the eponymous gigantic cylindrical spaceship, 54 kilometres long, has three extremely long ladders spanning its length along its walls. And then there come stairways with "thousands upon thousands" of steps. Getting from the airlock down the ladders and stairs, to one end of the cylinder, takes the protagonists three chapters. Justified in that it's almost certainly an emergency backup system to whatever smaller vehicles the Ramans normally used.
  • Alien Geometries: There's a sense of this, the interior of Rama using cylindrical coordinates. 'Up' and 'down' are towards and away from its rotation axis. Gravity reducing to zero at the hub doesn't help.
  • Big Dumb Object: Rama
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Ramans and their triple-redundant.. everything.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: "Rama needed the grandeur of Bach or Beethoven or Sibelius or Tuan Sun, not the trivia of popular entertainment."
  • The Federation: The United Planets, which has seven members: Mercury, Earth, Luna, Mars, Ganymede, Titan, and Triton. The fact that half of these are moons, not planets, is Lampshaded in the story.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Chapter 38 begins with: "According to the history books - though no one could really believe it - there had been a time when the old United Nations had 172 members." At the end of 2010, The United Nations had 192 members.
  • If Jesus Then Aliens: The members of the Fifth Church of Christ Cosmonaut, who believe Jesus was a Sufficiently Advanced Alien.
  • Improvised Parachute: a character uses his shirt as a parachute. Justified since he's jumping in Rama's reduced gravity, and the main purpose of the 'chute is to ensure he hits water feet-first.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: The Ramans prove to have absolutely no interest in Earth, or any other planet in the solar system.
  • Lost Technology: In SPACE!
  • Oh, Crap: The expedition's reaction when they realise that Rama's minor course-correction, coupled with its rotation, has led to a massive tidal wave being generated on the lake. Made worse because they are on the lake at the time and can see it rapidly racing towards them from the "ceiling".
  • Reactionless Drive: The explorers cannot determine just how the ship can accelerate given it does not appear to push on anything they can detect. They assume the six pillars at the rear end of the cylinder have something to do with it, but cannot confirm.
  • Rule of Three: One of the few things that is revealed about the Ramans is their predilection for the number three. They also insist on giving all their technology triple redundancy features in case of failure.
  • Sequel Hook: "The Ramans do everything in threes.".
    • Unintentionally so, though, as stated by Clarke himself. The fact that the series ended up comprising four books seems to support that.
  • Starfish Aliens: From the sequels, Octospiders, Avians, Myrmicats and the Sesil Net. The last three live in a symbiotic relationship.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens
  • The Only One: Justified in the first book as Rama is moving so quickly through the solar system that the Endeavour is the only ship in the right place, and with enough delta-V, to catch up with it and land.
  • Time Abyss: The Rama.
  • Uplifted Animal: The superchimps.

Alternative Title(s):

Rendezvous With Rama