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 a triple-redundant 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.
  • Apes in Space / Uplifted Animal: The superchimps.
  • Big Dumb Object: Rama
  • Centrifugal Gravity: How Rama creates gravity in its interior.
  • Cool Starship: It's pretty darn big, too.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Ramans and their triple-redundant.. everything.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: At one point Captain Norton mulls the effects of zero-gravity on female anatomy.
  • Eldritch Starship: In the sequels at least, the Raman fleet starts edging into this territory.
  • 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.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: It's mentioned in passing that in human society, farming is now merely a popular hobby.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: A minor course-correction on Rama's part, coupled with its rotation, leads to a massive tidal wave being generated on the ship-girdling lake. Unfortunately, it happens while some of the human explorers are on the lake. It quickly and unsurprisingly turns out that the Ramans had anticipated this possibility and installed a series of wave-killing baffles.
  • Generation Ships: It's speculated by the humans that Rama is a failed example of this. By the end of the novel, it's pretty clear it isn't, and the sequels further prove the point.
  • 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.
  • Harmless Electrocution: The ship's doctor survives a nasty jolt while dissecting one of the spider biots.
  • 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. The sequels change this.
  • Inertial Dampening: The sequels deal with this, as Rama II's human passengers travel between stars.
  • Limited Destination Time: The Endeavour can't stay with Rama when it gets too close to the sun.
  • Lost Technology: In SPACE!
  • Mile-Long Ship: It's pretty darn cool, too.
  • Mundane Dogmatic: The humans in the first novel work at this level; it's a major plot-point that physics and technology simply won't allow any ship but the Endeavour to reach Rama, and its safe time there is sharply limited. Though see below under Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
  • Noodle Incident: A throwaway one in that Captain Norton was unable to find out what happened to the first four Churches of Christ, Cosmonaut.
  • No Such Thing as Space Jesus: The sequels more or less state that the Rama ship-system was built by God. The original novel features a character who is a member of a religion which believes Jesus was an alien.
  • Oh Crap!: The expedition's reaction to the Giant Wall of Watery Doom.
  • The Only One: Justified 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. In the sequels, humanity knows the second Rama is coming, and can send a specially-prepared expedition.
  • 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.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Human scientists realize that the heat caused by Rama's approach to the sun is going to cause hurricanes inside Rama, forcing the Endeavour crew to evacuate back to their ship for a time.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens
    • Rama is a huge starship that has traveled presumably for millions of years without showing any signs of wear or damage. It uses a Reactionless Drive to perform a gravity slingshot within the outer atmosphere of the Sun to gain speed and head off in the direction of the Greater Magellanic Cloud. All of this, according to human science, is utterly impossible.
    • The Fifth Church of Christ, Cosmonaut, holds that Jesus was one of these.
  • Time Abyss: Rama and its contents.
  • Tripod Terror: The "spider" biots who start swarming around the interior of Rama. Though they prove to be harmless to humans, unless you cut into the power-battery while attempting to dissect one of their corpses.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Octospiders do this to themselves in the sequels.

Alternative Title(s):

Rendezvous With Rama