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Literature / Rama II

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Rama II is the sequel to the novel Rendezvous with Rama. It covers the exploration of a new Rama craft, which appears after humanity has explored the first years earlier, and an ensuing crash and recovery of civilization has occurred. Because the new spaceship was anticipated, a crew of humans, including some military personnel and some scientists, has been trained to perform reconnaissance. When they arrive on the craft however, things do not go well, due to unforeseen tensions among the human Party members themselves. POV character Nicole DesJardins is left with investigating a potential murder as the exploration continues and the team and Earth considers bringing them home. The book contain multiple character studies, two (or three) romances in space, and robots who perform Shakespeare with surprising human verisimilitude. Also, new alien species and their young, and the tension that results from attempting survival in a new and, surprisingly, already populated, environment.

This novel provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Nicole, Richard, in their different ways, and then parts of the crew.
    • Nicole was an Olympic medalist. In her youth in France, she almost won a beauty pageant but didn't because of (implied) racism. She had an affair with the prince of the United Kingdom, then continued to raise her daughter and attend and graduate a cosmonaut academy, being chosen as life sciences officer on the only prepared expedition to Rama. As a young child, she gained mystical powers by going through the Poro ceremony — which she gained access to by being a Child of Two Worlds, as her mother is Senoufo and her father is French. Her powers involved placating lions when young, and as an adult she uses them to escape a pit which would otherwise have been a death trap. Might count as a Broken Ace if one counts her emotional entanglement with the prince which had aftereffects for much of her life.
    • Richard Wakefield communicates with the alien intelligence which designed the ship indirectly, using his reasoning powers and coding skills, by hacking their computer interface. He builds robots which can be used for reconnaissance and which perform for entertainment, and he does this while being an affable, intelligent teammate. He doesn't reveal the majority of his flaws until the sequels; he has scars from his past, which he bottled up until he tells Nicole.
    • Francesca is viewed as beautiful, and, while needy — depending on her romantic relationship on Earth to an older guy or father figure — she is extremely intelligent. What sets her apart though is how ruthless she is, as well as pragmatic. As a reporter, no story escaped her, but on board Rama she has bigger fish to fry, like collecting her share of the profits from the side deal she made to sell biots. Even killing one and trying for another cosmonaut doesn't faze her; she comes off as both inhuman and efficient.
    • Averted with Brown, who is actually shown so boorish that it gets in the way and Sabatini mostly takes over in managing their backroom deal. Further, he is a fraudster, having stolen credit for scientific work done by his former PhD student.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Nicole figured out that there was a murder and who did it, by studying the information she had on all of the cosmonauts' history, their vitals, and human behaviour in general, and being extremely observant when on board the vessel.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology :
    • One alien has multiple life stages, including a "sessile" stage. The sessile stage is a mesh, which interacts with Wakefield by directly sending messages through his brain, while wrapping him in itself. The sessiles break down the broken members of the second life stage, the Myrmicats. Those Myrmicats are the artists and designers of the species, and live in the highest stories of their lair in the Rama spacecraft. The Myrmicats subsist off of green liquid that they contain in swimming pool structures. The final life stage is an egg, which is produced by the sessile stage from nutrients reclaimed from the decommissioned Myrmicats. The eggs are looked after by Myrmicats, but also fed to a symbiotic species, the Avians. The Avians appear to be but servants of the Myrmicats, less intellegent, but they serve as defense as they are able to manipulate the environment through their talons and formidable beaks. Their only nutrition seems to be Myrmicat eggs, and these they freely receive. The Avians communicate using what sounds to human like squawks and gibbers, made by their vocal cords — which are unlike humans' — and the Myrmicats communicate through murals when with a human. Bizarre indeed.
    • The octospiders are like octopi (hence the name). In this book, their brush-foot anatomy is introduced, where they sound like brushes dragging on the ground as they move, and they propel themselves and manipulate objects using their orange and gold tentacles. They communicate using high pitched sounds humans can't hear, and wide bands of colour that play across their head, one band at a time, emerging from and then disappearing into opposite sides of their eyes. In sequels, we learn more and see that their food and medicine are suitably different considering their biology and separate evolutionary pathway. They also have a social system reminiscent of a Hive Mind in that it is dominated by a need for social harmony. They biologically engineer themselves as various castes, designed for particular tasks and not others.
  • Child of Two Worlds: Nicole DesJardins is part Senoufo and part French. Because her parents wanted her to know both parts of her heritage, she underwent a Poro initiation ceremony at age seven. Omeh, a Senoufo shaman, is her spiritual guide, and she grows up in France and attends an astronaut academy, besides participating in the Olympics.
  • Colony Drop: In the finale, the Rama spacecraft realigns its orbit so that it is in a collision course with Earth. The response on the ground is to nuke it, or at least try, but it protects itself and redirects its course away from Earth and into deep space.
  • Cool Starship: Rama, the alien zoo. It self repairs using biots, who are made of metals we might not know about. The "south" end of the cylinder has large spires which glow and streak lightning before the spacecraft makes any transitions. It turns without any other motion, no mechanical parts moving, and no thrusters visible. It also deploys shock absorbing nets from seemingly nowhere to coat the spaceship for protection. Even the "buildings", of varying forms and scattered across "cities", are initially a mystery.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Nicole failed to win a beauty pageant because of racism. After she won an Olympic medal in sprinting, she hooked up with the prince of France, who abandoned her when she became pregnant, possibly due to the same issue. She then had to move in with her father. Although he allowed her to raise Genevieve with him, Genevieve's parentage still haunts her public life. Francesca was sexually adventurous very early and some scarring past experiences - like her boyfriend 'sharing' her with other people - left her callous enough to use everyone and every thing in the present. Richard's father who abused him and his mother, due to being unable to cope after he lost his job as an engineer and suffering a case of Intelligence Equals Isolation. This lead young Richard to feel very isolated. Adultery from his girlfriend when in college pushed him over the edge, almost driving him to suicide. Only math and Shakespeare saved him. As a father in the present he is intellectually excitable but distant emotionally; and that was before he was kidnapped and probed by aliens. Other characters are not generally shown to have explicitly traumatic pasts, but Brown was the cause of one for his wife, a former Ph D student whose scientific results he stole, and cosmonaut Janos is implied to have been forced to suppress homosexuality and political involvement from his youth, in order to join the astronaut academy. For the world's best and brightest they are not without their issues.
  • Dwindling Party: The Newton crew as the mission gets more hazardous.
    • General Borzov doesn't even get to set foot inside of Rama, dying when what should be a routine appendicitis surgery aboard the Newton goes horribly awry, between a malfunctioning robot surgical unit and an extremely ill-timed and violent course correction on the part of Rama itself. It turns out that he had been drugged to induce appendicitis-like symptoms by Sabatini so that she and Brown would take Borzov's place as the first to enter Rama for the infamy and the ratings back on Earth. Borzov actually dying was never part of the plan, not that Sabatini or Brown care.
    • Reggie Wilson falls victim to the jaws of a crab biot as he rams into it as a Heroic Sacrifice to stop the biot from catching Sabatini during an operation to capture it. He may well have not died, had he not been drugged by Sabatini to induce impulsive behaviour on his part.
    • Shigeru Takagishi makes an impulsive trip across the Cylindrical Sea inside Rama to New York when he finds out that the mission may be ending prematurely. The shock of encountering an octospider causes his heart condition to kill him on the spot, and DesJardins and Wakefield find his taxidermied body later on.
    • DesJardins gets stuck in a pit in New York for days, and Wakefield goes back to find her, leading the remaining crew — Heilmann, O'Toole, Brown, Sabatini, Turgenyev, Tabori and Yamanaka — and the authorities on Earth to assume that they both died as well. This apparent threat level factors into the decision to go for a Nuclear Option when Rama starts heading straight at Earth.
  • Geeky Turn-On: During the reception for the Newton astronauts in Rama II, Nicole and Richard bond over Richard waxing on the matching plan of the gala conference room to the Rama spaceship, and on discussing both dolphin and extraterrestrial intelligence.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar:
    • Most of the cosmonauts are well-adjusted human beings, and half the crew are scientists and engineers. The other half are military, still containing some gentlemen. One Cosmonaut is noted as reticent, one military man is an asshole, and the two journalists are unpleasant during the trip. They as a whole make up an exception to the rest of the crew.
    • O'Toole, one of the military men, is particularly well-read, mostly concerning religion as he is deeply religious, and is a gentleman. Of the three men who have access to the nuclear launch codes to detonate the spacecraft, he is the one who is reticent to use them and agonizes over his decision in the end.
  • Humanity on Trial: Humans are being observed, along with the other aliens, on the spaceship as a judge of their morality, their sentience and their compassion.
  • Improbably High I.Q.: Wakefield's score of +5.58 on an intelligence test indicates he is one in 10^5.58, that is, in a group smaller than on in 100,000 of the population. Sabatini is 1 in 10,000, and so is Brown. Though such people exist in a population which is large (assuming the validity of the measure), they are gonna be hard to come by. But then, cosmonaut selection was a rigorous process designed for this.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Richard's father was intelligent and an engineer. When he got laid off his job he never managed to find another that challenged him. At home he was miserable, and when he found himself unable to relate to his wife and son, became abusive.
  • Jerkass:
    • Dr. Brown steals multiple scientific insights from others as his own. He controls conversations and missions and listens to himself only.
    • Sabatini has this as her raison d'être. She has drugged at least three people since the events began, and left a crewmate for dead. She asks questions as a reporter which her subjects would not want to answer, and which would neither enlighten an audience except as gossip — for instance, asking about the father of Nicole's daughter during an interview which was about the Newton cosmonauts in their role as cosmonauts. Since Nicole was drugged at the time, she found it difficult to answer. Her cameraman, Reggie Wilson, puts up with her more than others, being in such close proximity. Her partner in schemes aboard the vessel is the equally charming Dr. Brown.
    • Wilson acts like a jerk for most of the book, but mainly due to being drugged and thus Not Himself.
    • Human generals back on Earth decide to blow up the marvelous spaceship, a wonder of design, while bricking one potential means of escape for O'Toole, their crewman left on board.
    • Finally, four of the cosmonauts engage in a backroom deal, which indirectly causes most of the trouble, as in pursuit of its objectives two of them repeatedly endanger the lives of the other crew members.
  • The Little Detecto: Nicole uses nanites to monitor the heart rates and chemical levels in the bloodstream of the Newton astronauts. It tells her when Reggie is drugged, though that data was tampered with and she had to recover the originals, and also tells her that Takagishi has a weak heart, which is what did him in; she had warned him that his arrhythmia was flaring up, and he had impulsively gone on a night mission and had an unfortunate encounter with an octospider.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Nicole (the gentle, understanding, self-sacrificing woman) is the Madonna, Francesca (the blonde, ambitious, conniving woman) is the Whore.
  • Manipulative Bastard: A couple.
    • There's Brown, who is not a very pleasant person and a blatant Jerkass.
    • Then there is Francesca Sabatini, whose compassion for herself and others is as deep and substantial as the non-load-bearing paper walls in a modern building.
  • Mile-Long Ship: It is necessary to get around using rovers and helicopters, and climbing down the short length of the end of the cylinder takes hours.
  • Mother Nature, Father Science: DesJardins is a life science officer; guile, pleasant, and human savvy but not technologically inclined compared to her love interest, Wakefield, the engineer and roboticist. When together, he does the technical work required to stay alive and to escape New York, even though when alone she uses computers to keep track of the nanites, which are technological and are her responsibility. In contrast to her he is both boisterous and impulsive.
  • Nanomachines: "Rama II" shows nanites, small medicinal robots, being used to monitor vital levels for the astronauts. They remain in the bloodstream, and report things like heart rate and blood pressure constantly to a set of monitors, one for each astronaut. For each characteristic measured, each astronaut has a pre-set range of safe values, and alarms sound for the ship medic, Nicole, whenever the nanites detect that these are exceeded. Nicole consults their readings first to find out that one of the astronauts has a heart condition they had been disguising, and then later, to investigate the cause of an unexpected death on board. The reason she discovered the heart condition was that though normal heartbeat had not been maintained for that astronaut — he had a recurring valve problem — the alarms did not trigger.
  • Nerves of Steel: A number of characters; they're trained for it too. The final three, in waiting in Rama as the bombs go off.
  • Nice Mean And In Between:
    • The three military flag officers originally have this dynamic between them, as lampshaded in a flashback of O'Toole's. He recalls that Valeriy Borzov cast the three of them as being contrasting personalities; Admiral Heilmann would vote to destroy Rama immediately if it became a threat; General O'Toole would disagree and vote against it; and Borzov himself would be the tie-breaker. Becomes a plot point when, after Borzov's untimely death, only Heilmann and O'Toole still have unique codes to activate the nuclear devices on board, and now both of them have to be entered since two are required and Borzov's code died with him before it could be passed on to anyone else. Heilmann, as predicted, is all in favour of destroying Rama before it can collide with Earth, while O'Toole dithers under the strain and eventually decides against it.
    • Resurfaces in the revamped leadership structure that emerges after General Borzov's death. O'Toole remains the nicest senior officer throughout the book; Dr. Brown takes charge and shows himself to be a total Jerkass; and Heilmann becomes the moderate one of the three, being a relatively reasonable hardass without being especially much of a jerk.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood:
    • The Avians are another alien species inhabiting the Rama spaceship. At first unhelpful and even hostile-seeming to the humans, Nicole and Richard get them to help carry them over the wide sea (in a net made of either sessile material or mana melons) after spending some time learning to communicate with them in a rudimentary way. As we learn more about Rama it becomes learn these are another sentient species like humans, kept as part of the Raman zoo.
    • The octospiders are introduced in this book as menacing creatures. They stuff a dead cosmonaut as taxidermy, after inadvertently killing them, and the comrades find the body. One of them chases Richard's robots, breaking one then climbing aboard a train and smashing it's windows to get to the other. They turn out to be all of evil, good and misunderstood later on, while the taxidermy of Takagishi stems from simple curiosity.
  • Not Himself: Reggie Wilson operates on a Hair-Trigger Temper for the majority of the book. Nicole notices, but doesn't find out that he's being drugged by Sabatini (who drugged Nicole herself) until she admits it.
  • Nuclear Option: The military sends nuclear explosives aboard the Newton for the mission, and three officers (Borzov, Heilmann and O'Toole) who each have a code, at least two of which are required to trigger the bombs. The bombs are a backup plan in case the Rama ship is judged to be hostile. When Rama turns and begins to head straight at the Earth, with Borzov dead, Heilmann gladly inputs his code but O'Toole, struck by pangs of conscience, deliberates. With Wilson dead to a crab biot, Takagishi missing and actually dead in New York, and Borzov dead due to a robot surgeon error, the authorities back on Earth were already on all kinds of edge even before the ship turned onto its apparent collision course. On the other hand, several of the scientists who remained on board at that point hoped that Rama might not necessarily crash into Earth, and might yet divert course away from the planet at the last moment or come near only to transmit a message, making it a waste to destroy such a craft unless it were absolutely necessary. Given Rama's alien origin, no one knows if the vessel is capable of acrobatic escape maneuvers which could make its approach unthreatening, or conversely, if Rama might be capable of offensive actions which could render it unbeatable except by a devastating surprise attack.
  • Octopoid Aliens: Octospiders are this, but they're not seen clearly until the next book.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • The father of Nicole's daughter Genevieve abandoned both her and Nicole — and he's now the King of Great Britain. Nicole's father performs an aversion, and invites Nicole to his house to live with Genevieve.
    • Richard's father was abusive to both Richard and his mother, leading Richard to delve into Shakespeare. Thus the Shakespearian robots Bottom, Puck, and The Bard (based on Shakespeare himself).
  • Ramming Always Works: Reggie Wilson tries this with a rover, when a crab biot comes close to catching Sabatini during an operation to try and capture the biot. Subverted in that it works to an extent, and Sabatini gets away safely, but Wilson is left trapped in the wreckage of the rover, and the crab biot immediately identifies him and the vehicle as wreckage to be dismantled, a function it executes promptly and efficiently.
  • Sacrificial Lion: General Borzov, the overall mission commander, is killed early on in the story when a robot surgeon aboard the Newton apparently malfunctions during what should be a simple appendicitis procedure and the Rama spacecraft picks that moment to take an extremely ill-timed course correction. It turns out that Borzov was simply drugged by Sabatini to induce appendicitis-like symptoms, so that he would be put out of commission to recuperate from the surgery, and she and Brown would lead the first sorties into Rama in Borzov's place. When the surgery goes awry and Borzov dies, Sabatini basically shrugs and goes on with the plan anyways.
  • Science Hero: The purpose of the scientists on the mission is to uncover new information on the strange Raman craft.
  • Small Reference Pools:
    • Shakespeare is Wakefield's favourite author, and when he is not building robots after Shakespearean characters, he builds one of Joan of Arc, who is as well-known.
    • Likewise, the game Takagishi and Tabori decide to play is Chess, and O'Toole, the token religious teammate, is Christian.
  • The Smart Guy: Of the cosmonauts who did the exploring on Rama and managed to stay alive, including rescuing each other at times, they all are, as they did so by relying on their previous knowledge.
    • Richard attempted to reverse-engineer the delivery system in New York by figuring out the commands to order any material whatsoever. He succeeded in getting a few cubes of different materials sent to them before moving on to entire objects.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Takagishi and Tabori play every night for one hour. Subverted somewhat in that Takagishi is a chess master, and allows himself to be beaten so as to encourage Tabori, who was just learning.
  • Starfish Language: The octospiders communicate by flashing bands of light around their heads. They have an opening from which the lines originate, after which they travel around the head and re-enter it from the opposite side. One octospider with a lisp has its colour "run", with the bands bleeding into each other vertically a bit.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: The beings who built the Rama vessels in the first place. The vessels have functioning domiciles for every species, complete to fit their food and physiological requirements. Each vessel has an interface through which the tenants can order materials and food, and a delivery system of chutes. The aliens themselves are only met in the third book when one of them reveals itself to Nicole, in the form of an eagle-headed humanoid, and explains the purpose of the Rama ships. Before that, however, one can see other evidence of their presence in the robots which tend to the ship. Specialised robots perform duties from cleaning to working with the delivery systems to repairing damage the astronauts unwittingly cause to the ship. One kind, built in the form of a crab, was not obviously non-human at first glance; another is called a centipede biot, and it looks like a centipede and removes debris. They all impress the scientists and engineers, in particular Wakefield, who builds less advanced robots himself.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Multiple times, Francesca Sabatini tries to unnerve her interview subjects or throw off her coworkers like this, once leading to a false diagnosis of appendicitis in the team leader for an expedition, hoping that Brown would get to go instead and fulfill a term in their backroom contract with an outside entity. Since the robot surgeon killed the man when Rama made a sudden maneuver during surgery, her plan killed him. She covers up his murder, and might not be remorseful for it; her plan worked in that, following the leader's death, Brown did go on the sortie.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Richard went to therapy for two years after his divorce, leading to him having few scars from his past with his abusive dad. Nicole has entries on the psychological status of every crew member, meaning they were all screened for this mission. Each citizen seems to generally get a score for their emotional/psychological well being, which can change over time.
  • World's Smartest Man: The smartest humans are those selected from for the astronaut body. Each astronaut has listed his or her percentile in terms of intelligence, and they are all above the 99th percentile. There are similar listings for their emotional quotients. Though Nicole doesn't put much faith in either measure, all the numbers are collected, consulted by Nicole in the wake of the chaos, and given to the reader. The measurements of psychological profiles seem to combine information from multiple points in a person's life, so that bad circumstances, causing one to be tetchy for a while, can impact them. The intelligence measures might be conducted similarly. Among the very top are Francesca Sabatini and Wakefield (two of the most prominent characters).
    Nicole was "one in a thousand" and she was only in the middle of the dozen.
    Wakefield's intelligence rating was truly exceptional and placed him in the supergenius category; Nicole had never before personally known someone with such high scores on the standardized tests.
    • And then Sabatini, the de-facto Big Bad, is ranked second highest to Wakefield.