How RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA Rekindled My Stale Love Affair

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, Del Rey paperback edition.

It’s 100% true, and I know what you’re thinking. TMI, right? Whatever you do in the dark is your business. 

Well, allow me a brief indulgence — which of course you absolutely must do, since this is my blog.

My first love was science fiction. Some of the first novels I read, the ones that really stuck with me, included The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, and just about anything by Ray Bradbury or Edgar Rice Burroughs. I drew spaceships, aliens, starfighters, cross sections of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and played with Star Wars figures in a years-long saga that ended inconclusively in the ephemeral mists of that year I became acutely aware that kids my age didn’t play with toys so much anymore. No problem. I played Dungeons & Dragons and I made up stories. I could keep on pretending while posing as an adult. My first extended piece of fiction was a 32-part story called “The Time Warp,” which I turned in to my 5th grade teacher at Plum Creek Elementary in weekly installments. The plot: an airplane crashed into a Bermuda Triangle-ish section of the ocean, and its passengers sank down, not to watery graves, but to a parallel universe in some cosmic dimension that bore a suspiciously strong resemblance to the world of Flash Gordon. I read all comics with planets or robots on the covers, collected Starlog and Questar, and read SF movie adaptations by Alan Dean Foster, from The Black Hole to Outland (which I loved in novel form and still haven’t seen to this day).

Anyway, you get the drift. I loved science fiction.

Then something happened. I read SF and fantasy exclusively up until junior high, which is when I came across my first Edgar Allan Poe story. I read “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” in English class, then promptly dove in to everything Poe, which led me quickly to Stephen King, then Lovecraft, and man it was history. Honestly, I think the last solidly SF novel I read before this year was Steel Beach by John Varley back in the early 1990s. 

My interests changed, I guess. No fault of Varley’s for sure. It was a first love that cooled. We just went our separate ways.

I’ve purchased some hard SF novels since then, but they’ve gathered some serious dust.

Then — Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. At the moment I stood in front of the shelf considering What next? it almost seemed as if no other selection would do. Nothing else looked interesting at the time. So off I went, into Clarke’s smart, intriguing, insightful, Nebula and Hugo award winning classic space exploration adventure. I went to Rama.

Wow. Clarke’s handling of the story was uncluttered, concise, and apropos in every way. I read in the introduction that characterization was not Clarke’s strong suit, which I found to be utterly untrue when reading the book. Solid characters, solid scientific concepts presented in a way that anyone — even me — could understand. I totally bought that Rama was real. This thing could come sailing through our universe any day now. This could happen. And I could only hope that a space crew of the not too distant future would handle the situation as well as the folks of the Endeavour under Commander Norton’s direction.

Artwork from the first UK hardcover edition of Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, Gollancz 1973.

The story got directly to the point. Contrary to my expectations based on general experience, the actual rendezvous referenced by the title happened very quickly, which was a nice surprise. There was a logical exploration of options in dealing with the unknown entity entering our heretofore unvisited speck of the cosmos. The characters behaved in a way I felt was consistent with those of scientific minds, with just enough humanity to lend the story a sense of vulnerability, an impression this could come undone. There was stupid bureaucracy at work in the council of United Planets, courage on display in the name of science and understanding, and decisions made out of fear. 

More than anything, the greatest thing about Rendezvous with Rama was that I simply did not want the story to end. I didn’t want to take a break. Every moment away from the book had me wondering what would come next. It drew me on with wonder and promise, mystery and discovery, and a genuine sense of awe that is the hallmark of any great work of science fiction. 

Most importantly, it re-opened a window to new worlds. Kudos, Sir Arthur, and thanks a million for this great novel. The question of What’s Next? suddenly includes that shelf of books that’s been gathering dust for too long.

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