The Garden of Rama

by Arthur C. Clarke
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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 791

Late in the adventures of his family among the Earth colonists of New Eden, Richard Wakefield states the major premise of The Garden of Rama: ". . . transport them to another world and give them a paradise, but they still come equipped with their fears and insecurities and their cultural predilections." Earth authorities responded to the aliens' expectation of 2000 colonists to travel in the Rama spacecraft with a cover story, attempting to recruit people trained in various occupations and professions for a supposed five-year stint on Mars.

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Falling short of the desired quota of applicants from the world's general population, the authorities directed recruiting efforts to inmates of various prisons and penal colonies. As a result, the inhabitants of the New Eden colony included a large number of convicted felons. Some made good on the chance for a new start in life, but others simply plunged into more of the felonious behaviors that had gotten them into prison on Earth. Thus, the colony began with "bad seed" in the mix. And lest the reader view the protagonist's children—who had been born and lived all their lives in the alien environs with no other humans than their parents—as innocents risking corruption by exposure to the evils of their former-convict companions in space, Katie Wakefield is presented from birth as a headstrong child, contrary and frequently disobedient. For her to wind up as a casino "hostess" (prostitute) and drug addict in the Vegas sector of New Eden is less an enactment of corruption than it is a illustration of "nature over nurture."

Other signs of shortsighted "cultural predilections" include the colonists' habit to disbelieve the testimony of Nicole and Richard Wakefield about the human habitat within the Rama spacecraft, as well as about the alien intelligence which built and controlled it. Having been deceived about their actual destination and purpose in the recruitment for the Rama venture, the colonists assume that the Wakefields are either space crazy or parties to some obscure plot. Only occasionally do they heed the Wakefields' counsel.

Although Nicole urged colonists to settle in the four prepared village areas in evenly integrated distribution to promote intercultural relationships and understanding, most gravitated to familiar or similar groups—European and light-skinned Americans together; Africans, African-Americans, and dark-complected Latin Americans together; Japanese, and Chinese from Singapore and Taiwan and other Asians, too, together. Naturally, with the comfort of residing among "familiar" people came for too many the suspicion that people from "unlike" groups should be avoided, feared or scorned. Mariko Kobayashi's charge that her erstwhile boyfriend, Pedro Martinez, raped her leads to a near riot by young Japanese from Hakone village who insist Martinez be given lynch-mob "justice." As the exchange between the crowd and the handful of representatives of the law grows bitter, one young man insults Nicole with a racist epithet. Infuriated, the middle-aged and usually dignified judge Nicole slaps the youth, a reflex action she subsequently regrets because it wounds her own expectations of self-control and damages her public image as an officer of the court.

Despite warnings to keep the atmospheric control system as originally set, the colonial government sets programmers to work to adapt the alien computer controls and induce more extreme variations in the weather system. Rather than devote funding to research to find a cure for Retro-virus 41, an AIDS-like disease afflicting nearly 100 colonists, the colonial government (dominated by crime boss Toshio Nakamura) sows fear in the population and devotes money to breaking through their own habitat's walls and into the adjacent habitat, using a location outside New Eden for "Avalon"—a village in which the RV-41 patients, Benjy—the Wakefield's moderately retarded son—and other putative "undesirables" are confined in less-than-desirable housing, away from the greenery and amenities of the New Eden's first four villages. In summary, the colonial government exercises typical tyranny—rhetorically demonizes the alien "enemies," suppresses thinking and compassionate advocates of justice and responsible freedom, and crushes or puts aside the weaker members of its own society.

The importance of educated women in modern and future society is upheld via several characters. Nicole des Jardins Wakefield, physician and cosmonaut, mother of five children, serves a year as governor of New Eden and is subsequently appointed one of the judges. While several of the ex-convict women slip into degraded life styles, Eponine becomes a teacher in the high school; Nai Watanabe devotes time to tutoring the Wakefield/ O'Toole children so they can catch up with their peers in the newly formed colony. The historical characters Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc feature in the protagonist's memories of childhood studies and in her dreams as models of women who, though facing great opposition from the male-dominated culture of Medieval Europe, accomplished notable deeds.

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