The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Considered Arthur C. Clarke’s best novel since his classic Childhood’s End (1953), Rendezvous with Rama tells a story with the familiar science-fiction theme of humans’ first encounter with a visitor from the depths of space and time. Gentry Lee, a chief engineer on Project Galileo and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Viking mission to Mars who worked with Carl Sagan on the television series Cosmos, collaborated with Clarke on the sequels Rama II, The Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed.

Rendezvous with Rama, by far the most scientifically and technologically interesting of the four novels, begins in 2077, when an asteroid strikes Earth, destroying Padua, Verona, and Venice. In 2130, the asteroid early warning system SPACEGUARD identifies the alien ship Rama entering the solar system. United Planets launches a space probe (Sita) from Phobos, a moon of Mars, toward Rama. Simultaneously, Australian commander Bill Norton’s spaceship, Endeavor, is dispatched to explore the alien craft.

An expedition finds a way into Rama’s interior. Flares reveal walls of a cylindrical vessel with a dark, cold interior cavity fifty kilometers long and sixteen kilometers wide. A twenty-member search party descends an enormous stairway to a flat Central Plain circled by a Cylindrical Sea of ice. Team leader Dr. Laura Ernst detects an oxygen-rich breeze moving within Rama. A few hours later, the light of six blue “suns” suddenly floods through the great machine, melting the sea ice. Hermian colonists on Mercury warn governors on Earth that Rama may pose a military threat. Others see in Rama a cosmic egg or ark sent to save those worthy of salvation.

Norton and his team set sail on the raft Resolution for “New York,” an island in the Cylindrical Sea. “New York” is revealed to be a kind of machine resembling a giant chemical-processing plant. Lieutenant Jimmy Pak convinces Norton to allow him to fly his sky bike, Dragonfly, over a rampart shielding Rama’s South Pole. A sudden windstorm collapses Dragonfly, leaving Pak to wander through...

(The entire section is 923 words.)