'Rendezvous With Rama' - Book Review

Rendezvous With Rama
by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous With Rama is one of Arthur C. Clarke's most famous novels, up there with Childhood's End and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It concerns what's now known as a "Big Dumb Object" - an immense object of alien origins that (in this case) transits through our solar system. It's an alien spaceship, but the lack of intelligent occupants reduces it to BDO status. The book is set in the year 2131, and having located the object coming through the solar system, an earth ship is sent to intercept and explore.

The problem is that Clarke's primary interest in the book is with the technology. He absolutely adores the technology involved, and the characters are interchangeable and unimportant chess pieces moved about to make further points about the super-cool technology of the Rama cylinder. Rama appears to be a generation ship, a cylinder 20 km in diameter and 54 km long spinning fast enough to produce almost Earth-like artificial gravity. When the earth ship arrives, the whole thing is a frozen tomb - but as the sun heats it up, what appear to be automatic systems start to activate and do stuff. Clarke spends the entire 250 page book ranting joyfully about the wondrous science involved, and never provides characters we care about or a plot that matters beyond the science.

As a mechanical engineer and a long-time SF geek, I admit the science is fascinating. But Clarke's stories - with this a classic example - utterly lack human warmth.