In my first attempt to read this book, I stopped after the first handful of chapters mistakenly assuming this was going to be nothing but a book long description of an alien world hurtling through space. (This despite knowing the pedigree of the author.) In this, my second and complete read through, after reaching all the way to the end, that impression still remains because, for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what Rendezvous with Rama is.
However, the genius of Sir Arthur C Clarke lies in the sense of grandeur he’s able to evoke through his vivid descriptions of Rama. With every passing chapter, there’s a growing sense of wonder that I felt. I was always waiting to see what surprises Rama would throw at its visitors; and thereby, Sir Arthur at his readers.
Of course, this emotion is increased manifold because of the narrative structure of the book. Rendezvous with Rama is told from the viewpoint of the crew of the human spaceship Endeavour and follows them discovering this long dormant world. And as readers, we get to live vicariously through them and experience Rama first-hand by imagining ourselves as Commander Norton (a fantastically written character despite this not being a character driven book in any sense) or one of his crew members.
In among all the above lies some of the best science fiction I have read. I spent hours pondering over Sir Arthur’s descriptions of Rama’s rotational axis and centrifugal force-driven gravity. (I would be lying if I said I didn’t search the web to recollect some foundational physics and mechanics I had long but forgotten.) There were numerous times I had to remind myself of Rama’s unique geometry, just like the Endeavour crew members as they stood in wonder gawking at this cylindrical world looming all around them. All that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of hard science fiction Sir Arthur has squeezed into this book. (And don’t even get me started on the accurate portrayal of interplanetary bureaucracy.)
As someone who has had his mind blown by the breathtaking vistas in games such as Mass Effect and movies such as Interstellar, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders to go back and read the book that may have served as an inspiration to both of them. If you’re at all into science fiction and having your mind blown at the thought of extraterrestrial contact, you owe it to yourself to read Rendezvous with Rama.