Far Better Than a Rendezvous with Ramen—


Studies show that TBHQ, an additive to preserve cheap and processed foods, is indigestible. It’s also found in significant quantities in the college-meal-staple Maruchan Ramen. So while you might not be able to physically stomach the noodles, you’ll be satiated and satisfied by Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. To this reviewer, it’s what was missing from Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Robert Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children as all three (and I’m sure others) explore the possibilities of generational starships.

When an asteroid defense web alerts the world of an abnormal meteor hurtling through the solar system, closer inspection reveals what becomes the first Martian ship sighting. Commander Norton and his crew are dispatched on the Endeavor en route to the starship dubbed Rama, but what they find defies both their expectations and many readers’ expectations as well. The city-sized ship is dark and devoid of sentience—perhaps all its inhabitants having perished on the millenniums-voyage through the stars. But as the Endeavor’s pioneers search deeper into the mystery, the ship slowly comes to life.

Done with Clarke’s characteristically mindboggling visions for extraordinary worlds and how they could exist, Rama is science fiction, adventure, and mystery all packed into a tasty literary lunch.

SPOILER ALERT (you have been warned): The chief reason this novel bucked my expectations in a positive light is two-fold. The first is that narratives of alien encounters are almost universally followed by violence between humanity and the space invaders. Rama had not such conflict. Secondly, novels written by human beings generally (and understandably) choose to focus on humans, our experiences, and our often superior existence. In the case of Rendezvous With Rama, the clever ending—once so much time and room has been given to humans reaffirming their superiority—essentially says that we’re of so little interest to other galactic civilizations that they use our sun as a gas pump before blasting off into the unknowable reaches of space. In other words, we aren’t so special after all.

But the book is special. And reading the book, or eating it, is still a better option than Ramen. 4/5 stars.


This Review Delivered to You by David Brin’s The Postman


I talk a lot—at least to myself—about how well or how poorly science fiction novels age. While I think David Brin’s The Postman has its merits, the novel nevertheless teeters on the envelope’s edge of tipping into being obsolete. I acknowledge the possibility that in the advent of a post-apocalyptic world, archaic technology could have a renaissance, but—well, first let me summarize and then I’ll pontificate:

Gordon Krantz is a survivor. Unlucky as he may be, he’s outlasted nuclear war, the disintegration of all radio communications and electronics through EMP shockwaves, and the fall of civilization as we know it only to live as a wanderer in the wilderness of what used to be Oregon. The only semblances of humanity are peoples gathered together in remote colonies or the cutthroat gangs of bloodthirsty “survivalists” who shoot first, rob later, and said robbing includes hacking off a few “flesh trophies” from corpses. After a near-death experience with a band of ruffians, Gordon stumbles upon a long-abandoned and rusted out US Postal Service mail truck. Struck with delusions of grandeur, Gordon sets out to unite the scattered communities via the claim (albeit, a fabrication) that the United States has formed again and their first order of business is to reestablish the postal system. Gordon hopes that if enough people come together beneath his lie, it will become a reality and the Restored United States will be able to fight back against the fanatical “survivalists.”

So, to my earlier point, I add that the novel was bit dated. Reasons for this include such examples as a character referring to a phone book as though it was still top-shelf reference material before the collapse, and to some extent, even the United States Postal Service. The USPS hasn’t been put out to pasture yet, but consider for a moment how many emails you receive in a given year versus how many letters grace your mailbox. Also, consider how you feel about those emails versus those letters. “A letter!? For me!? Whoa!” It’s a novelty, not a staple. The book was released in 1985—right before the techno boom of the nineties so I’m not bashing this particular aspect, only pointing it out. However, I do have this to say in critique:

In theory, I really like the idea. In execution, it fell a bit flat. The hardcopy I read was a book club edition and at 297 pages didn’t strike me as overly slim. I usually think works could be shorter without giving up anything, but in the case of The Postman, I thought it should have been much longer. Character development needed more time—many voices started to sound the same, that is, until they died, but I didn’t have much sympathy for the dead because they we’re developed enough for me to care. The lore of the gruesome “Survivalists” and latecomer “Super Soldiers” also could have been expanded upon. Lastly, there was “The Doomwar” that caused the downfall of the world, and while such a cataclysmic event can be cleverly, and minimally shrouded mystique and legend it is my personal conviction that the only mystery was shallow-ish world building. I’m not trashing this book, but I think there were missed opportunities.

If you’ve been following along, my campaign of reading standalone volumes of well-known authors is not turning out like I’d hoped. In the case of The Postman, it’s not one of Brin’s talked-about novels, and that only means I’ll have to read the first installment of the Uplift War to know if he’s an author worth spending quality time with. Looks like the reading list for 2019 (or in all likelihood, 2020) has already begun.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can keep this review from being only 2/5 stars.