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.