I recently read "Rendezvous With Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke.
I had never read any of his books before, but had seen the
"2001: A Space Odyssey" film.
I read Rama in the first place because I was in the mood
for some hard sci-fi and this came up on a few lists. I
was a little apprehensive as I had some preconceived ideas
from having seen the Kubrick film of 2001.
I am really really glad I decided to read it. The style of
the writing was immediately to my liking, or fit my mood
at least: direct in its wording. There prose was not quite
sparse, but had a simple straightforwardness to it. The
events of the novel unfold in a sensible way and there are
not really any tricks or gimmicks.
The basic set up is as follows:
Humans have spread out in the solar system and now occupy
a few planets (Mercury, Earth, Mars) and a few mooons
(Earth's, plus some for the gas giants). There is a
governing body based on Earth's moon with representatives
from each colony.
An object is detected moving into the solar system toward
the sun. After some research it is deemed to be a giant
craft of some form. There is not a lot of time, but there
is a ship that can be re-routed to investigate. The story
mostly follows the crew of that ship as they dock with
and then enter the only proof of alien life they have ever
seen. The "ship" is a giant cylinder that is 50km long and
rotates on its axis.
All of that happens almost immediately in the book so I do
not believe I have spoiled anything for anyone. I will say
that the ship seems to be long dead (they calculate it has
been traveling for thousands of years)... but as the crew
investigates they find more and more puzzling things.
In the end the book has some similarities in concept to
Lem's "Solaris" or the Stugatsky brothers' "Roadside
Picnic" (both favorites of mine): that we can never really
understand the motives, materials, thoughts, etc. of a
truly alien intelligence.
In the case of this book the story is told through
exploration of the craft itself. It feels like an adventure
novel in some ways, but without an antagonist. I really
love that he managed to write this without succumbing to
silly things like infighting between the human characters
and making it all about that like so much modern sci-fi
If you liked sci-fi and have not checked it out, I highly
recommend this book. At ~250 pages it is a quick read and
I think most people would find it really enjoyable. There
is a good amount of science adjacent talk in it (the best
of which is about artificial gravity).
I later found that it is part of a series, or a series was
based on it. The series is co-written by Clarke and another
author. All accounts point to the other books having a very
different feel and writing style. A quick look at the wiki
entries for these titles made me feel like they lack what
I found in this book. As such I am not going to read more
of them; particularly since the ending to Rama was quite
Since I am still in the mood for more of this sort of book
I searched around a bit and am about to start "Gateway" by
Frederik Pohl. I'll let you all know how it goes.