Intelligent and inventive Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama has not dated much even after over 40 years.
This the first book in what would became a four book series but with writer Gentry Lee is short but sweet.
Rama is an alien spacecraft that is first mistook to be an asteroid that enters into our solar system. As the book continues a manned solar survey vessel Endeavour is sent to study Rama. The more than 20 plus crew of the Endeavour land on Rama and begin an extensive but brief exploration of Rama’s interior… the ship in fact is named Rama after the Hindu God.
The first images, from ten thousand kilometers away, brought to a halt the activities of all mankind. On a billion television screens, there appeared a tiny, featureless cylinder, growing rapidly second by second. By the time it had doubled its size, no one could pretend any longer that Rama was a natural object. Its body was a cylinder so geometrically perfect that it might have been turned on a lathe—one with centers fifty kilometers apart. The two ends were quite flat, apart from some small structures at the center of one face, and were twenty kilometers across; from a distance, when there was no sense of scale, Rama looked almost comically like an ordinary domestic boiler.
Although the crew finds the air breathable inside Rama the purpose of the ship and its true occupants are not actually discovered. It is at first dark and the crew finds ‘cities’ without entry into the buildings throughout it’s interior. There is also an actual ocean, a Cylindrical sea that stretches in a band around Rama.
At the southern end are 7 mysterious cones that are considered to be the ships propulsion system, but the crew cannot get to it to examine because of a 500 meter cliff and the Cylindrical sea. So one of the Endeavour’s crew, who smuggled an ‘air bike’ and is a champion of such, rides it to that unknown place of Rama. There he encounters the mysterious cones which do begin to emit a strange power that causes the young man to crash his ‘bike’. Once on the ground he discovers some creatures, crab like creatures who may or may not be living beings but perhaps machines.
“Our faith has told us to expect such a visitation, though we do not know exactly what form it will take. The Bible gives hints. If this is not the Second Coming, it may be the Second Judgment; the story of Noah describes the first. I believe that Rama is a cosmic Ark, sent here to save—those who are worthy of salvation.” There was silence for quite a while in the cabin. It was not that Norton was at a loss for words; rather, he could think of too many questions but was not sure which ones it would be tactful to ask. Finally he remarked, in as mild and noncommittal a voice as he could manage: “That’s a very interesting concept, and though I don’t go along with your faith, it’s a tantalizingly plausible one.” He was not being hypocritical or flattering; stripped of its religious overtones, Rodrigo’s theory was at least as convincing as half a dozen others he had heard.
Then the lights come on and Rama appears to be waking up. From then on the Captain of the ship Norton continues with his explorations of Rama.
However on Mercury, colonized long ago, there are rumblings about what the Alien ships intentions might be and a powerful missile is sent to destroy Rama, but is thwarted by Commander Norton and the Endeavour crew.
A Greek temple made of glass—that was his first impression. The building was filled with row upon row of vertical crystalline columns, about a meter wide and stretching from floor to ceiling. There were hundreds of them, marching away into the darkness beyond the reach of his light. He walked toward the nearest column and directed his beam into its interior. Refracted as through a cylindrical lens, the light fanned out on the far side to be focused and refocused, getting fainter with each repetition, in the array of pillars beyond. He felt that he was in the middle of some complicated demonstration in optics.
Rendezvous with Rama is a quick and pleasant enough Science Fiction book by undoubtedly one of the Geniuses of Science Fiction creators. Arthur C. Clarke who did recently die at age 90 in 2008.
Winner of the Hugo and the Nebula awards for Science Fiction, Rendezvous with Rama is a wonderful place to begin with this most noted of writers.