It’d been a while since I read some classic science fiction, so I just finished up Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘humanity’s first encounter’ work “Rendezvous with Rama”. Somehow, this is the first of Clarke’s sci-fi books I’ve ever read, which, given the man’s stature in the genre seems almost strange in itself.
The last couple of first encounter books I’ve read have been quite different. I thought ‘The Mote in God’s Eye‘ by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle was well crafted, but somewhat laborious to read, and though interesting, just didn’t quite hit the spot. After that was ‘Blindsight‘ by Peter Watts, which I found far more interesting, both for the aliens and their native habitat, but also for the rather dangerous relationship between the human protagonists, who appear far more of a threat than even the most aggressive alien. It’s also available as a free e-book still I think.
Of course, most first contact novels work along the lines that they act as a mirror to the humans race itself, as we project our own fears onto the unknown.
‘Rendezvous with Rama‘ takes a different tack, partly focusing on the state of humanity at the time of the event, relaying the politics of the planets, but also playing on the fact that actually, first contact may be, as in Rama’s case, a fleeting bypass where we only get a tiny glimpse of an alien civilization as it speeds through on it’s way somewhere else, in this case, in a giant cylinder which is intercepted by a makeshift commercial crew as the only people who could intercept it in time.
The novel plays up the limited time angle well as you know the book is nearing the end and they just don’t seem to have got to the core of the alien concept, and then it looks like they might, only to be dashed as they have to abandon the mission and head back.
I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, but it’s fair to say it’s more about the idea than the characters, who aren’t too deep, but the pacing it excellent, and you’re always checking how many pages are left, hoping they can crack the clues in time. It’s perhaps not true hard sci-fi, but it isn’t fantastical either, and most of the developments follow a well thought out premise and the world and the potential creatures encountered do seem to obey the rules of the world within the cylinder.
It’s definitely worth the read, if you haven’t read any classic sci-fi lately, or if you’re looking for something that just unfolds for you.