An enormous alien structure enters our solar system and a team is dispatched to explore it before it drifts away and is lost forever. What will humanity discover after its Rendezvous with Rama?
Years ago, I decided I needed to read more hard science fiction. Then I read Ringworld and was so uninterested that I quit my hard sf quest before it began. Months ago, a copy of Rendezvous with Rama fell into my clutches. I decided to give it a try, despite my fears that it would be another Ringworld, a book where the concept far outweighs the story. Well, the concepts behind Rendezvous with Rama do outweigh the story but I found it far superior to Ringworld, a much more enjoyable reading experience.
As near as I can tell, Rendezvous with Rama is the first Big Dumb Object (or Megastructure, if you prefer) science fiction novel. For that reason alone, I'd say it's worth a read. Hell, that's why I read it.
The characters are weak but I think that's actually an asset for a story like this. My problem with Ringworld was that I didn't find any of the characters likeable and that overshadowed any sense of discovery I would have felt as they explored Ringworld. In Rama, the characters take a back seat to the Big Dumb Object from the first page.
Clarke's writing is workmanlike but does a surprisingly good job at conveying the wonder and majesty of Rama as the team explores it. As things heat up the closer Rama gets to the sun (see what I did there?), the book really takes off.
With today's special effects technology, I think it would be fantastic if an adaptation was filmed like a faux-documentary. Like that Mermaid one National Geographic put out, only not so cheesey.
I liked it but I didn't love it. There's not a lot of plot or character development. Or action, for that matter. Now that I've read it, I respect its place in the hard science fiction pantheon but the sense of wonder doesn't make up for its shortcomings so a three is as high as I can give it.