Rendezvous with Rama

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Rendezvous with Rama
Rama copy.jpg
First edition (UK)[1]
Author Arthur C. Clarke
Cover artist Bruce Pennington[2]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Rama series
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Gollancz (UK)
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (US)
Publication date
Jun 1973 (UK)
Aug 1973 (US)
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 256 (UK)
ISBN 0-575-01587-X (UK)
Followed by Rama II

Rendezvous with Rama is a hard science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke first published in 1973. Set in the 2130s, the story involves a 50-kilometre (31 mi) cylindrical alien starship that enters Earth's solar system. The story is told from the point of view of a group of human explorers who intercept the ship in an attempt to unlock its mysteries. This novel won both the Hugo[3] and Nebula[4] awards upon its release, and is regarded as one of the cornerstones in Clarke's bibliography.

Plot summary[edit]

After a major disaster caused by a meteorite falling in Northeast Italy in 2077, the government of Earth sets up the Spaceguard system as an early warning of arrivals from deep space.

The "Rama" of the title is an alien star ship, initially mistaken for an asteroid categorised as "31/439". It is detected by astronomers in the year 2131 while still outside the orbit of Jupiter. The object's speed (100,000 km/h) and the angle of its trajectory clearly indicate that this is not an object on a long orbit around our sun; it comes from interstellar space. Astronomers' interest is further piqued when they realise that this asteroid not only has an extremely rapid rotation period of 4 minutes, but it is exceptionally large. It is renamed Rama after the Hindu god and an unmanned space probe dubbed Sita is launched from the Mars moon Phobos to intercept and photograph it. The resulting images taken during its rapid flyby reveal that Rama is a perfect cylinder, 20 kilometres (12 mi) in diameter and 54 kilometres (34 mi) long, made of a completely featureless material, making this humankind's first encounter with an alien space ship.

The manned solar survey vessel Endeavour is sent to study Rama, as it is the only ship close enough to do so in the brief period Rama will spend in our solar system. Endeavour manages to rendezvous with Rama one month after the space ship first comes to Earth's attention, with the alien ship already inside Venus' orbit. The 20+ crew, led by Commander Bill Norton, enters Rama through triple airlocks, and explores the vast 16-km wide by 50-km long cylindrical world of its interior, but the nature and purpose of the starship and its creators remain enigmatic throughout the book. Inside Rama, the atmosphere is discovered to be breathable. The astronauts discover several features, including "cities" (odd blocky shapes that look like buildings, and streets with shallow trenches in them, looking like trolley car tracks) that actually served as factories, a sea that stretches in a band around Rama dubbed the Cylindrical Sea, and seven massive cones at the southern end of Rama – believed to form part of the propulsion system.

One of the crew members, Jimmy Pak, who has experience with low gravity skybikes, volunteers to ride a smuggled skybike along Rama's axis to the far end, otherwise inaccessible due to the cylindrical sea and the 500-m high cliff on the opposite shore. A few hours later, Jimmy reaches the massive metal cones on the southern end of Rama, picking up a strange magnetic field coming from the cones. Pak takes a few pictures of the area and the strange plateau on the southern end of Rama's landmass before leaving. The electrical charge in the atmosphere begins to increase during Pak's return, resulting in lightning. A discharge hits his skybike causing him to crash on the isolated southern continent.

When Pak wakes up, he sees a crab-like creature picking up his skybike and chopping it into pieces. He cannot decide whether it is a robot or a biological alien, and keeps his distance while contacting Norton and the others on the other side of Rama for help. Norton sends a rescue party across the cylindrical sea, using a small, improvised craft, and Pak waits. He sees the crab-like creature dump the remains of the skybike into the sea, and he approaches the creature, but it completely ignores him. Pak explores the surrounding fields while waiting for the rescue party to arrive on the southern cliffs of the cylindrical sea. Amongst the strange geometric patterns he sees an alien flower growing through a cracked tile in the otherwise sterile environment, and decides to take it as both a curiosity and for scientific research.

Pak jumps off the 500 m cliff, his descent slowed by low gravity and using his shirt as a parachute, and swims quickly to the craft. The ride back is highlighted by tidal waves in the cylindrical sea, formed by movements of Rama itself as it makes course corrections. When the crew arrive at base, they see a variety of odd creatures inspecting their camp. When one is found damaged and apparently lifeless, the team's doctor/biologist Surgeon-Commander Laura Ernst inspects it and names it a "biot" or a hybrid of a biological entity and robot. She concludes that it, and others, appear to be electrically powered by natural internal batteries (much like terrestrial electric eels) and possess some degree of intelligence. They are believed to be the servants of Rama's still-absent builders and maintainers of the starship.

The members of the Rama Committee and the United Planets, both based on the moon, have been monitoring events inside Rama and giving feedback. The Hermian colonists have concluded that Rama is a potential threat to them and send a rocket-mounted bomb to destroy Rama, but it is successfully defused by Lt Boris Rodrigo using a pair of wire cutters.

As Rama approaches perihelion, the biots act strangely – jumping into the cylindrical sea where they are destroyed by aquatic biots ('sharks'), and absorbed back into the mineral-laden water. On one last expedition to explore Rama, a few crew members decide to visit the city "London" (chosen as closest to the stairways at the "northern" end of the cylinder they use to return to their ship) to use a laser to cut open one of the buildings and see what is inside. Inside, they discover pedestals containing holograms of various artefacts, believed to have been used by the Ramans as tools and other objects. The holograms themselves are presumed to be templates for replicating these items as needed. The most amazing sight is what appears to be a uniform with bandoliers, straps and pockets that suggests the size and shape of the Ramans. But before the crew can photograph any more holograms, the three long lights start going out, and they must leave. They all exit up through the stairway on Rama's northern side, out of the three airlocks, and board Endeavour.

When Endeavour is a safe distance away, and Rama reaches perihelion, Rama harnesses the Sun's gravitational field with its mysterious "space drive" for use in a slingshot manoeuvre and is flung out of the solar system toward an unknown location in the direction of the Large Magellanic Cloud.


The book was meant to stand alone, although the final sentence of the book suggests otherwise:

And on far-off Earth, Dr. Carlisle Perera had as yet told no one how he had wakened from a restless sleep with the message from his subconscious still echoing in his brain: The Ramans do everything in threes.

Clarke, however, denied that this sentence was meant to hint at a continuation of the story-according to his foreword in the book's sequel, it was just a good way to end the book and was added during a final revision.


John Leonard, writing in The New York Times, finding Clarke "benignly indifferent to the niceties of characterization," praised the novel for conveying "that chilling touch of the alien, the not-quite-knowable, that distinguishes sci-fi at its most technically imaginative."[5] Other reviewers have also commented on Clarke's lack of character development, and an over-emphasis on realism.[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The novel was awarded the following soon after publication

Design and geography of Rama[edit]

Main article: Rama (spacecraft)
An artist's impression of the interior of Rama.

The interior of Rama is essentially a large cylindrical landscape, dubbed 'The Central Plain' by the crew, 16 kilometres wide and 50 long, with artificial gravity provided by its 0.25 rpm spin. It is split into the 'northern' and 'southern' hemispheres, divided in the middle by a 10-km wide expanse of water the astronauts dub the 'Cylindrical Sea'. In the center of the Cylindrical Sea is an island of unknown purpose covered in tall, skyscraper-like structures, which the astronauts name 'New York' due to an imagined similarity to Manhattan. At each end of the ship are North and South "Poles". The North Pole is effectively the bow and the South Pole the stern, as Rama accelerates in the direction of the north pole and its drive system is at the South Pole.

The North Pole contains Rama's airlocks, and is where the Endeavour lands. The airlocks open into the hub of the massive bowl shaped cap at the North Pole, with three 8-kilometre long stair systems, called Alpha, Beta, and Gamma by the crew, leading to the plain.

The Northern hemisphere contains several small 'towns' interconnected by roads, dubbed London, Paris, Peking, Tokyo, Rome, and Moscow. The South Pole has a giant cone-shaped protrusion surrounded by six smaller ones, which are thought to be part of Rama's reactionless space drive.

Both ends of Rama are lit by giant trenches (three in the northern hemisphere and three in the south), equidistantly placed around the cylinder, effectively functioning as giant strip lighting.

Project Spaceguard[edit]

Clarke invented the space study program which detects Rama, Project Spaceguard, as a method of identifying near-Earth objects on Earth-impact trajectories; in the novel it was initiated after an asteroid struck Italy on 11 September 2077, destroying Padua and Verona and sinking Venice.

A real project named Spaceguard was initiated in 1992, named after Clarke's fictional project. After interest in the dangers of asteroid strikes was heightened by a series of Hollywood disaster films, the United States Congress gave NASA authorisation and funding to support Spaceguard.

Books in the series[edit]

Clarke paired up with Gentry Lee for the remainder of the series. Lee did the actual writing, while Clarke read and made editing suggestions.[7] The focus and style of the last three novels are quite different from those of the original with an increased emphasis on characterisation and more clearly portrayed heroes and villains, rather than Clarke's dedicated professionals. These later books did not receive the same critical acclaim and awards as the original.

Gentry Lee also wrote two further novels set in the same Rama Universe.

  • Bright Messengers (1995)
  • Double Full Moon Night (1999)


In 2009, BBC Radio 4 produced a two-part radio adaptation of the book as part of a science-fiction season. It was adapted by Mike Walker, and was broadcast on 1 March 2009 (Part 1) and 8 March 2009 (Part 2).[8]

In the early 2000s, actor Morgan Freeman expressed his desire to produce a film based on Rendezvous with Rama, however the film has been stuck in "development hell" for many years. In 2003, after initial problems procuring funding, it appeared the project would go into production.[9] The film was to be produced by Freeman's production company, Revelations Entertainment. David Fincher, touted on Revelations' Rama web page as far back as 2001,[10] stated in a late 2007 interview that he was still attached to helm.[11]

However, by late 2008, David Fincher stated the movie was unlikely to be made. "It looks like it's not going to happen. There's no script and as you know, Morgan Freeman's not in the best of health right now. We've been trying to do it but it's probably not going to happen."[12]

Nonetheless, in 2010, Freeman stated in an interview that he was still planning to make the project but that it has been difficult to find the right script. He also stated that it should be made in 3D.[13] In January 2011, Fincher stated in an interview with MTV that he was still planning to make the film after he had completed work on his planned remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which was scheduled to begin production in 2012 but has since been scrapped[14]). He also reiterated Freeman's concerns about the difficulty of finding the right script.[15]

In an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson in February 2012, Freeman indicated an interest in playing the role of Commander Norton for the film, stating that "my fantasy of commanding a starship is commanding Endeavour". Tyson then asked, "So is this a pitch to be ... that person if they ever make that movie?" to which Freeman reaffirmed, "We ARE going to make that movie." In response to a plea to "make that come out sooner rather than later", Freeman reiterated that difficulty in authoring a quality script is the primary barrier for the film, stating "... the only task you have that's really really hard in making movies, harder than getting money, is getting a script ... a good script".[16]

In Popular Culture[edit]

A graphic adventure computer game with a text parser based on the book was made in 1984 by Trillium (later known as Telarium) and ported to other systems such as the Apple II and Commodore 64. Despite its primitive graphics, it had highly detailed descriptions, and it followed the book very closely along with having puzzles to solve during the game. It was adapted from the Clarke novel in 1983 by Ron Martinez, who went on to design the massively multiplayer online game 10Six, also known as Project Visitor.[17]

Sierra Entertainment created Rama in 1996 as a point and click adventure game in the style of Myst. Along with highly detailed graphics, Arthur C. Clarke also appeared in the game as the guide for the player. This game featured characters from the sequel book Rama II.

American death metal band Cryogen recorded a two song suite inspired by the novel and its sequel Rama II in 2013.[citation needed]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e "1974 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 29 September 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c "1973 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 29 September 2009. 
  5. ^ "Books of the Times: Two Tales for the Future", The New York Times, 22 August 1973
  6. ^ Wilson, Mark. "Review: 'Rendezvous with Rama' by Arthur C. Clarke". Retrieved 19 October 2013.  Missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  7. ^
  8. ^ BBC Radio – Rendezvous With Rama
  9. ^ "Freeman Still Pushes Rama". Sci Fi Wire – The News Service of the Sci Fi Channel. 14 March 2003. Archived from the original on 17 January 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2009. 
  10. ^ "Rendezvous with Rama". Revelations Entertainment Web site. Retrieved 7 March 2009. 
  11. ^ "David Fincher and Quint talk about everything from A(lien3) to Z(odiac)!!!". AICN. Retrieved 7 March 2009. 
  12. ^ Alex Billington (13 October 2008). "David Fincher's Rendezvous with Rama Officially Dead". Retrieved 7 March 2009. 
  13. ^ "Morgan Freeman, David Fincher Still Planning A 'Rendezvous With Rama'". MTV. 
  14. ^ ("David Fincher's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is dead")
  15. ^ "David Fincher Confirms '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' In 3-D, Talks 'Dragon Tattoo' & 'Rendezvous With Rama'". MTV. 
  16. ^ "A Conversation with Morgan Freeman". StarTalk Radio. 26 February 2012. 
  17. ^ Rendezvous with Rama @ The Museum of Computer Adventure Games

External links[edit]