A little foreword if I may. This buddyread/bookchat post is long enough as it is but boohoo, it’s my blog. Yep! I do buddyreads with my friend Joz who isn’t a bookblogger or hobby reviewer like most of us here, but I think that’s what makes it interesting for me whenever we do discuss a/any book.
Strap yerselves in, grab a cuppa or a bloody pint if that’s your poison and keep reading. Feel free to pop your own 2 cents in the comments.
Oh yeah – *SPOILER WARNING*
Liz: Did you enjoy the book?
Joz: Ya. I think it was super!
Liz: Sometimes, I find it interesting… of course you have heard of the controversies of the modern world – e.g. release the plague or start a war or collapse the economy so that people would die and we can reduce the population of the Earth – King’s The Stand actually has the sickness concept (I think you’ve read some of the book) and Rama has the idea as well of reducing population. I just find it interesting that some things are same from the 70s as they are now… back then, it was a ludicrous idea and totally scifi-book-worthy; today these ideas are considered to be uttered by someone insane or again only acceptable in a scifi book… To quote:
“After a century of determined effort, Earth had still failed to get its population below the target of one billion.”
I think humans are obsessed with reducing population.. or the idea of it.
Anyway… I was looking at my highlights from the book and I thought, there’s some amazing stuff happening here! Like- the alien civilization flying through the solar system giving man the chance to explore without (any real) threat… there are no aliens.. only threat is from the environment…. but I guess reading the book you could feel the excitement alongside the characters?
I think this is where scifi doesn’t rock my boat… some really great and (un)imaginable things happen and it doesn’t really move me, you know? I mean, exploring Rama should have had me at the edge of the seat but it didn’t… I wonder is it because we are here in this modern day, having read and watched all these Hollywood alien movies and we are desensitized to the wonders of extraterrestrials and their advanced civilization such as it is in the book? hmm… but… here are 2 quotes from the end of the book… I really like both…
“There were those who claimed that love at one gee was so ponderous that they could no longer enjoy it.”
– this is when Norton shags Laura just because, before he returns to his two wives 😀 … and I can’t get over that, I must be old school… dude has 2 wives already, he humps another one… I dislike this very much… I think he’s scum for doing that and YET at the same time I admire the Commander him, the intelligent, James Cook worshiping dude who has a good sense of humour and is very considerate of his colleagues, etc… such a conflicting character for me!
“They would probably never even know that the human race existed; such monumental indifference was worse than any deliberate insult.”
… all in all, I am glad you, in a way, challenged me to read this book.. I would never have picked it up but a classic scifi such as this I am glad to not miss on. I wonder though, if this would have been written in the 90s, what kind of past references we would have got? When Clarke references pharaoh’s tombs and Cook’s voyages from the past, would the 90s Clarke have references 80s songs and more recent discoveries of man? and would it all have changed the book and Norton’s characteristics then? And you know… I’m just thinking (as I go along here!) that as this book is not really about people, I am missing the point of the whole wondrous alien technology exploration because I AM always about people.. this is what I love in my books, the colorful people… and RwR is really not to make the characters shine and I am squeezing as much as I can out of Norton when I should be focusing on the alien ship instead… how weird!
As such, I have a question: are the authors descriptions of the ship bang on the money for you? Would you have wanted more or was there at times too much detail?… and if Rama the space ship is really the focus of the story, which it really is, I think it probably represents the mysteries of the universe nicely – it still remains a mystery to the explorers… there’s no – ah, yes, we cut a slice of the ladder rung here and counting the circles in the core of it, we determine that it has come from a galaxy far away and has at least once melted in the Sun before advancing to better metals.
Instead, there’s the emptiness and the very weird cylindrical setup and factories without entrances and spiders that can pull a distinction in between organic and inorganic and who would make me pee in my pants upon meeting…
Joz: Population: I think this guilt for overpopulation of our planet and for the destruction of it that comes with it comes in waves. I guess in the 70s with the brand new computer technology we could a) have better data about the population (census etc), b) have more accurate modeling and prediction of overpopulation events of both imaginary species and us. So probably this (the one in the 70s) was the most shocking wave of this periodically recurring problem. He probably couldn’t help writing about it in his book.
But you have to notice here that they have failed to bring it under 1 billion. The current population is 7.5 billion. We are failing to stop the growth, while they brought it back down to the 1800ad level! So they did do something crazy effective about it, but not quite good enough for their target.
Exploration without threat: I think exploration always comes with threat. Forget about the people that are currently inside Rama. Remember the possible maneuver it could have done around the Sun that would have put it in a strategically very very strong and aggressive position. The bare presence of it was a mega-threat. The first message it sent was, that the aliens that do exists have a technology that is so far advanced that understanding it is not even an option. Remember: it’s not that we didn’t understand how its engines worked, we didn’t even find anything that we recognized as engines at the first place.
References of Cook: I don’t think he would have referenced more recent discoveries anyway. The uniqueness of the Cook era to me is, that many things that just are for us took immeasurable effort to get back then.
Example: Imagine a little island, let’s say on the Pacific Ocean. Someone had to finance a mega-expedition, build ships, recruit crew for the ships, a hundred men had to leave their families for a decade they all put their loves and all their valuable equipment in danger, to get a relatively shitty map for this island. They often died for this. Died in groups of 10. They believed that man ought to know the world, and hoped that we could trade some weird vegetables or bring back a fancy bow because it’s carved so beautifully.
Today we know precise geography (and more) of this island. And satellites have scanned it last night while we were sleeping. The Cook map was thrown away long ago, we know it so much better, even without getting out of the bed. But we never even looked at it because we give zero shit anyway.
This is how we explore shit. No risk, no effort. We do it for the lack of better things to do. We even struggle coming up with new shit to explore. So I don’t think he would have liked the comparison. Luckily we know for sure that Endeavour is a James Cook reference, and not a Space Shuttle reference. (The book is too early for that)
Number of wives is not some universal constant, this is a social thing. Not every society is so obsessed with this 1 wife thing as we are. It’s simply unusual. Like being gay was not so long ago. And living on multiple planets surely brings on unusual changes. Ya, he shags Laura, guilty as charged. Cheated on 2 wives at the same time. 😀 For his defense: she was mega-attractive as I remember.
Excitement: I really enjoyed the early days when nothing happened. I was surprised how entertaining it was to read it page after page, without anything at all moving forward in the book. Of course I enjoyed it later as well. But the tension that we still don’t know what’s going on was equally good.
The description of Rama: I think it was bang on. I remember verifying a couple of things, like the thickness of wall and so on. I think both the physics and the descriptions are super. I mean, when we don’t know what’s what, because it’s an alien thing, you can’t give much detail without planting your ideas in the readers’ mind. I think it was super.
The robots: This is a total accurate prediction from the future. Robots that are built on demand and probably programmed on the fly to suit the situation, makes perfect sense. Making distinction between organic and synthetic: the machines going through our garbage to separate certain materials can differentiate many types of plastic. Not only recognize that it is plastic, but to tell that hmmm, this is HDPE, this is PS and so on. No big deal. Also good machine learning prophecies. (In machine learning “machine” is not synonym of robot or any other physical machine) The thing that came to pick up the unused garbage from around the camp, but also developed an understanding of what belonged to the party. It all makes perfect sense. But all these somehow don’t add anything to the value of the book. It only means that it isn’t broken. 🙂
Liz: Surprisingly, I liked the book when I generally don’t enjoy scifi… It’s just that it was easy to read for a dumbass like me 🙂 mostly… Some of the things I did find hard to imagine, like Rama itself and the cylindrical sea…
Joz: I had no problem with the cylindrical sea, I quite enjoyed it. We don’t have a problem imagining a body of water bent one way. What’s the problem with bending it the other way? (real ocean vs cylindrical sea)
Liz: I couldn’t imagine a sea created in space in a cylinder… What was the point?
Joz: You make yourself a cup of tea in a big wide mug and put some honey in it. Then you want the honey chunk to dissolve so you stir the thing mega fast with a spoon. So there’s a “mega” vortex in the middle, and the spinning tea kind of climbs up onto the side of the mug. Same thing bigger. And why? Why not. Because they need a sea.
Liz: Ah, good visual with the teacup! 🙂 Anyway… We never found out the purpose of Rama…
Joz: I think the purpose of Rama is quite irrelevant. 🙂 There is this picture of mankind and our relation to the big empty (?) universe. Being the only known intelligent life form (known to us…)
Liz: So, do you think the author toyed with the idea that we believe ourselves to be the highest life form in the universe and subtly tried to paint a different picture…
Joz: I think the book takes this picture and puts it back where it kind of belongs. Resets this ego bullshit that keeps distorting this image. It shows how ridiculously far we went waxing our ego with this being unique and OMG so fucking important thing. Not subtly at all. It brutally body-slammed this image. 😀 And I like it.
Liz: But there is an ego trip still that the humans do get! A smaller scale one but still, with Norton’s decision to be better than Hermians and disable the bomb, so still a 1:0 to humans for being the better ones… A small argument though against your point.
Joz: Yes, if you think that bomb could have made any damage to this thing [Rama the spaceship]. It flew into the sun, and it wasn’t a bigger deal than you connecting your phone to the charger. That bomb? Come on. It wouldn’t even had put a dent in this thing. 😀
Liz: You think? I never even considered it
Joz: It’s like when the ants decide to sting the 25 ton machine at a construction site. But in the last minute they change their mind, just to stay nice… Oh yeah. Look. The idea of finding something unique is an appealing thing. Often even the pure chance of finding something unique is enough. If the Ramans would have considered us unique in any way, they would have made contact or something. It’s not that they had no options. They had this thing that was as good as a 5* hotel for humans. But they ignored us. To me this implies that we are not unique at all. And they know it better than us, their technology is on a whole different level.
Probably there are humans everywhere. Like ants. When was the last time you tried to make contact with them? You could bring them home. But I bet you have never tried, and you don’t even know anybody who did. Like when you go camping. At night probably ants come and smell the wheel of your electric car, maybe even climb on it. But there’s no need have a look in the morning, no need to flick them off or anything. They… don’t matter at all. Absolute zero significance.
“No such thing as centrifugal force. It’s an engineer’s phantom. There’s only inertia.”
Liz: For me? This is just a fancy technical sentence… Means absolutely nothing. And this probably takes away some of the magic from the book if I don’t understand/comprehend/visualize.
Joz: Nah. It’s like …. there’s this word that means absolutely nothing. I can’t remember. I read a half a book not knowing that word, then I had enough and looked it up. I was right, it means absolutely nothing. 😀
Liz: Was it megaparsecs?
Joz: A parsec is a unit of measurement. I can’t remember the exact definition, but it’s shitlots. Has something to do with angles. What’s that called…How big things appear. What’s the word for this? View angle. Bullshit.
Liz: No idea 😀
Joz: When you look at your house from like 100m, there’s an angle between the left side and the right side of the house. I mean an angle between the direction you look. There’s a proper word for this. So annoying. Anyway, it’s an angle. You know degrees, seconds blah. 1 sec is 1/60th of a degree. Pretty fucking small.
Liz: … and you’ve lost me! I can’t visualize this! 😀
Joz: 1 degree view angle. Draw a circle around you and divide it to 360. Each division is 1 degree, right?
Liz: Aha! Yes!
Joz: Divide one of these to 60 parts. Gets even smaller. It’s a small fucking view angle.
Liz: I get it now! Fucking small indeed…
Joz: Question, how FAR does a basketball have to be to fit in this angle? The bigger the ball, the further away it has to be. A peanut is probably an arm length, a basketball is maybe 50m. So they “appear” about the same size. Right?
Liz: Right. I’m following.
Joz: So here comes a super super big thing. Now the basketball is 1AU in diameter. AU is another unit of measurement, 1 Earth – Sun distance if I’m right. Super bigass ball. So how far does it have to be to see both sides 1 parsec angle? Shit fucking far. This is a parsec.