The Rama Series
Rendezvous with Rama
The Garden of Rama
by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee
1973–1995, Bantam Books
Written by Darrell Anderson.
Arthur C. Clarke is well known as both an author and an individual. Clarke wrote Rendezvous with Rama in 1973 and collaborated with Gentry Lee for the remaining three books of the series. Clarke’s solo effort received much acclaim, including the Hugo and Nebula literary awards.
Although Clarke originally never intended to write a book series, he collaborated with Gentry Lee to provide the remaining three books of the series. There is a noticeable difference in writing style between the two authors, and in the Preface to Rama II Clarke admitted he did not try to enforce his writing style in the joint effort. Thus, one is led to believe that most of the texts were written by Lee, with Clarke providing strong editorial and technical support. The second book, Rama II, was not published until 1989; with The Garden of Rama following in 1992 and Rama Revealed in 1995. Lee was a new writer at the time of the first collaborative effort, and occasionally that newness shows. Thus, one should provide Clarke and their editors credit for allowing Lee to explore new territory without many restraints.
The main plot is about an alien spaceship that enters the solar system. Humans commission an exploratory mission. Despite that effort, the spaceship leaves the solar system without any contact with aliens. Like so many mysteries, more questions are raised than answered.
The collaborative books begin with a return trip of the alien spacecraft and a second exploratory mission. The story continues by sharing the journey of three humans who are left behind on the craft, and the associated families, trials, and tribulations that one might expect. Along the journey a reader often is reminded of how complex humans can be and often are. Unlike many science fiction stories where technology solves many problems and challenges, the Rama books often introduce technology that humans simply do not understand. Clarke and Lee emphasize the simple proverb that any sufficiently superior technology will seem like magic to humans.
The stories confront the human emotions of meeting a superior species, as well as species that are vastly different from anything humans can grasp or imagine. There is the incredibly frustrating barrier of trying to communicate with new species.
There is much emphasis on alien species that are carefully planned and enjoined with other species of their home worlds, creating delicately balanced ecosystems. Humans, of course, often act and think that nature exists to serve humanity, not that humans are merely another component of nature. One message prevalent throughout the collaborative stories, a message that likely repels many readers, is how homocentric and xenophobic humans tend to be.
There is a noticeable shift in presentation between Clarke’s original book and the collaborative series. Clarke purposely did not answer many questions raised in his book, and that angle is why the book is so popular. Readers are left with their own perspectives and conclusions after reading the book. That approach is what makes Clarke popular as an author. Clarke wants readers to think more than he wants to entertain. However, unlike the claims of other reviewers, the collaborative books also leave many questions unanswered. Yes, because Lee was a new author, sometimes the books seem contrived and forced, and almost too well scripted. That’s okay, as long as readers watch for the many questions Clarke and Lee do not answer.
The collaborative books spend much more time developing characters than Clarke did in his original effort. Unlike Clarke’s original book, this change of pace often alienates readers. The collaborative books must not be read from the same perspective as Clarke’s original effort. Readers only will disappoint themselves if they approach the four books as a purposely planned series. The latter three books did not appear until 15 years after Clarke’s original effort, and a series never was part of Clarke’s original plan. More importantly, character development is what drives the three latter books. Without that character development the books become empty. Without that character development the fundamental questions and issues Clarke and Lee raise become meaningless shells.
Another noticeable difference is much of the collaborative books are written from a female’s perspective. That focus is provided through one of the main characters of the latter three books in Nicole Des Jardins, doctor and life science expert. Clarke and Lee admit this approach in their acknowledgments section of The Garden of Rama and credit that different approach to Lee’s wife.
More than likely, there are many more male science fiction readers and writers than female. Thus, one should not be surprised that many reviewers of the collaborative books provide less praise than they do for Clarke’s original book. That is unfortunate because the collaborative books provide a unique glimpse of the ancient question of, “What does being human mean?” Being the sole representative for bearing and birthing the human species into existence, a female perspective about those questions is something many male readers should consider. Females tend to be more communal in nature than males. That is, females tend more often than males to be more community-minded and less individualistic, and therefore tend to approach daily challenges in a different manner. The tension of the female perspective about family and community run throughout the stories.
Similarly, because many of the species in the stories are delicately enjoined with and dependent upon other species, often in highly symbiotic relationships, many individualists will find those relationships repugnant because of obvious socialist implications. That too is unfortunate, because individual survival is dependent upon mutual survival and humans are no exception. Humans are not self-sufficient. Although human social systems are different than ecological systems, humans are nonetheless physical creatures and would do well to learn more about living cooperatively with the rest of nature — and each other.
Clarke and Lee dabble much with philosophy, theology, and critical commentary about the human species. The books are not typical high tech, action-packed science fiction novels, although there is plenty of that too. These stories deal with the fundamental questions of humanity and life, as well as the origins and mysteries of a universe that is bigger than anyone can know. One of the messages Clarke and Lee want readers to retain is the universe is not bigger than humans know but bigger than humans can know. Even the superior species introduced in the stories do not have all the answers and are frustrated by their lack of knowledge and understanding.
Potential readers must not be discouraged by typical reviews found on the internet. If people are searching for clues about the classic unanswered questions that humans have asked since the beginning of consciousness, then they will enjoy all the books. If the fundamental philosophical and theological questions are important to you, then be prepared for an emotional journey as you read these books. If you accept and embrace that we humans know so very little about both the universe and ourselves, that humans are both concurrently insignificant and important, then keep the tissue box handy while reading these stories. In the end you will have more questions than answers, and that alone is why you need to keep wiping your tears. We just don’t have many answers and possibly, never will.