Rendezvous with Rama

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Rendezvous with Rama is a novel by Arthur C. Clarke first published in 1972. Set in the 22nd century, the story involves a fifty-kilometre-long 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[1] and Nebula[2] awards upon its release, and is widely regarded as one of the cornerstones in Clarke's bibliography. It is considered a science fiction classic, and is particularly seen as a key hard science fiction text.


Plot summary

The "Rama" of the title is an alien star ship, initially mistaken for an asteroid and named after the king Rama who is considered to be the seventh avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu (Clarke mentions that by the 22nd century, scientists have used the names of all the Greek and Roman mythological figures to name astronomical bodies, and have thus moved on to Hindu mythology). Asteroid 31/439 is detected by astronomers in the year 2130 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 piqued when they realize that this asteroid not only has an extremely rapid 4 minute rotation period but it is quite large in size for an asteroid. An unmanned space probe dubbed Sita is launched from the Mars moon Phobos, and photographs taken during its rapid flyby reveal that Rama is a mathematically perfect cylinder, 20 kilometres in diameter and 54 kilometres long, made of a completely featureless material. In other words, this is 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 of time 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, when the giant alien spacecraft already is within Venus' orbit. The 20+ crew, led by Commander Norton, enters Rama and explores the vast 16-km wide by 50-long cylindrical world of its interior, but the nature and purpose of the starship and its creators remains enigmatic throughout the book.

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