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First Contact?

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Rendezvous with Rama by Arhur C. Clarke
Rendezvous with Rama
Arthur C. Clarke

I like a science fiction story that goes beyond the future of technology, and works its way into the future of other aspects of life.  Rendezvous with Rama does just that, and the story is an example of just why Arthur C. Clarke is so prominent in the sci-fi genre.

This novel concerns humanity over 120 years in the future.  A massive cylindrical has been detected, rocketing toward the center of the solar system.  As it becomes apparent that the form is not just an asteroid or comet plans are made to investigate the object further.  Commander Norton and the crew of the Endeavour are tasked with making a “rendezvous” with the body, now named, Rama.  With more exploration the mission begins looking like it may become a “first contact” operation, and this has unknown implications for the crew of the Endeavour, as well as the order of the inhabited solar system.

One way in which this story goes beyond the future of technology, is with respect to family relations.  Clarke has created a civilization in which modified, or liberated, marriages are accepted, with multiple partners and families.  One character even has an interesting arrangement in which one wife and her children reside on Earth, and another wife and her children reside on Mars.  Within the realm of family dynamics is another aspect of the world Clarke has created that I find interesting.  It is mentioned that due to sterilization caused by repeated exposure to radiation in space, one character, and it is hinted that most other astronauts, have donated sperm upon entrance into the “Spaceguard,” to be used at a later date when they want to start families.  It is the little facts like this that make so many of Clarke’s stories worth reading.

Another physical condition mentioned in the novel is the effect of gravity on the human population.  The inhabitants of the different, colonized, planetary bodies are limited in their travel by their degree of exposure to different “G” levels.

For me, the most interesting point Clarke touches on in the novel is the side effects of an expanding human frontier.  Just as on Earth, where regions within larger nations can develop feeling of autonomy due to various factors, so to do the various colonies within the solar system.  I like how Clarke hints that rather than humanity coming together and colonizing space, it may come down to the planet you are from; with a specific Terran identity developing alongside a Martian, and in the case of this novel, a Hermian/Mercurian identity.

After finishing the story you’ll be left with similar unanswered questions to those of the characters within the novel.  Are the Ramans malevolent, benevolent, or entirely disinterested in humanity?  For that matter, what constitutes first contact?  Do we have to meet the actual species, or is proof of their existence sufficient?

If you enjoyed this book you may also like:

Foundation by Isaac Asimov Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
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