Rama Series - more Science less Fiction
Rama series is not strictly typical Arthur C Clarke. The first book ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ is written entirely by Clarke and can be considered classic Clarke. The other three books in the series were written in collaboration with Gentry Lee. So they are quite different.
The series is about an alien space ship’s visit to earth. The first book is full of technical details and can fill the reader’s mind with a feeling of curiosity and mystery. But many of the casual readers will be overwhelmed with the technical details and may not be able to fully visualize everything. It is marvelous how Clarke has managed to imagine at this level of detail. But at the same time, readers who are not really so much into science may get a feeling of getting caught with a science text book or an engineering manual. Also the story lacks drama: there are hardly any memorable characters and it is more like a detailed report of a real scientific mission. This book will be a pleasure for realists who have their feet well-grounded and who do not necessarily like wild flights of fantasy.
The other three books – Rama – II, Garden of Rama and Rama revealed take a different track and go about creating the typical elements that most science fiction and fantasy fans enjoy. There are interesting alien races, adventure, characters and their interactions with each other and the drama. Some of the people who have fallen in love with the first book may not really enjoy the other three as there are less of technical details and more of fantasy and drama in them. The first book leaves a sense of mystery in the end. We see all the details of the alien vessel and in the end the vessel just leaves the earth leaving the reader wondering who built the vessel, why did it visit earth, why it flew away and what happened later at the end.
However in the remaining books that were written many years after the first one, the authors try to give the reader the answer to these questions by orchestrating a second visit by the same vessel a good seventy years later and establishing communication between humans and the alien races. All the three books have the same characters and there is continuity across the three books. These stories also have the sociological, political and philosophical themes but nowhere as grand in their visions as in the works of Asimov, Herbert or Dickson. Clearly hard science is Clarke’s specialty and not sociology and political science.
For those who like real hard science, I would definitely recommend the Rama series, especially the first one. Science fiction buffs obviously can’t avoid Clarke. As far as others are concerned, maybe they need to struggle through the first book. But the rest would be fun and the readers can enjoy a bit of light reading to ease into the kind of themes hard core science fiction deals with.