I lodge a formal complaint against Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee for the first 100 pages of this novel because of the excessive amount of narrative space taken up with character development. And before I leave that topic behind to pursue the actual gems of this novel, I’d like to point out that even after the 100 pages of narrative have come and gone, the reader is left without any narrative description or action of the actual space voyage from Earth to Rama II. One minute, the reader is learning about the corruptible natures of Francesca and Dr. Brown, the next minute, they’ve already docked with Rama II. Why not 50 pages of character development, 50 pages of the journey to Rama II, and the rest the way it already is? It’s a moot point, I guess. But complaint, lodged!
The rest of the novel was just what I was hoping for: lots of new discoveries; lots of tension (thanks to the excessive, yet unresolved character traits learned about in the first 100 pages!) between crewmen and their varying perspectives on what’s to be done with and about Rama II. Reading this book was a bit like watching Twin Peaks. I say this because in Twin Peaks, David Lynch presents the audience with something to confound (the White Lodge and the Black Lodge); this/these place(s) are shown but not explained. And the viewer is only to be let down by his or her expectations when watching the film, Fire Walk With Me, when nothing about the White or Black Lodge is resolved.
How is this relevant to RAMA II, you ask? It’s relevant because something tells me Gentry/Clarke, with their RAMA quadrilogy, are playing a little game with the reader. Giving us tidbits here and there, like the White Room on RAMA II, where Richard and Nicole find the odd, human artifacts (the reader will recall 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Dave Bowman wakes to find himself in the blue room with simulacra of real, human objects–the food not real food, etc.) Same on RAMA II: lots of simulacra with no real, human substance. Even toward the end, Richard and Nicole see simulacra of the crew walking around, mere shadows of their real selves. Of course, the reader will recall back to Rendezvous with RAMA when the first exploration into the other hemisphere (across the cylindrical sea) showed human artifacts encased in hermetically sealed cases. Well, RAMA II just amped it up, I suppose, by recreating AND reanimating. It is proposed that the first RAMA vessel had intercepted images of human culture through radio waves, and had created those objects (like a hair brush), but by the time RAMA II came around, whatever technology the Ramans possessed had taken things to the next level by allowing for the possibility of “life” for those objects. Something tells me the Ramans are collectors, roaming through the universe collecting and improving upon their own reanimations (like perhaps with the spider biots or the avians???).
This reminds me of my first introduction to the idea of postmodernism: in a Science Fiction class as an undergrad taught by a SF scholar. We read Asimov, Lem, Delany, Bester, Orwell, and more. And we were told about the basics of cyberpunk and postmodernism. One day in class we got to watch a film by the Survival Research Laboratories (Thank you, once again, oh holy Storming the Reality Studio for helping me find what I was looking for!), where the skinned corpses of rabbits and dogs, or possibly goats, were being reanimated. Provocative. Profound. And perhaps, perhaps, this is what Clarke/Lee will be getting at with all this replication and (re)animation…I should say (re)animation rather than re-animation, because the only possible re-animation occuring in RAMA II would be if the Ramans reanimated Dr. Takagishi, who is sitting currently, stuffed in a corner in the White room…but there are still 2 books left in this series! It’s a pretty sound prediction, I think.
So what do I actually have to say about this novel, RAMA II? (I seem to be diverted quite a lot on this post). Aside from the 100 page fiasco at the beginning, it is a good story. It is a reminder to the reader that the ‘reality’ of the truth of the universe is a lot bigger than we can currently perceive, and that even in the future, Clarke/Lee predict we will always be fearful of what we don’t and can’t understand. But the true mavericks out there, willing to enter the belly of the beast, and be stuck there, will reap the rewards for a humanity too stupid and backwards and fearful of something smarter than us. It is a reminder that mob mentality is always ignorant, and always makes the wrong choices. But individuals, individuals who make choices, are more likely on the right track.