Thursday, September 8, 2016
Rama II, by Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee
As I said last week, the biggest problem I had with the last book was the story didn't go much beyond, ''Hey, there's this giant alien spaceship coming into the solar system. That's strange and mysterious!'' And there are elements of that in this story as well. Some seventy years after the first Rama vessel has arrived and since left our corner of the galaxy, a second vessel is detected inbound from parts unknown. Humanity scrambles to get an exploratory mission ready in time so that a proper and more thorough examination of these mysterious vessels can be undertaken.
The thing that kind of bothers me about this book is only partially about the exploration of a mysterious alien vessel and possibly actually learning something about the beings that built interstellar craft and more importantly why they decided to build them. A significant part of the book focuses more on human drama of the cosmonauts who are sent to explore Rama II. And human drama is all well and fine, but there's one character who instigates most of the drama and is quite frankly awful: Francesca Sabatini.
Francesca is a highly intelligent woman, (although all the crew of the Newton, the vessel sent to explore Rama II are extremely intelligent people) and one of two journalists sent along with the Rama expedition. However, Francesca explicitly manipulates people to get what she wants, purposely puts the mission in danger through several actions, and utilizes blackmail to get things she wants from her fellow cosmonauts. An example that really bothered me was forcing an interview from the mission commander by threatening to let information about his schizophrenic daughter loose to the general public. Like...I feel like that should be something that should have expelled her from the mission, regardless of how good she was. Using somebody's family as leverage? That's just super messed up. And this says nothing of David Brown, an astrophysicist who it turns out is an academic fraud regarding some of his most important accomplishments. But by far Francesca was just an incredibly toxic person and it didn't make sense to me as to why she'd be picked to go on this mission.
There was also a comment made by Francesca that literally stated, ''The world doesn't need another half-black baby anyway.'' And I'm just...like okay maybe the authors were trying really hard to make Francesca a despicable character but she had already crossed a line when she was using people's families as leverage to get what she wanted. And this book was written in the 80's by the way. That comment is just inappropriate on so many levels that I really wish the authors hadn't made it at all.
The other thing that I thought was really weird was the detour the book made talking about how the entire world went through a credit and spending binge after Rama which resulted in one of the world's worst economic depressions, called the Great Chaos, that it was still recovering from forty years later. Seriously, there's about two whole chapters that talk in great detail about how the seeds of this crisis are sown and its eventual, traumatic end. On the one hand it's a rehashing of the economic crisis that led into the Great Depression, right down to occurring in the 2130's, and oddly prescient of the crash of 2008, but at the same time it feels really weird to talk about it when it doesn't seem to have terribly much influence on the story. The inclusion of St. Michael of Siena is also kind of weird, although it plays a larger influence on the story than the Great Chaos.
Overall the book's kind of meh. Some of the characters, especially Nicole des Jardins are pretty interesting and at least fun to watch, but Francesca is definitely toxic and causes a ton of unnecessary drama. The exploration of Rama raises more questions than answers, but I guess that's somewhat appropriate as science in the real world often works out the same way. I just wish some of the questions the authors keep bandying about would be answered, but only the next couple of books will reveal if we get a satisfactory resolution.