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Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. On June 30, 1908, Moscow escaped destruction by three hours and four thousand kilometers--a margin invisibly small by the Stan•dards of the universe. On February 12, 1947, another Russian city had a still narrower escape, when the second great meteorite of the twentieth century detonated less than four hundred kilometers from Vladivostok, with an explosion rivaling that of the newly invented uranium bomb.
In those days there was nothing that men could do to protect themselves against the last random shots in the cosmic bombardment that had once scarred the face of the Moon. The meteorites of 1908 and 1947 had struck uninhabited wilderness; but by the end of the twenty-first century there was no region left on Earth that could be safely used for celestial target practice. The human race had spread from pole to pole. And so, inevitably
At 0946 GMT on the morning of September 11 in the exceptionally beautiful summer of the year 2077, most of the inhabitants of Europe saw a dazzling fireball appear in the eastern sky. Within seconds it was brighter than the Sun, and as it moved across the heavens-at first in utter silence-it left behind it a churning column of dust and smoke.
Somewhere above Austria it began to disintegrate, producing a series of concussions so violent that more than a million people had their hearing permanently damaged. They were the lucky ones.
Moving at fifty kilometers a second, a thousand tons of rock and metal impacted on the plains of northern Italy, destroying in a few flaming moments the labor of centuries. The cities of Padua and Verona were wiped from the face of the Earth; and the last glories of Venice sank forever beneath the sea as the waters of the Adriatic came thundering landward after the hammer blow from space.
Six hundred thousand people died, and the total damage was more than a trillion dollars. But the loss to art, to history, to science-to the whole human race, for the rest of time-was beyond all computation. It was as if a great war had been fought and lost in a single morning; and few could draw much pleasure from the fact that, as the dust of destruction slowly settled, for months the whole world witnessed the most splendid dawns and sunsets since Krakatoa.
After the initial shock, mankind reacted with a determination and a unity that no earlier age could have shown. Such a disaster, it was realized, might not occur again for a thousand years-but it might occur tomorrow. And the next time, the consequences could be even worse.
Very well; there would be no next time.
A hundred years earlier, a much poorer world, with far feebler resources, had squandered its wealth attempting to destroy weapons launched, suicidally, by mankind against itself. The effort had never been successful, but the skills acquired then had not been forgotten. Now they could be used for a far nobler purpose, and on an infinitely vaster stage. No meteorite large enough to cause catastrophe would ever again be allowed to breach the defenses of Earth.
So began Project Spaceguard. Fifty years later-and in a way that none of its designers could ever have anticipated -it justified its existence.
By the year 2130, the Mars-based radars were discovering new asteroids at the rate of a dozen a day. The Spaceguard computers automatically calculated their orbits and stored the information in their own enormous memories, so that every few months any interested astronomer could have a look at the accumulated statistics. These were now quite impressive.
It had taken more than 120 years to collect the first thousand asteroids, since the discovery of Ceres, largest of these tiny worlds, on the very first day of the nineteenth century. Hundreds had been found and lost and found again; they existed in such swarms that one exasperated astronomer had christened them "vermin of the skies." He would have been appalled to know that Spaceguard was now keeping track of half a million.
Only the five giants-Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Eunomia, and Vesta-were more than two hundred kilometers in diameter; the vast majority were merely oversized boulders that would fit into a small park. Almost all moved in orbits that lay beyond Mars. Only the few that came far enough sunward to be a possible danger to Earth were the concern of Spaceguard. And not one in a thousand of these, during the entire future history of the solar system, would pass within a million kilometers of Earth.
The object first catalogued as 31/439, according to the year and the order of its discovery, was detected while it was still outside the orbit of Jupiter. There was nothing unusual about its location; many asteroids went beyond Saturn before turning once more toward their distant master, the Sun. And Thule II, most far-ranging of all, traveled so close to Uranus that it might well be a lost moon of that planet.
But a first radar contact at such a distance was unprecedented; clearly, 31/439 must be of exceptional size. From the strength of the echo, the computers deduced a diameter of at least forty kilometers. Such a giant had not been discovered for a hundred years. That it had been overlooked for so long seemed incredible.
Then the orbit was calculated, and the mystery was resolved-to be replaced by a greater one.
31/439 was not traveling on a normal asteroidal path, along an ellipse which it retraced with clockwork precision every few years. It was a lonely wanderer among the stars, making its first and last visit to the solar system-for it was moving so swiftly that the gravitational field of the Sun could never capture it. It would flash inward past the orbits of Jupiter, Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury, gaining speed as it did so, until it rounded the Sun and headed out once again into the unknown.
It was at this point that the computers started flashing their "We have something interesting" sign, and, for the first time, 31/439 came to the attention of human beings. There was a brief flurry of excitement at Spaceguard headquarters, and the interstellar vagabond was quickly dignified by a name instead of a mere number. Long ago, the astronomers had exhausted Greek and Roman mythology; now they were working through the Hindu pantheon. And so 31/439 was christened Rama.
For a few days, the news media made a fuss over the visitor, but they were badly handicapped by the sparsity of information. Only two facts were known about Rama: its unusual orbit and its approximate size. Even this last was merely an educated guess, based upon the strength of the radar echo. Through the telescope, Rama still appeared as a faint, fifteenth-magnitude star-much too small to show a visible disc. But as it plunged in toward the heart of the solar system, it would grow brighter and larger month by month; before it vanished forever, the orbiting observatories would be able to gather more precise information about its shape and size. There was plenty of time, and perhaps during the next few years some spaceship on its ordinary business might be routed close enough to get good photographs. An actual rendezvous was most unlikely; the energy cost would be far too great to permit physical contact with an object cutting across the orbits of the planets at more than a hundred thousand kilometers an hour.
So the world soon forgot about Rama. But the astronomers did not. Their excitement grew with the passing months as the new asteroid presented them with more and more puzzles.
First of all, there was the problem of Rama's light curve. It didn't have one.
All known asteroids, without exception, showed a slow variation in their brilliance, waxing and waning in a period of a few hours. It had been recognized for more than two centuries that this was an inevitable result of their spin and their irregular shape. As they toppled end over end along their orbits, the reflecting surfaces they presented to the sun were continually changing, and their brightness varied accordingly.
Rama showed no such changes. Either it was not spinning at all or it was perfectly symmetrical. Both explanations seemed unlikely.
There the matter rested for several months, because none of the big orbiting telescopes could be spared from their regular job of peering into the remote depths of the universe. Space astronomy was an expensive hobby, and time on a large instrument could easily cost a thousand dollars a minute. Dr. William Stenton would never have been able to grab the Farside two-hundred-meter reflector for a full quarter of an hour if a more important program had not been temporarily derailed by the failure of a fifty-cent capacitor. One astronomer's bad luck was his good fortune
Stenton did not know what he had caught until the next day, when he was able to get computer time to process his results. Even when they were finally flashed on his display screen, it took him several minutes to understand what they meant
The sunlight reflected from Rama was not, after all, absolutely constant in its intensity. There was a very small variation-hard to detect, but quite unmistakable, and extremely regular. Like all the other asteroids, Raina was indeed spinning. But whereas the normal "day" for an asteroid was several hours, Rama's was only four minutes.
Stenton did some quick calculations, and found it hard to believe the results. At its equator, this tiny world must be spinning at more than a thousand kilometers an hour. It would be rather unhealthy to attempt a landing anywhere except at the poles, because the centrifugal force at the equator would be powerful enough to flick any loose objects away from it at an acceleration of almost one gravity. ltama was a roiling stone that could never have gathered any cosmic moss. It was surprising that such a body had managed to hold itself together, and had not long ago shattered into a million fragments.
An object forty kilometers across, with a rotation period of only four minutes-where did that fit into the astronomical scheme of things? Dr. Stenton was a somewhat imaginative man, a little too prone to jump to conclusions. He now jumped to one that gave him an uncomfortable few minutes indeed:
The only specimen of the celestial zoo that fitted this description was a collapsed star. Perhaps Rama was a dead sun, a madly spinning sphere of neutronium, every cubic centimeter weighing billions of tons.
At this point, there flashed briefly through Stenton's horrified mind the memory of that timeless classic, H. 0. Wells's "The Star." He had first read it as a small boy, and it had helped to spark his interest in astronomy. Across more than two centuries of time it had lost none of its magic and its tenor. He would never forget the images of hurricanes and' tidal waves, of cities sliding into the sea, as that other visitor from the stars smashed into Jupiter and then fell sunward past the Earth. True, the star that old Wells described was not cold, but incandescent, and wrought much of its destruction by heat. That scarcely mattered; even if Rama was a cold body, reflecting only the light of the Sun, it could kill by gravity as easily as by fire.
Any stellar mass intruding into the solar system would completely distort the orbits of the planets. The Earth had only to move a few million kilometers sunward-.or starward-for the delicate balance of climate to be destroyed. The antarctic icecap could melt and flood all low-lying land; or the oceans could freeze and the whole world be locked in eternal winter. Just a nudge in either direction would be enough.
Then Stenton relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief. This was all nonsense; he should be ashamed of himself.
Rama could not possibly be made of condensed matter. No star-sized mass could penetrate so deeply into the solar system without producing disturbances that would have betrayed it long ago. The orbits of all the planets would have been affected; that, after all, was how Neptune, Pluto, and Persephone had been discovered. No, it was utterly impossible for an object as massive as a dead sun to sneak up unobserved.
In a way, it was a pity. An encounter with a dark star would have been quite exciting.
While it lasted.
Posted November 7, 2006
The Rama series shows how truly exceptional Clarke is. This is one of the most thought provoking and enjoyable reads I have experienced. The story kept me on the edge of my seat and if it had not been the middle of the night, I wouldn't have slept at all because I would have ran out and bought the next one immediately. This is a must read for anyone who even remotely enjoys sci/fi.
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Posted July 30, 2004
'Redezvous with Rama' provided for me an excellent choice in science fiction literature. After reading many reviews from many different sites and locations I came to the conclusion that I needed to indulge myself in another one of Arthur C. Clarke's legendary writings. I won't bother to go into any details, as those are easily accessible elsewhere on the web, however I will state my opinion for this novel. It is one of joy, speculation, and cautionary delight. 'Rendezvous with Rama' provided a somewhat lengthy read, even though the page count would show otherwise. In different areas throughout the book I found myself not only confused, but bewildered at the extreme redundancy at which the novel plays itself through. There are times in which the story seems to come to a standstill, only to suddenly ignite with an unexpected twist (and that isn't necessarily a good thing). Many times I was left in the dark (no pun intended) during the course of the read. I would somehow fall behind in the events preceding my current position in the novel's furtherance. The development of the plot was lackluster, and it seemed to me that Clarke's vision slipped away as the pages continued to turn. The suspense encountered earlier in the novel was no longer as apprehensive as I would have thought it to be. Character development during the course of the novel, as it has been written before by other reviewers may seem equally as lacking, but I hold no grudge towards this. I was more inclined to pay closer attention to Rama itself, and not the invasive crew that had the fortunate opportunity to come before it. The ending, writ with careful precision by Clarke was just that, an ending. Fortunately for us who can't bear to leave questions unanswered additional volumes of this series are here for our indulgence. Although I would not agree with most reviewers or critics about the significance of this novel as a science fiction classic, I would still not hesitate to recommend this novel to anyone who wishes to stray themselves from conventional literature, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, drama, or any other conceivable variation between as a possible reference to future titles in the science fiction genre. A good deal of work has gone into the creation of this novel, and as though I feel it lacks what might be apparent to any other reader I still believe that its praise is worthy of any fondness it may happen to in the years to come. Above all, I would suggest that a strong adherence to this title be undertook after the initial turn of a page. I have yet to read any of the other works in this series as I have only just completed the first, however I do plan on reading the remaining three installations of the Rama series. I plan to write more reviews as each novel is concluded before me. I hope this review was helpful to those of you looking to purchase 'Rendezvous with Rama,' and once more I highly recommend this novel to those with a fresh frame-of-mind to bear.
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Posted March 6, 2013
Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama" reads like a cross between his classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Jules Vernes' "Jouney to the Centre of the Earth". Mix some speculative science with the exploration of new worlds, and biological first-contact; toss in a sprinkle of mystery, and you have a solid, if not a bit flat, "Rendezvous with Rama".
A massive object cruises into our Solar System, aiming generally toward the Sun. A space-faring mankind must deal with its examination, and face a future that will never be the same. Clarke deals with a range of his typical themes including xenophobia, politics at a solar system-level, religion that looks beyond terra firma, and humanity's first contact with extraterrestrials.
The story is solid, the writing is clean. But in typical Clarke fashion, the characters a one-dimensional.
Posted May 2, 2012
This was a great book. I absolutely fell in love. A very intriguing story told in an excellent way. I felt like I was was there with the characters, living over one hundred years in the future and experiencing the adventure first hand. I didn't want to bring the book back to the library. A definite buy for all sci-fi fans.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2012
I love all 4 books of this series. well written characters and an interesting storyline. by far my favorite scifi series. i recommend these books highly! i just wish they were released for nook.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 7, 2011
This by far equals in value to that of the Foundation series. I would also step out and say it is better than that of the foundation series. Any SCI-FI beginner should utilize this series as your first attempt to the addiction that is known as the future.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
this is the best science fiction book i have ever read. i had to force myself to stop reading because it was 2:00 in the morning and even after that i couldnt fall asleep. it is an amazing work of sci fi and i reccoment it to all
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Posted March 17, 2009
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Posted February 17, 2006
Clarke introduces us into an utterly alien landscape the way it would actually be perceived by humans- with alot of awe and bewilderment. Each chapter is a new revelation, and each element of the story is descibed in a way that makes you feel as if you're actually one of the cosmonauts. THE BEST science fiction novel I have ever read- had to start Rama II the same day.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 15, 2003
Good old ACC proves once again that he is one of the GREATS of science fiction. He made the alien world of Rama so real that as I read it for the second time recently I found that I remembered it almost perfectly from the first time I read it over 20 years ago. I have read hundreds of science fiction books during that time span, and this book is still one of my favorites. A word of caution, the following books in the series are nowhere near as good as this one, as most of the writting was done by another author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 23, 2003
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Posted April 25, 2002
If you like Arthur C. Clarke, then you will love this book. It is easily one of the best books he has ever written, if not simply the best one.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 14, 2001
This is an excellent book. One of the most addicting that I have ever read. While it does not have as good of plot as some books, it more than makes up for it through mesmorizing speculating and intriguing mystery. An excellent book from cover to cover. A must read for any true fan of science fiction.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 21, 2008
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Posted October 29, 2011
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Posted March 12, 2010
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