My second Arthur C Clarke novel in a week, and while they are separated by 20 years of publication and are not at all meant to be connected really, and this would be impossible given the events of Childhood’s End, I do think they represent a maturity in either the author’s view on the nature of humanity, the genre of science fiction, or some other changes in the world at large, because they act almost as variations on a theme.
What will or would it be like were we to make contact with another race of beings, what would it tell us about ourselves, and how will it change things.
In this novel, after decades of cataloging asteroids and meteors to protect against impact with the Earth because of two near-disaster close calls, we become aware of an object in our solar system that takes of the classification “Rama”, andbut one that gives off very different readings from previous objects.
Upon close inspection by a passing spacecraft this object appears to be a spaceship, extremely large and completely cylindrical. It’s decided to approach and try to make contact. Instead of contact, the crew discovers a hatch, which they open and enter. Inside is a what appears to be a fully formed and functioning closed ecosystem reminiscent of Earth. (I imagine it similar to the floating life stations at the end of Interstellar).
And from here on out, what began as a contact novel turns into a “Zones” novel ala Roadside Picnic or Annihilation. And in classic sci fi trope style, the story, while good, is packed full of bizarre little details about the changes that have happened in our culture like multiple families and the like. It’s both charming and oddly charmless, but very good.