Rama II is the most conspicuous… rubish I’ve read in a long, long time. I read it because I loved Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, but this is a novel written by a scientist. Its language is precise, correct, governed by utility and clarity both of purpose and expression. The characters are outlined to the extent required by the story. The content serves two goals: first, it guides the reader through a wonderful exploration of an entirely alien world, and secondly, it conveys scientific knowledge in a most pleasurable manner. Rama isn’t at the top of literary art, but it’s a good Sci-Fi narrative, a classical example of “hard science fiction”, well built, thoroughly enjoyable. And then comes Rama II.
I didn’t expect a sequel, but a continuation. I didn’t expect something so different in quality, outline and tone. Rama II is more an oversized film screenplay than a novel. We get stock characters, like the merciless, ambitious, clever, sexy villainess; the egotistic, ambitious, unscrupulous villain; the small, exquisitely polite japanese, one of the best of the good guys along with general O’Toole, who is (almost?) a saint. The main hero, a woman, and the man hero are quite ridiculously built up by using gross strokes in the picture of their habilites, traits and past experiences (I almost laughed out loud when I found out who was the father of the protagonist’s son). And the plot revolves around the typical situation that can be summarized as “the menace from inside (to be discovered) versus the outer menace or mystery (to be solved). It’s what we can also call “the story of the hidden traitor” or “how an isolated human group is decimated by/manages to survive to inside and outside malignant forces”. Well, you can actually get good stories out of that kind of plot, but not with the quality of the building blocks used in Rama II.
This, plus the bore of lots of pages that are only there as completely dispensable extra material (adventures that maybe would make some sense on a screen given they had visual appeal) turns the book into a most efficient form of torture.
The start of the whole thing is a sort of fictional essay pages and pages long, devoted to explaining the conditions and evolution of the world between the first and the second encounter with Rama. Such aim could certainly have been approached in a more artistic and less tiresome way. The beautiful idea of getting lost in an alien world with all its insolvable mysteries is also progressively lost in favour of a chain of devices, conventional adventures and hollow surprises. When aliens appear (not Ramans) they can be compared to terrestrial species. The avians are like ridiculous Disney beasts, non human animals that act like humans. They don’t have an advanced technology (I suppose that’s because they don’t have opposable thumbs). The creepy, menacing creatures that also seem to have been collected by Rama somewhere in the Universe look like spiders.
As the prose is not outstanding and much of the things told are of little interest, I read the book jumping lines, trying to scan Clarke’s contribution of ideas on Raman exploration, but, if there are some, they’re suffocated under bad dialogues, redundant pages and scenes we’ve seen many times in commercial films.
The cheap mysticism is another reason to hate the book. Apparently, the author has decided to put in it some spiritual content to counterbalance the cold scientific look cast on the first Rama. Such content turns out to be a caricature of spirituality.
Jumping and hopping I got to the end. Immediately, I took a decision underpinned by unwavering determination: this is the last Rama for me. No garden will tempt me, no new visit will allure me.