Having previously read Babel-17 i was very much hoping this was just as good: so i did have very high expectations and it certainly had a lot to live up to.
So, yes, i did set out rather biased when i began to read this book, and while i have to say that it didn’t quite meet with my expectations with regards to Babel-17, it was still a very enjoyable read.
Samuel certainly has his own style, very arty, very high brow, and also very imaginative: Nova holds it’s place as one of the books which gave birth to the cyberpunk genre. But where Babel-17 felt like a timeless read, Nova did feel a little dated to me, like it’s from the 1960’s or something.
But dated or not, it certainly has earned a deserving place in the “SF Masterworks” series.
This time, instead of actual aliens coming to Earth and a prophecy of how humanity will eventually evolve, in Rendezvous With Rama we have a large alien vessel entering the solar system on a path that will take it inside the orbit of Mercury, around the Sun, and then, is anyone’s guess. Will it adjust it’s trajectory, pull a breaking manouvre and find a stable orbit in the solar system, or will it use the Sun and sling shot elsewhere? Where did it come from, who sent it, who or what is inside, what is it’s purpose?
Set in a time when humans have colonised several planets and moons in the solar system and space flight is quite normal, we have one space ship — the Endeavour, captained by a big fan of James Cook — that is able to get some fuel and rendezvous with this vessel and investigate it. However, once the vessel has passed inside the orbit of Mercury, the Mercurians decide to take matters into their own hands and ignore what the rest of humanity has to say on the matter.
As i say, this is a proper old school sci-fi first contact story at its best and well deserving of its place as a “SF Masterworks”.
Another book in my “S.F. Masterworks” collection.
Firstly, this is not a story book, it is a play, and it’s written as a play. Which is not to say it’s bad, it’s just different from what one is used to in ones sci-fi.
But i think the play part is where Karel doesn’t do the story, or his point, justice. Written as a play it’s just too hectic, too fast paced, with never ending characters just piling in their piece — basically, it’s the television of its day.
I think that most of what Karel was trying to say about the world and the future gets lost in a load of characters continuously having their say without any having any thoughts.
Yes, beware the robots, a metaphor for the means of production, because the hand that feeds us will eventually turn and bite us and destroy us all. But this point would have been made much better in a novel, but it is what it is.
For its time it is a great work of sci-fi, and also a direct critique upon humanity and society. And here we are 100 years after Karel wrote this and most people in the developed world are incapable of feeding themselves, clothing themselves, starting a real fire, making anything, etc.. We’ve sold our souls to technology and become completely dependent upon it. And whoever controls that technology controls humanity. That’s what is known as hydraulic despotism, or, as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen would say: ‘He who controls the spice, controls the universe.’
Final thoughts: Worth a quick read for all you anorak-ed, train spotting, sci-fi historians out there — but otherwise there’s not much point.
It’s not surprising that this book is part of the “Gollancz SF Masterworks” series. It really is a must read for all sci-fi fans as one of those early sci-fi books that set the standard for others to follow.
The prophetic nature of this book, while quite nail-on-head in some ways, is quite funny at times as to how short it actually fell. For example, Arthur thought that it would take aliens to bring an end to wars, giving humanity peace ever lasting before we gave up striving to improve our lives and instead spending hours every day watching pointless programs on TV:
Do you realize that every day something like five hundred hours of radio and TV pour out over the various channels? If you went without sleep and did nothing else, you could follow less than a twentieth of the entertainment that’s available at the turn of a switch! No wonder that people are becoming passive sponges — absorbing but never creating. Did you know that the average viewing time per person is now three hours a day? Soon people won’t be living their own lives any more. It will be a full-time job keeping up with the various family serials on TV!
And yet here we are 60 years after this book was published and while no aliens have given us peace on earth and eternal leisure people are watching far more TV than Arthur predicted for our age of enlightenment. The 2018 viewing figures for the UK is an average of over 4 hours a day. And that’s the average. Some people are watching far more than that as people like myself have no television at all and haven’t had for over 20 years.
No, it’s not going to take aliens to bring an end to Homo sapiens, the “wise man” is doing a really good job of its own demise without any outside assistance whatsoever:
‘In a few years, it will all be over, and the human race will have divided in twain. There is no way back, and no future for the world you know. All the hopes and dreams of your race are ended now. You have given birth to your successors, and it is your tragedy that you will never understand them — will never even be able to communicate with their minds. Indeed, they will not possess minds as you know them. They will be a single entity, as you yourselves are the sums of your myriad cells. You will not think them human, and you will be right.
Yes, we are becoming two separate species, with the old conservative Homo sapiens stuck in their ways, trying in vain to hold the world back while the progressive and future looking people are slowly evolving beyond the comprehension of those who cling to their ancient rights. It won’t be long now before Homo sapiens becomes extinct, because, as Arthur says, the stars are not for man.
All that said, it’s a great book. Wonderfully written, thought provoking, intelligent sci-fi for progressive and future looking people who look towards the stars instead of into televisions.
This book is incredible, and truly deserves all the accolades it has received.
What i love about this book is that while the writing itself is simple and easy going, allowing the reader to just fall into the story without distraction, the story itself is incredible in its depth and scope.
I would definitely throw this book in with Black Swan Green into the teenage education syllabus.
Essentially a man with an IQ of 70 is given an operation and turned into a genius after the incredible success of performing the same procedure on a white mouse named Algernon. But where an isolated laboratory mouse appears a total success, a human being with a very challenging past that the new found intelligence has to come to terms with while navigating his way into a new life that he is completely unprepared for in every way, is a totally different story altogether.
For the first 15 years of my life i lived with a very damaged heart and was extremely ill and disabled, only to have my heart fixed at 15 and then left to come to terms with all that had happened to me. Needless to say, it didn’t go very well. And reading this book about a child who was extremely mentally disabled who suddenly gets fixed brought a lot of those old feelings from my own experiences back. At one point i almost gave up reading it, it became so upsetting. But the book is so well written and i just had to keep going to find out what happens to Charlie. I’m glad i did.
There is so much truth in this book about the way people are and how they treat those they perceive as lesser than, and also those they perceive as more than. Add to all that, there are also many parallels between Charlie’s story and the changes between drug addiction and sobriety. Which, again, i know from experience. There is, quite simply, a great deal for everyone to learn from this book.
And there’s also so much in this book that leaves me looking forward to reading it again in the future — after its percolated through my conciousness for a while — as i really don’t think one reading can ever do it the justice it deserves.
And that ending.