on December 30, 2013
I think this is only my third one-star review of over 50 written, so please keep that in mind. It takes a lot for me to hand out a one-star, but Garden or Rama pulled it off. I really don't know how author collaborations work - how much did Clarke write? How much did Lee write? I'd hate to think AC Clarke had any more than passing input in this work, because it tarnishes the reputation of a Sci-Fi great, but there you have it.
To quickly summarize, this is essentially a book written in five parts, and that's how I'm going to review it. Throughout the book, you'll encounter contrived, unrealistic plot-devices-of-convinience, piles of unnecessary and boring sex (if you're going to write a sex scene, at least make it interesting), a little pre-planned incest (really), the author(s) strange obsession with marrying teenagers to old men, and several point-of-view characters semi religious/spiritual dreams and other assorted religious gibberish.
Here's the TL;DNR version: This book is horribly contrived, contains a host of shallow, mechanical characters and basically turns into the Jerry Springer show. Rama is practically non-existant. If you want to read a Sci-Fi book about Rama, go read Rendezvous With Rama again, because you'll get no Rama here.
Part i: Nicole's Journal - The returning cast that was left aboard Rama II, Nicole and Richard (now married) and Patrick O'Toole. This section of the book is basically a afternoon talk show drama in which Richard fathers two children with Nicole, who then decides she needs to have more kids with Patrick for some level of genetic diversity. See, her plan is that since they're the only humans around, her children will intermarry (and you thought I was kidding about the incest...wrong!) and carry on the species inside Rama. Richard gets jealous over Nicole's reproductive ideas with Patrick and runs off into Rama in a huff, not to be seen for several years. One hundred pages, five kids and 10 years later, Rama arrives at The Node. Occasionally we're reminded that all this is happening on an alien space craft the size of a small city moving at half of light speed through interstellar space, but that interesting stuff takes a deep back seat to the inter character drama. Good news - you can read this sentence, then just skip this section of the book: Richard, Nicole and Patrick along with their children (Simone, Katie, Benjay, Patrick Jr. and Ellie) arrive at the Node after a long trip aboard Rama.
Part II: The Node - This section of the book is actually interesting and feels more like a Clarke book. The previously mentioned characters arrive at the Node, another, even more massive Raman space structure. There, they meet their guide, "The Eagle" and a few other alien races, explore the wonders of the Node and discover that it's really just another waypoint designed to collect and catalog space-fairing beings like us humans. The Eagle then tells the human crew of Rama II that they will return to Mars orbit and put out a welcome mat for 2,000 more humans who will live inside a habitat in Rama for an unknown amount of time, along with, potentially, a few other alien species in separate habitats. Honestly, you can read The Node section of the book, then toss it out. Along, I'd give it 3.5 stars.
Part III: Rendezvous at Mars - Not nearly as interesting as it sounds. Simone and old man O'Toole stay at the Node per The Eagle's instructions and get married (Simone is 13, O'Toole is over 70 - first teen sex scene...yikes). Everyone else goes into suspended animation and they arrive at Mars. Alarmist government people on earth essentially lie to 2000 people, telling them that they're going to re-colonize Mars, but instead they get stuffed into Rama. No one really complains about this though. I guess it was easier to ignore the fact that a couple of thousand people were lied to in the biggest way imaginable than to have to explain that. Right, so this section is fairly boring. We're introduced to a host of new point of view characters, many of whom very closely resemble the characters from Rama II in all but name (making new characters is hard work...skip it!) The new characters are a cross-section of humanity, from saintly to Machiavellian. So we set up the inevitable showdown between former crime boss (Nakamura) and his followers vs supra geniuses Nicole and Richard who have had a long time to prepare for this. Guess who's going to come out on top?!? (It's not the really smart people who had a long time to prepare).
Part IV - Epithalamion: If you haven't stopped reading yet, kudos to you sir or ma'am, but the pain has only just begun. In this part of the book, things really derail quickly. Basically, a human habitat has been built inside Rama (because why have any of the amazing parts of Rama to investigate when you can just build a tiny little Earth inside it and bypass all the technical difficulty). Bad guy Nakamura basically runs rough shod over everyone and no attempt is made to get him under control until it's way too late. Smart people do stupid things, Nakamura is ahead of them at every turn and Part IV basically requires you to shut off your brain and not ask how or why at any point.
Like when Nakamura shows up on a yacht, "Where did he get a yacht?"
Quit asking question you!
"How did an economy that Nakamura controls come into being?"
Making up economies from nothing is hard, we skipped that part, stop with the questions!
"How did Max get a shotgun to break up that mob scene?"
Hey, if we can give a character a yacht, smuggling or producing guns must be easy despite a total lack of manufacturing. What did we tell you about the questions already!
Part V - The Trial - in which Nakamura, the mustache twirling big, bad, evil guy has taken total control. The humans find another habitat, owned by The Avians (who we met in Rama II), break into it, start a war (with machine guns and lots of other firepower - no idea where they got it from...that's not important, no questions, NO Questions!!) and slaughter scads of Avians. Richard escapes to help the Avians and meets their symbiotic partners then flees the Rama version of New York. Nicole is imprisoned, awaiting execution. Other meaningless stuff happens. You won't care at this point anyway.
The end - but not really, because it's continued in Rama Revealed. I bet that Nakamura guy gets his comeuppance, but I don't really care.
on January 19, 2005
Like many others who've reviewed this un-masterpiece, I expected big things from the sequels to Clarke's classic novel. Realizing that the three sequels were ghostwritten by someone named "Gentry Lee" only diminished my excitement slightly-- that is, until I read the first few pages of "Rama II". Still, I kept with it, hoping that things would pick up after Gentry got all the boring exposition out of the way. Didn't happen.
Now, after reading "Garden of Rama", I realize that I would rather have my fingernails plucked off with a rusty tweezers than suffer through the last installment.
Gentry Lee's writing style is the downfall of these books. It's hard to believe that Clarke would have allowed this hack to massacre one of his finest storylines, but it happened. Lee seems concerned more with creating cardboard cut-out, stereotypical characters, and tossing them into a cheap story to see how much sex he can make them all have. The two main characters, Richard and Nicole, seem to have sex several times a page. I can't figure out whether the spacecraft Rama is an alien experiment to observe humans or just to observe their sexual habits. Additionally, Lee goes waaaay overboard to try to make his non-European characters seem "authentic", e.g. the boring, endless Japanese cultural studies that prop up the character of Kenji Watanabe, who dies before he does anything important anyway; and of course, the accounts of Nicole's ridiculous "spirit journeys" with her tribal people, which I've learned to skim right over whenever they occur.
In all, terrible-- although if you want a manual for how NOT to write, "The Garden of Rama" works for that. I'm giving it two stars, though, because the parts that aren't straight soap opera, the ones that concentrate more on the aliens themselves and their technology, are at least interesting. Not enough to save this poor novel, though.
on July 18, 2002
It's not that I thought this book was awful, it's just that it didn't have much in it that I found very good. The original Rendezvous with Rama is a classic, filled with an environment that makes you wonder about the alien intelligence and crave for more.
These sequels, on the contrary, are set in the same "universe" but center around some Jerry Springer-esque quarrels amongst all the various humans. The notion that this has anything to do with Rama or aliens is secondary (or even tertiary) to the plot. In this installment, there are fleeting bits of the original wonder as the characters visit the "Node" and again when Richard visits the mysterious other dome towards the end. Sadly, this doesn't constitute very much of the overall book itself.
There are also some references that hit the reader with all the subtlety of an anvil to the head: the AIDS-like RV41 virus, Nicole's impending martyrdom and the constant (and fleeting) references to her heroes Joan of Arc and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the groaner where someone confuses Richard with Jesus. Social and religious commentary are the main themes of this book (as they were in Rama II). Science fiction is merely (and IMHO unfortunately) a backdrop.
on March 23, 2008
The downhill slide of Arthur C. Clarke's brilliant `Rendezvous with Rama' continues with this third installment in the series written largely by Gentry Lee. There are so many problems with this novel that I don't know where to begin. The series starts just where `Rama II` left off with Nicole des Jardins and her companions trapped in the Rama spacecraft as it heads off into the unknown. The fundamental problem with this book is, in my view, that about 80% of it has nothing to do with advancing the story. There are definitely some good ideas, but roughly 4/5ths of this book is boilerplate, pure and simple. The overlying themes easily hold your attention: Who built Rama? Why? Where are Nicole and her comrades going? What will be their fate? There is so much irrelevant material wasted on character development of minor players, politics, sex, and family relationships that don't advance the story. Don't get me wrong, these are all fine topics for novels in their own right, but hard sci-fi novels should spend 80% of the story on these types of threads.
This book is divided up into 5 sections of about 10-12 chapters each. The tone and style of each section is very different, almost as if each was written by a different writer. The first section is written in journal format, as Nicole describes the intrepid adventurers life aboard Rama as it heads into the unknown. There is some interesting discussion and speculation about Rama, but large parts of this section are taken up describing how to make a stable civilization with only two men and one woman and how they have to breed to make genetically viable children. The second section is set several years later as Rama has arrived at its destination and there are now several children frolicking about. We learn a bit about the Ramas (enough to whet our appetite), but most of the discussion is about family relationships again. The third section is totally pointless. It is entirely about (new) character development for people who play insignificant roles for the rest of the book. You can completely skip the third section without any loss of continuity. I won't reveal much about the fourth and fifth section only to say that it is more of a political and familial story, very little sci-fi. That being said, the aliens encountered in the last 100 pages or so are definitely interesting.
There are definitely some good ideas in the book, but they are deeply buried amongst a mountain of chaff. If you liked `Rendezvous with Rama' you will almost certainly be disappointed with this book. Not a total waste of time, and I'm a glutton for punishment so I'll probably read `Rama Revealed'. Additionally, I get the sense that Gentry Lee was trying to make some profound statement about human nature in this story (about intellect over tribalism). Much of the best sci-fi of course explores timeless themes of human interest and offer some unique insights into human society. If this was in fact the case, I didn't find his moralizing particularly compelling. Bottom line - without the link to RWR, this book would not be worth reading. There is too little of merit in this 500+ page novel to justify spending the time to read it when you can easily find hundreds of more interesting works.