Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: Rendezvous with Rama

It’s interesting that this book won so many awards in its day. It’s kind of like archeological science fiction.

Most of the plot centres around Commander Norton, his crew and their spaceship Endeavour as they search the mysterious ship Rama that has entered the solar system and approaches the sun. They only have 2 weeks to explore as much as they can before they get too close to the sun.

There’s some inter-planetary politics and some jostling among eminent scientists that form the Rama Committee but most of the action is in Rama itself.

Rama is at first a dead thing, lifeless, frozen and inert but as the sun warms it up, it starts to get more interesting…

So it was good. I found myself having a hard time imagining what everything looked like though. I guess trying to describe alien things would be difficult. It was near the end where the image of Rama solidified in my brain. However, it was all sort of general. I kind of wanted more details but I guess that is what makes the mystery.

Though halfway through there was something that irked me quite a lot. Most of the characters were all dudes, reflecting once again the 1970s. It was a little better though Commander Norton has 2 wives and randomly sleeps with the doctor on the Endeavour (I found that rather lame). There were 2 astronauts (guys) who were partnered and shared a wife between them. It was all rather polyamorous (Norton’s 2 wives live on different planets though). However, aside from 1 scientist on the Rama Committee and 1 other crew member, there aren’t any other women. So out of the about 6 women mentioned, Commander Norton has had sex with 3 of them. Sigh.

At least there were two women out in space (out of potentially 20). Also on the Rama Committee there is only one woman.

It’s just all rather sad again to think that even though it’s 200 years in the future, we stil have a 10-1 ration of women to men in positions of power or exploring space. I thnk we’re better than that now. We can imagine a giant alien craft coming into the solar system but women other than people men can sleep with? Don’t want to lose the audience…

It made me think we need some sort of Bechdel test for science fiction to rate how progressive it is. I think it should be bit harder than the Bechdel test because it’s supposed to be the future.

So:

1: does it have at least 2 female characters
2: is one of them a main character
3: do they have an interesting profession/level of skill with male characters

I would give bonus points if:

4: they talk about gender equality (eg, The Dispossessed)
5: the ratio of female to male characters is 50/50

So. If we apply this test to the sci-fi I’ve already read this year:

Dune: Totally fails. There are more than 2 female characters and though there is a female character as a main character (and she is a powerful) she’s a concubine. The rest of the female characters are peripheral and none of them have the same status as male characters. Also, no where to the meet gender parity.

Out of the Silent Planet: Also totally fails. I think there’s only one woman who has a speaking part and that’s for about 1 page. SO FAIL.

Childhood’s End: Also fail. There’s basically one main female character that you could call a main character. She’s also the wife of another character and doesn’t seem to have a job. None of the action really centres around her, she’s a catalyst for other things to happen.

Ancillary Justice: I think passes. If only because we can’t tell what gender people are. Because the default pronoun is her, I just identified everyone as a woman.

Forever War: Fuck no.

The Dispossessed. I think so. Though the main female character is the wife of the main character. She does however, have an equal skill as a scientiest. It does get bonus points for talking about gender equality. I think there are still more male characters than female though.

Rendevous with Rama. Barely passes. So I give it 3/5 stars.

I’ll see if I can keep this up or modify the test as I go along. It shouldn’t be that hard to find some books that pass..right…RIGHT….

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