RWR Chapter 12: The Stairway of the Gods

Group reads of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama and the books that follow. Discuss all things Clarke: 2001 a Space Odyssey, Childhoods End, Fountains of Paradise, A Fall of Moondust and many more

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RWR Chapter 12: The Stairway of the Gods

Postby Moonwatcher » Wed Sep 02, 2009 4:39 am

A trio, led by Commander Norton, descends the immense stairway that leads down to the Plain of Rama - five kilometres below them! Honestly it's very hard to visualize the size of such a construct without an illustration.

Norton and company are able to do their expedition without mechanical oxygen aid, as Rama's atmosphere sustains them. Also as they descend further down the stairs, Rama's gravity due to its centrifugal spin exerts a greater hold. Norton is struck by the memory of his visit to an Aztec temple, whose stairs had given him a similar sense of awe. Yet the scale of Rama was so much greater that it left Norton unable to grasp it all. I think that must be true for most of us. In our everyday lives we don't encounter objects of tremendous size, except maybe skyscrapers - and that's only if you live in a major metropolis. But even a tall building is something we can more or less deconstruct in our mind's eye: we know it's not one single massive block of material; rather, it's put together piece by piece. Yet Rama was this single sculpted piece of metal, as were its three giant stairways - things completely outside normal human frames of reference.

As they walk down, Norton struggles with a mystery: how is it that Rama can be so ancient and yet look so new, as if it had been built just yesterday? He figures that what they've seen so far must be part of some back-up system that was never needed by the Ramans, or that it was only needed during construction of Rama itself. But Norton isn't quite satisfied with those guesses.

When the stairway ends and the Endeavour trio suddenly finds itself on the Plain, Norton reports his impressions back to the ship for transmission to Earth's news services. This seems quaint now, in light of today's sophisticated video recording technologies. Still, nothing beats hearing the voice of the person who is there, witnessing things first hand. He isn't just describing what he's seeing, but imbuing his words with human emotion which gives them value. According to Norton, it's very cold and very quiet inside Rama - quieter than any place he's ever been. Also, the space is so huge that there is no echo. (That is a nice and subtle detail conveying the size of Rama's interior.)

One of the trio, Joe Calvert, hypothesizes that the Ramans are humanoid but taller than humans. Also, he posits the idea that maybe all intelligent life in the universe consists of "oxygen eaters" based on the only two examples they now know of - humans and Ramans.

Boris Rodrigo is maybe the most interesting member of the Endeavour team. He is a Cosmonaut of the Fifth Church of Christ, whose main tenet held that Jesus Christ was a visitor from space. (This immediately made me wonder if L. Ron Hubbard got the basis for Scientology from that. Probably not, but the similarity is there.) Thus, a high proportion of "Cosmo Christers" have careers working in space in one way or another. They are conscientious, highly competent people. Rodrigo is well-liked by his crewmates, though he stands a little aloof from them. I think Clarke included a person of faith in this story because he wanted to comment on how something like Rama, representing alien intelligence, might affect a person's views about God - whether their views might be challenged...or confirmed.

The chapter ends with the company agreeing to go to the "town" they've dubbed Paris.
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