Alien Archaeology


Rama II, by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee – The sequel to Rendevous with Rama sees a new Raman spacecraft appearing in the solar system seventy years later, and a crew going to investigate it. Lee, a scientist who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and did much of the writing here, has a very different style from Clarke, focusing more on character intrigue than on hard science fiction. Although not obvious at first, the main character turns out to be Nicole des Jardins, the life science officer who has flashbacks to her spirit quest and affair with the Prince of Wales. I think the most notable character might have been Francesca Sabatini, the backstabbing journalist who wants to eliminate some of her fellow crew members for…some reason? I’m not entirely sure what her motivation was, other than fame and fortune. And there’s a fair amount of sex, although to be fair, I guess being stuck on a spaceship together for a long time would pretty much inevitably result in hook-ups. But yeah, the characters weren’t that interesting, and since they were much of the focus, it made the book more of a slog than the first. And the actual visits to Rama seemed like kind of a retread anyway. I was also a little bothered that the colonies on other planets had apparently failed in between the two books, when the interplanetary politics were pretty interesting in Rendevzous.


The Tabernacle of Legion, by Kevin Schillo – The author asked me to review this after I’d posted my Rendezvous with Rama review. There’s definitely a lot of influence from Rama here, with the plot being based around a future space mission to a mysterious alien artifact. There’s quite a bit on the arguments between the government and private industry in dealing with the issue, and later on there’s a horror element with a murderous alien collective that possesses humans. One flaw I noticed was the amount of telling rather than showing, which admittedly is something I’m probably often guilty of myself. I just noticed a fair amount of the author giving exposition about the future society, then saying something like, [character] thought this was a good idea.” There were some interesting ideas, including the mix of genres, but it probably could have used more editing.


Catwoman: A Celebration of 75 Years – A collection of comics centered around the sometimes villain and sometimes hero dating back to 1940, when she was simply a burglar known as “The Cat.” Later, she received the alias Catwoman and a greater emphasis on cat themes rather than just her being a cat burglar. In a crossover story with Superman in the Silver Age, she even had weird magic powers, including hypnosis and a wand she uses to turn Superman into a cat. What is consistent from the character’s beginnings is that the normally tough-on-crime Batman has a real soft spot for her, and that the attraction is mutual. I will say from having read a few of these collections that the more recent entries tend to be confusing. There’s some good characterization, but it really doesn’t seem like you can read newer DC stories without a lot of prior knowledge. Not that some Marvel titles aren’t like that as well. The thing is, if I’d started reading comics earlier in life, I don’t think that would bother me.

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4 Responses to Alien Archaeology

  1. rocketdave says:

    Man, it’s been so long since I read the Rama books, I mostly just remember them in the very broadest of strokes. To be fair, it’s been well over a quarter of a century, though I have trouble remembering details about books I read just a couple years ago. I couldn’t tell you what I thought about them at the time. I was just a kid, so I’m not sure my opinion would have counted for much anyway. I guess I must have thought they were decent reads, though I do remember parts that made me uncomfortable or frustrated, like the fact that that backstabbing journalist didn’t get any comeuppance. I remember nothing else about the character – what she did or why; I didn’t even remember she was a journalist. I just remember my pique at the unfairness of it all. If memory serves, there are quite a few examples of the worst of humanity in those books.

    The last book in the series kind of haunted me. It probably doesn’t really give anything away to say that the specific part that stuck with me for years afterward is a conversation Nicole des Jardins has about death, during which she philosophically muses that she’s nothing more than a collection of chemicals that temporarily achieved consciousness. To see it put so bluntly was a lot for my young mind to take in. Here I am reading a sci-fi novel about a mysterious giant spacecraft and octospiders, etc. and suddenly someone is like, “As far we know, when you die, nothing happens to you. You’re just dead.” I couldn’t fathom how someone could be so sanguine about the prospect of nonexistence.

    I don’t know if it would be worth my time to ever revisit the Rama books Clarke wrote with Gentry Lee, but I’ve been thinking I would like to go back and reread the original Rendezvous with Rama at some point.

    • Nathan says:

      Well, I just read the first two pretty recently, and I mostly remember them in broad strokes. I did like the first one, but I couldn’t tell you a lot of details about it.

  2. rocketdave says:

    Yeah, the first book is the one I remember the least well, and that probably has something to do with the fact that, as you say, unlike the sequels, the original had more emphasis on pure science fiction and less on human drama.

    I meant to say before, with regards to the Catwoman thing, part of the reason I’m not more of a comic book reader is that because there’s so much reliance on continuity these days and everything is so interconnected, you could go broke trying to keep up with what’s happening in the DC universe… or the Marvel universe or whatever. Older comics had far less sophisticated storytelling, but on the plus side, you could pick up some random issue and not have to worry about not being able to follow the plot.

    • Nathan says:

      Yeah, I don’t mind references for readers in the know, but they shouldn’t get in the way of the story being told. At least that’s what I try to do with my Oz stories, because I make a lot of obscure references, but try to write so that you don’t have to get them to understand the tale. How well I succeed is up to the reader.

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