Imagine you are a child. Your parents have just told you they have a surprise for you, and are going to take you somewhere special. Excited, you let them blindfold you and get in the car. As the drive goes on, a million (or so it seems to your nine-year-old self) different possibilities pop into your head: is it Disneyland? Or better yet, Disneyworld? Are you going to get a puppy? Is it the beach? Or maybe it’s all a ruse, and they’re taking you to the dentist? Is it the zoo? You wonder how the seatbelt manages to contain so much anticipation condensed in one spot.
Suddenly, the car stops. The engine stills, and the sounds of a busy street come rushing in. Being told to keep the blindfold, you are led through some door.
A myriad of scents and sounds strike you like a shockwave. Some familiar, most new and sensual, the unexplored marketplace is awaiting at the tips of your fingers. What new toys will you find? What new smells? What new tastes? Running through the aisles, a new adventure is about to begin.
This is how I felt like while reading “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke. Telling about the first encounter with an alien artifact, the novel evoked within me a thrill of exploration and awe that no other book has ever managed to produce. It’s because of the questions, you see. As the human team of explorers investigate the artifact, they learn a few scattered bits about how it operates, what it can do, and why. But they are only scattered bits; the most vital parts are shrouded in mystery, and the book leaves many more open questions than answered ones. This puts upon you that luring sensation, that thumper of hearts, that there is so much that we don’t yet know – about our world, and about what we can do with it.
Through heavy use of (almost accurate) science and technology, Clarke indeed conveys the impression that such things are indistinguishable from magic; and how magical they can be! And he does this to great extent; turning the final pages, I could not snuff out the thought, that perhaps it’s a bit of a loss that I didn’t study robotics as well as mathematics. But not all is lost.
You see, the books you read, the ideas you come across, all help shape the way you think, all nudge you into some direction or other. I do not yet dare say that “Rendezvous with Rama” was “life-changing” – if only because I have just recently finished it, and life takes time to change. But I do know that the push it gave was a large one, and definitely in the right direction – forward.