by Arthur C. Clarke
i like world-building in science fiction and fantasy. in these modern times, extensive world-building is commonly derided... it is often seen as a lazy way to create a world, telling not showing, an author so in love with something they've built that they just want to describe instead of allowing the reader to slowly experience. i understand that point of view; world-building can often be seen as a glorified, masturbatory info-dump. but for some reason, it just doesn't bother me too much. i think this is because with good world-building, i feel like i am looking at a kind of work of art created by the author - a rather nerdy work of art, sure - but still something that a person has put a lot of thought, energy, and passion into. i really respond to all those details that the author is in love with sharing. but maybe i just have a high threshold for these kinds of things, as i'm also the kind of person who likes to hear all the details in a person's dreams.
Rendezvous takes world-building to a different sort of place: Clarke is artifact-building. the amazing alien spaceship Rama is indeed amazing; almost the entire novel is devoted to exploring this gigantic vessel. most of the narrative is in service to purely descriptive passages of Rama; everything else is either minimal characterization or political discussions from various scientists & ambassador types about how to respond to Rama. all of this very focused world-building has the potential for much boredom and irritation. but i never felt that; the author's love for his creation is too clear, his details are too meticulous, his sense of wonder and his ability to concretely illustrate the almost-unknowable are too skilled, too palpable. despite my feeling that this novel essentially functions as a prologue to the 'real' action to come, i got caught up in Clarke's passion and enjoyed it all.
for such a man of science and large-scale concepts, Clarke is a surprisingly warm writer. his characters are pleasant - and real. there are no grand villains, at least not in this initial volume of the series. and he has a sense of humor - particularly around sex (one character is described as having no interest in anything outside of work, except for sports and sex - preferably combined; a high-level scholar is described as originally making his reputation through researching "puberty rites in late-twentieth-century Beverly Hills"). for all of the high-falutin' ideas on display, there is zero pretension present in Rendezvous.
although the novel ends before anything actually happens, there does seem to be interesting directions that the series could go. the slight mining of sexuality and gender roles could lead somewhere. and politics - particularly around how government responds to the unknown - are clearly an intriguing next step. i'm looking forward to seeing how this series pans out.
all that said, as far as Giant Mysterious Alien Artifacts go, right now my favorite is still Greg Bear's Eon - which in many ways appears to be an homage to Rama.