The function of Rama, the alien artifact first encountered in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ and expanded upon in a series of sequels written by Clarke and Gentry Lee, is nowhere near as clear as the function of this novel and its prequel, ‘Bright Messengers’, and that is to give us the back story of the child Maria, found abandoned in the closing stages of Clarke and Lee’s ‘Rama Revealed’.
However, by the time we find that out, it is likely that all the reader’s patience with this exercise will have been exhausted. ‘Bright Messengers’ at least had the benefit of two strong (if barely credible) characters, Beatrice and Yasin. One was impossibly good and competent; the other was highly unlikeable and showed no evidence of the advance of human thought or emotional development in 150-odd years. This book has no interesting characters, and the events just meander on to set up the characters and the situation. The last thirty-five pages catapult the action forward to the setting of ‘Rama Revealed’ without any preamble; I had to refer back to the earlier book to establish what was going on, and even then there were no real answers. (It may even be that these 35 pages were excised from ‘Rama Revealed’ by a wily editor…)
I had the feeling that the author was just writing the novel in the form of an outline to get to the ending that he visualised, because many events and personal relationships are just told almost in the sense of a history book. There are big info-dumps to move the action on, and mostly these just introduce yet another alien creature that is given a silly name. Throughout, the author’s own personal religious viewpoint is barely disguised; there are sections that read like some sort of moralistic tract; and there is a recurrent theme of older men being offered polyamourous sex with much younger women. As Ian Fleming said, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence but three times….
Readers wanting more insight into the Rama universe will find nothing new here. And I doubt that there are sufficient readers with such a great involvement with the Rama universe who will care that much about the back stories of characters introduced towards the end of a different novel five years earlier.