THE GARDEN OF RAMA
Picking up where Rama II (1989) left off, this latest effort from Clarke and Lee is as disappointing as their others. Nicole, Richard and Michael--the three cosmonauts trapped on the Rama II ship as it headed out of our solar system-muddle along together as the ship accelerates toward Sirius. After a 12-year trip, during which Nicole bears five children, the family arrives at the Node, a giant space station where they undergo extensive tests before being sent back to Earth in a refurbished Rama vessel with accommodations for 2000 human specimens. The Rama colony is established with remarkably little strife, but as the new Rama departs our system again, an unpleasant criminal element arises to challenge Nicole's peaceful, enlightened leadership. The turgid pace and lengthy digressive lumps make this installment a chore to read, and Nicole's unflagging pious virtue is an endless irritation. Worse, there is an utter lack of traditional sf strengths: the people, cultures, and habits of this 23rd century are hardly different from our own--instead, the authors settle for unsubtle parallels to modern perils such as AIDS, ecological disaster, and totalitarian repression--and all of the speculative concepts are shopworn. Crude attempts to jumpstart the reader's sense of wonder with repeated insistence that the characters are awed, amazed, and overwhelmed by the rather routine vistas they encounter serve only to underline the lack of the genuine goods here.