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Rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama is a novel by Arthur C. Clarke first published in 1972. Set in the 22nd century, the story involves a thirty-mile-long cylindrical alien starship that passes through Earth's solar system on its way to somewhere else, and a group of human explorers sent to examine it. The story is told from the point of view of the humans, and the nature and purpose of the starship and its creators remains enigmatic.

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers.

The "Rama" of the title is the starship, which is initially mistaken for a comet and named after the Hindu deity. (By the 22nd century, we are told, scientists have run out of Roman mythological figures to name astronomical bodies after.)

The book was meant to be a stand-alone, but the final sentence of the book convinced almost everyone who read it that there would be at least two more sequels:

And on far-off Earth, Dr Carlisle Perera had as yet told no one how he had woken from a restless sleep with the message from his subconscious still echoing in his brain: The Ramans do everything in threes.

Facing such enormous pressure, Clarke paired up with Gentry Lee for the remainder of the series.

Books in the series:

Gentry Lee also wrote two further novels set in the same Rama Universe.

A movie based on this novel, starring Morgan Freeman, is set to be released in 2006.