I'm looking for a novel I read, probably in the mid 1990s.

The story involved an alien vessel/asteroid coming through our solar system and a human ship going out to meet it and then being stuck on it as it continues out into deep space.

As they explored the alien vessel they encounter other alien races who are also stuck, some of them go round looking for new arrivals to steal all their technology.

When they first land they find spires sticking out of the surface that are rotating with near infinite torque so they use this to generate power.

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    Sounds superficially similar to the sequels to Rendezvous with Rama...
    – skyjack
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 3:51
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    Whenever these dead-alien-ship threads come up I'm always reminded of the best: Lem's story about the ship that discovered the dead alien ship but doesn't report it because it would take too long for ships to reach it and if they didn't find it by then he'd lose his job. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 16:21
  • @MauryMarkowitz, Arthur C. Clarke had a similar short story, of a near miss by an alien derelict. The guy who saw it was afraid that he'd be considered nuts if he reported it, be rotated back to Earth, and lose his fiance'. The last line was the character wondering if he would have done something different if he'd known she was going to marry someone else? Commented May 13, 2022 at 3:20

5 Answers 5


The timeline is a bit out, but I'm pretty sure the book you are looking for is Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds.

The story involved an alien vessel/asteroid coming through our solar system and a human ship going out to meet it and then being stuck on it as it continues out into deep space

The crew of the Rockhopper get tasked with following Saturn's moon Janus, after it ditches its disguise and starts heading out of the solar system. The Rockhopper gets caught in its wake and finds it impossible to stop, and so ends up travelling on Janus to its destination.

As they explored the alien vessel they encounter other alien races who are also stuck, some of them go round looking for new arrivals to steal all their technology

The Rockhopper eventually ends up in a giant structure which is populated by other species that have also been trapped. One of these species is the Musk Dogs, who along with several allies go around stealing technologies and resources of new arrivals.

When they first land they find spires sticking out of the surface that are rotating with near infinite torque so they use this to generate power

It's this part which makes it certain to me you are after Pushing Ice.

After finding a very slowly rotating spire and using its incredible torque to generate power, a technician is killed when he repeats a regular inspection several times in repetition around it - it's discovered that Janus punishes repetition, and so the crew take to carrying around methods of introducing randomness into their lives (dice etc).

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    that's the one, I recognise the name of the Musk Dogs, and I did go through a spell of reading Alastair Reynolds books. Thanks
    – mgh42
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 5:06
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    That book was so bleak I couldn't finish it... Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 17:19
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    @jeffronicus Alastair Reynolds has a habit of not finishing the story you want him to finish, and either leaving the real story dangling or just making it bleak. In pretty much all of his books, the mystery remains a mystery at the end, and often the driving focus of the book is unresolved.
    – Moo
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 18:47
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    The idea to perform alien abduction by pumping the captured samples through the galaxy and down time to a rendezvous point using an extremely-near-lightspeed trip was cool. Then it gets dark and mind-blowing. And then it it gets darker and mind-blowinger. And then the enormity of the trap crushes your mind. It's basically "2001 A Space Odyssey" where Clarke channels Lovecraft. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 19:19
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    @Moo, thanks for this (excellent!) answer, it's resulted in a trip to Amazon and me knowing what I'll be reading on the train home tonight =)
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 7:44

Seems like the Rama series of books by Arthur C. Clarke to me.

Rendezvous with Rama is a science fiction novel by British writer Arthur C. Clarke first published in 1973. Set in the 2130s, the story involves a 50-kilometre (31 mi) cylindrical alien starship that enters the Solar System. The story is told from the point of view of a group of human explorers who intercept the ship in an attempt to unlock its mysteries. The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards upon its release, and is regarded as one of the cornerstones in Clarke's bibliography. The concept was later extended with several sequels.

In the series there are gigantic cylinders passing through the solar system a few times. They have inhabitants from other species in them, and spires in at least one end that match your description.


It reminds me of The Silver Ships by Scott Jucha.

An explorer-tug captain, Alex Racine detects a damaged alien craft drifting into the system. Recognizing a once in a lifetime opportunity to make first contact, Alex pulls off a daring maneuver to latch on to the derelict.


I think you're referring to Eon by Greg Bear. Although initially published in 1985, it was republished in the early 1990s.

Events in Eon take place in 2005, when the U.S. and Soviet Union are on the verge of nuclear war. In that tense political climate, a 290 km asteroid is detected, following an anomalous and very powerful energy burst just outside the solar system. The asteroid moves into a highly eccentric Near-Earth orbit, and the two nations each try to claim this mysterious object (dubbed "the Stone" by the Americans and "the Potato" by the Soviets, with the Chinese using 鲸, meaning "whale").


The asteroid itself is an elongated prolate spheroid that appears to be virtually identical to Juno, a large asteroid in the main belt. It has been hollowed out along its long axis, subdivided into seven vast cylindrical chambers, and rotates to provide artificial gravity. The chambers are terraformed, with the second and third containing vast abandoned cities that have been maintained by automatic systems for centuries. As the Earth investigators explore the asteroid's interior, they make an even more stunning discovery: The end of the Stone's seventh chamber opens into a vast cylindrical corridor ("The Way") -- a "pocket universe" that extends far beyond the physical limit of the asteroid, and may possibly be infinite. These discoveries indicate both that the Stone's creators (who are dubbed the "Stoners") have mastered the technology to open portals into other dimensions and alternate universes, and that, for unknown reasons, these original inhabitants had been evacuated from the Stone at some time in its past, and could well be living somewhere further along the Way.


Meanwhile, the descendants of the Stone's creators (who indeed live a million kilometers along the Way, and who have been secretly observing the Earthlings since they arrived) have realized that, thanks to advanced information gleaned from the Stone's libraries, Vasquez is now close to discovering key scientific secrets of the Stone and the Way. To forestall this, and to prevent her from falling into the hands of the Soviet forces, Vasquez is kidnapped by two of the Stone's "future" inhabitants — Olmy, a humanoid agent of the Hexamon, and his nameless colleague, an alien known as a Frant. They take her to Axis City, the main settlement of the 'Stoners' and the various alien races with whom they are cooperating. Meanwhile, four of Vasquez's colleagues are searching for her using a specially-modified V/STOL craft that is connected to a "tuberider", a device that allows the craft to be 'hitched' to the tubular singularity that runs through the center of the Way, and to travel along it at high speed. They are intercepted when they near Axis City and reunited with Vasquez, but they soon find themselves enmeshed in the complex politics of the Hexamon, which is facing its own impending crisis in the form of a ruthless species of alien invaders called the Jart.

  • 1
    The OP has already accepted an answer with a different work to this so this is not it. However, you should still edit this to explain how it matches the OP’s description in case they are mistaken in their initial acceptance.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 19:21
  • And, of course, to help other people searching for a similar book who find this question via a search.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 19:36
  • No spires, but there are other matching factors like the alien spaceship traveling through, getting stuck, and encountering other alien races.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 20:10

Rendezvous with Rama was written by Arthur C Clarke in the 1970s and was also made into a movie. It fits your description, through there may be other similar novels as people have suggested.

The novel is set in the future and concerns a gigantic cylindrical spacecraft which passes relatively close to Earth and is given the name 'Rama'. The space exploration authorities of Earth decide to investigate the giant craft as it passes and dispatch a team of scientists and experts to explore and appraise.

The cylindrical design of the craft allows it to revolve on its long axis to generate its own gravity. It has been in space for centuries and is entirely automated, with a variety of machines including large centipede-like robots. After exploring the craft thoroughly the human team departs back to earth leaving Rama to continue on what is presumably a journey of exploration due to last for millennia.

The scientific team never find out who made Rama and can only assume what its purpose is.

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    This answer is a bit on the brief side could you edit to explain why this is the correct book? However, it is also worth mentioning that this has already been suggested by another user with more detail so you may wish to delete this as it isn't adding anything new at the moment.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 13:16
  • @TheLethalCarrot I am the author of the other answer, I like this one too (+1).
    – Marvel Boy
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 19:38
  • @Renan note this answer has been significantly improved since my initial comment.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 19:46

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