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... – dominic fonde Dec 5 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. – Maury Markowitz Dec 5 at 16:21
up vote 37 down vote accepted

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 Dec 5 at 5:06
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    That book was so bleak I couldn't finish it... – jeffronicus Dec 5 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 Dec 5 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. – David Tonhofer Dec 5 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 Dec 6 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.

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 novel as people have suggested.

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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 Dec 6 at 13:16

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