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The book is ~20 years old. Its plot is a gigantic spaceship (builders unknown) that passes through our solar system and a delegation from Earth is sent and discovers multiple species of aliens. There was a follow up book that explored a space in the center of the ship that was hell like.

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    The one that pops immediately to mind is Rendezvous with Rama; have you eliminated any possibilities?
    – DavidW
    Sep 19, 2023 at 18:52
  • Or [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eon_(novel)] (Eon) by Greg Bear. Technically not really a spaceship but a stable asteroïd. But delegations from Earth are sent and discovers multiple species of aliens.
    – Kir Kanos
    Sep 20, 2023 at 13:23
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    What a nice question! Uncovers basically an entire sub-genre. Sep 21, 2023 at 11:46
  • @DavidW The book in question is described as about 20 years old, so that eliminates Rama. Sep 22, 2023 at 17:19

4 Answers 4

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This is Marrow, the first of the Great Ship novels by Robert Reed.

When a jovian-sized, artificially-created structure enters the galaxy, a society of technologically advanced humans (capable of interstellar flight and functionally immortal) are the first to intercept and investigate it. Finding it to be an intergalactic ship, they decide to convert it into a cruise ship, inviting alien races to join them in its massive, uncharted interior as it makes a slow circumnavigation of the Milky Way.

enter image description here

A key plot point is that a group of explorer get stuck on a planet lurking at the centre of this ship. It has energetic volcanism and is really quite an unpleasant environment.

After thousands of years, with over 200 billion creatures living in its upper levels, a group of explorers discover a planet hidden in the core of the Great Ship. As they explore it, however, an ionic blast cuts them off from the rest of the ship and destroys much of their technology. Because this planet, Marrow, is slowly expanding, the explorers reason that a new bridge can be built in another 5,000 years. They thus begin a civilization on the surface of Marrow.

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This could be the Rendezvous with Rama series, depending on what you mean by hell at the centre.

  • The spaceship(s) have picked up multiple species as they pass through various systems
  • The destination is a kind of heaven, and has some religious connotations. Not all of the alien individuals or species qualify for ascension
  • The experiences of the alien races on the ship can be seen as a metaphor for hell
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    "a delegation...discovers multiple species of aliens." The humans who entered Rama discovered what they called "biots" (portmantau of "biological robots.") The biots resembled biological organisms, but none of them, as I recall, seemed to be any more intelligent than an insect. They issued from seeming automated factories as Rama approached the Sun, they performed various, obscure tasks, and then they all disappeared (back to their factories? into the central sea? I forget) when Rama was moving back toward interstellar space. They basically ignored the humans when the humans tried to interact. Sep 19, 2023 at 19:27
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    Yeah, I guess there were no real aliens in the first book. Rama II had the Avians, "octospiders" and "myrmicats". Iirc the eagle headed folk (builders of the spaceships) didn't show up until the 3rd book in the series Sep 19, 2023 at 19:30
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    @SolomonSlow Don't bother reading them - sequels in name only and written by someone else with minor input from Clarke. Vastly inferior.
    – OmnivoreNZ
    Sep 19, 2023 at 19:41
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    I'll double down on @OmnivoreNZ's comment - the sequels are ... not great ... I did read them all, mind you, #OCD. Sep 19, 2023 at 19:43
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    @Thierry TBH I wouldn't rate the original, except for completists who want to cover Golden Age SF. My short summary of RwR would be "exploring an alien space ship, but made really boring". ;) Clarke was a great conceptual thinker, but I'm not convinced about his ability to write characters or plot around those concepts. (Although he was still better than the hack he worked with on the sequels.)
    – Graham
    Sep 20, 2023 at 6:37
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As I remember, another book with a similar plot of a giant spaceship entering the solar system and astronauts visiting it was James White's All Judgement Fled 1966.

Science fiction writer Mike Resnick called the novel "Rendezvous with Rama done right."

https://www.reddit.com/r/printSF/comments/6t52gp/all_judgment_fled_by_james_white/

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Possibly Colin Greenland's Take Back Plenty (1990)

The giant spaceship is called Plenty. If I recall correctly, it isn't inhabited when the delegation from Earth gets there, but it soon becomes populated by an assortment of alien species from the (non-realistic) Solar System and sets off for distant stars. The sequel, Seasons of Plenty, explores the strange interior of Plenty, which has some horrible elements. In the third and last book, Mother of Plenty, Plenty arrives at a star inhabited by hostile aliens, and the protagonist must fight to save herself and her friends.

enter image description here

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    Looks like what the cover is emphasizing has nothing much to do with the actual book, in classic Sci-Fi tradition!
    – davidbak
    Sep 20, 2023 at 18:17
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    Isn't that a Commodore 64 ?
    – HenningNT
    Sep 21, 2023 at 6:42
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    @davidbak It is probably of vital importance to show in unambiguous fashion that you are a mammalian species! (And, as a minor detail, that you typically don't have more than two infants at once which indicates intense brood care.) Sep 21, 2023 at 11:42

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