Ah, yes. Rama. I actually read this with a torch under the blankets in an intense all-nighter back in the day. What I like about this book in retrospect is its complete lack of compromise as a work of SF. Characters? Who the frack needs 'em. Themes? Bah, pointless! All SF needs to be is an unbroken, brilliantly done description of an alien environment. I'm glad things have moved on since, but I'd still happily sit and read a book so single-mindedly in its purpose like this one.
In any genre of literature, you definitely have some people whose names tower above everyone else, and their influence could not be denied. However, people who like literature don't just read the so-called greats. Clarke certainly wrote some seminal works of SF, but he probably read many obscure works too, some of which may have influenced him. Readers don't just read the big name writers, but have a much bigger interest in the genre. A writer’s work only makes sense within a tradition and how it is situated along other people's work. It is all interlinked and some of the smaller voices may be bigger than critics acknowledge. For instance Clarke's influences aren't as well-known but what he learned from them is part of his work, so the voices remain powerful, and readers equally value preceding works. That doesn't mean that the big name writers don't deserve their place in history, but as fan of literature, I think sometimes, the bigger contributions are made by lesser known writers. I disagree with the assessment that Clarke left questions unanswered; world-building can get boring at the micro, non-plot-related level. This book was "sensawunda" in triplicate -- for the Ramans always did everything in threes. How about those tripodal cleansing things that whirled about? I'm not disappointed that Clarke had no sequel; when you look at 2001 on the screen, then read Clarke's rejected worlds, you realise that Kubrick was right to end with the “Star Child”.
If you're into SF, read on.