Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
Like other reviewers, I was looking forward to re-living my youthful nostalgia about this book. Unfortunately, time, as they say, can be unkind. Sure there is the realisation that this book was a forerunner; that it went where others had barely thought to go before it; that it has so many coincidences with Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek" franchise (from the irascible Scots Engineer to the naive Soviet Midshipman, warp speed and hyper-space); and that it was a darn fine piece of SF in its day - but its day has passed. The chauvinism (gender, nationalist and just humancentric) grates after a while. I know that was part of the message, but the humans are just too damn smug and condescending. Then there is a very unlikeable love interest (Sally), a bit too much monarchy and not enough science anymore. When I first read it I remember the science being intriguing. I guess I was in high school then and now people are beginning to debate if E=MC2!
For all that, I'm glad I re-visited the book because there are still some parts of it that are fascinating (like the Moteys themselves), the undiscovered history of their civilizations (like our own incomplete fossil record) and the catastrophic rise and fall of species (now keenly debated amongst biologists and palaeontologists). But hell, I was making up most of this interest because it was not part of the original sub-text, so there was only so far I could push it.
The worst thing however was the audio performance. I regret to say I found Mr Ganser's interpretations flat and unconvincing. He must have one of the worst scottish accents in the business and his transitions between characters were inconsistent and unsustained (with the exception of the Soviet Admiral, which he did passably well). The "Sally" voice was woeful.
All up, unless you are re-living a memory like I was, I'd give this a miss. Really it's a 1.5 at best (but nostalgia must count for something).
This was written some time in the 70's so technology that we have today wasn't even dreamed of yet, but the story is worth listening to. A bit on the long side, but so was Lucifer's Hammer.
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
The Mote in God’s Eye, co-written by frequent collaborators Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, is a classic First Contact science fiction story which Robert A. Heinlein called “possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read.” The story takes place in 3017 AD in the future of Jerry Pournelle’s CODOMINION universe (though it’s not necessary to have read any of those books to enjoy The Mote in God’s Eye). Humans have developed the Alderson Drive which allows them to immediately jump to certain points in space. Thus they’ve been able to colonize many planets which are ruled by a single government similar to the British monarchy.
Up to this point humans have assumed they’re the only intelligent species in the universe, but an alien spaceship has just been detected near the Mote system. The spaceship MacArthur, captained by Lord Roderick Blaine, is dispatched to intercept the alien. Besides its regular crew, MacArthur has a couple of civilian passengers temporarily on board: Horace Bury, a trader and political prisoner, and Sally Fowler, a cultural anthropologist (how fortuitous) and senator’s niece.
It turns out that the alien in the probe ship is dead, but the humans figure out where the home planet must be, so Roderick Blaine, Sally Fowler, Horace Bury, a priest, the crew of MacArthur and a team of scientists are sent on a diplomatic mission to the planet they call Mote Prime. The ship Lenin is sent for back up. It’s captained by Admiral Kutuzov, a ruthless but effective man whose job is to not let the Moties learn anything that could help them build an Alderson Drive and escape the bounds of their own solar system.
Upon arrival at Mote Prime the diplomats find that the Moties are friendly and want to be allies. An alliance and trade agreement with the Moties would be beneficial to the human empire because, except for the lack of an Alderson Drive, the Moties are far more technologically advanced. But that means they’re also a threat. The diplomatic mission must discover all they can about the Motie society so it can make a recommendation to the empire about how to deal with this species they’re sharing the universe with. This, of course, is not as easy as it seems. Do the Moties really have pure intentions toward the humans, or are they deceiving them for some reason?
The Mote in God’s Eye, published in 1974, is a nice change of pace from most of the human vs. alien science fiction that had been previously published. Niven and Pournelle create a truly alien society and explore its evolution, history, sociology, and motivations. The story is compelling because Niven and Pournelle capitalize on the mystery, leaving the reader as much in the dark about the Moties’ true intentions as the human characters are. The truth is surprising (though, I thought, not completely believable).
Niven and Pournelle write unique stories but they’re not superior stylists; I read their books for the plot and ideas — not to admire their use of structure or language. This particular story is interesting, has a few great characters (Blaine, Kutuzov, the priest, and the Brownie aliens), and has an occasional nice touch of humor, but it sometimes suffers from shallow characterization, excessive dialogue, and an old-fashioned feel. The action is exciting, but limited. There is a lot of the normal “hard SF” explanation of drives, fields, stars, ships, etc, but there are also a lot of meetings in which the humans (or aliens) are trying to figure out what the aliens (or humans) know, assume, intend, and plan. Some of this was amusing (for example when the aliens are trying to figure out some aspects of human behavior) but many of the discussions just go on too long. Also, for a story set in 3017, ideas about birth control, sex, and women’s roles in society feel rather quaint.
The Mote in God’s Eye was published in 1974 and nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. Nearly 20 years later Niven and Pournelle published a sequel called The Gripping Hand. It was not well received so, in 2010, Jerry Pournelle’s daughter J.R. Pournelle wrote and published another sequel called Outies.
I listened to Audible Frontier’s audio version of The Mote in God’s Eye. L.J. Ganser does a great job with the narration. This title has recently been released in CD format by Brilliance Audio.
This story is showing it's age in attitudes toward women, and in it's science. The characters, even the scientists, expect aliens to have have the same motivations and concerns as humans. It is distracting.
The alien race is very original and the story is epic in scale. If you have an interest in older sci-fi, it is worth listening to.
This is one of the worst audio books I've ever listened to. The story is terrible and the performance is awful.
These "old/classic" sci-fi writers seem to get bored with their works and leave me swinging in the breeze. I find this in the writings of Heinlein, and Asimov and now Niven. The stories start out great, and then it's like... THE END.
What just happened?
After colonizing 200 planets the human civilization discovers the first planet populated by a non human species. This civilization has existed for more than 700,000 years and differentiated itself into various subspecies. They have colonized their entire solar system and even collected and mined all the asteroids. They appear to have solved the problems of war and disease. However although they possess superior intelligence, they have not yet developed any way to leave their one solar system.
Here is a fascinating study of intragalactic power, politics and intrigue.
An interesting read. A good change from modern sci-fi movies where man overcomes the odds through acts of selfless bravery; or where the monsters are clearly the villains.
The Mote demonstrates that thought, specifically the paradigm of a society, creates conflict - removing the need for the traditional (or maybe arch-typical?) villainous motives.
Eager to read the sequel.
Very Dated. Very stupid. Kinda like Buck Rodgers meets the Ewoks. After 5 years of Premium membership this is only the 2nd book I could not finish. If you are looking for Lucifer's Hammer, move along. This is not the book you are looking for.