I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
The Gripping Hand (1993) is Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s sequel to their popular 1974 novel The Mote in God’s Eye, which you probably want to read first. This review will have a couple of spoilers for The Mote in God’s Eye.
Recall that by the year 3017 AD, humans had designed the Alderson Drive — an interstellar transporter which allowed them to jump out of our galaxy to colonize different star systems. Then they discovered the first alien species — the Moties — who were excellent engineers but did not know the science behind the Alderson Drive. The Moties must breed to survive and were quickly overpopulating their own star system. Because they represent a major threat to our species, the human space navy has been guarding the only known gateway out of the Motie system so they can’t escape.
Twenty-five years later, His Excellency Horace Bury, a billionaire merchant trader, and his charismatic pilot, Sir Captain Kevin Renner, are spying for the human navy as they go about their usual business. Their navy job is to keep an ear and eye out for rumors of revolt against the empire but, because of their previous experience with the Moties, they also listen for anything that might hint that the Moties are trying to escape their system. Recently they’ve started hearing people use the term “the gripping hand,” an idiom that only makes sense to the Moties because of their peculiar anatomy. Bury and Renner suspect that some group of humans might be working with the Moties. This leads the duo to the planet Sparta to investigate, and then on to inspect the naval blockade of the Motie system. As they worry about an imminent Motie break-out, they discover that the Moties lied to them 25 years ago. After talking with cultural anthropologist Sally Fowler, who was also in the original delegation to the Motie system, they also discover a possible permanent solution to the Motie problem. The human race doesn’t know it yet, but they’re depending on Bury and Renner to solve all these problems and keep them safe.
In my review of The Mote in God’s Eye, I reported that I enjoyed that book’s mystery, its exploration of an alien civilization, and its occasional humor. My complaints were that the prose lacks style, the characterization is shallow, there is way too much dialogue, and it feels old-fashioned for a story set in 3017 AD. Unfortunately, The Gripping Hand suffers from all of the issues I listed as “complaints” and retains none of the good features of The Mote in God’s Eye. The book is excessively talky as the characters (who are still shallow) move from meeting to meeting, trying to decide what to do about the Moties. Their talking wore me out and eventually I started to zone out during the meetings. I totally agreed with one of the characters who said “I wish you had a fast forward button, Kevin” and groaned when Kevin later said “I may have to lecture.” And unfortunately, Kevin is actually the most interesting character in the book.
The Gripping Hand was published in 1993 and the story is set in 3042, yet Niven and Pournelle’s female characters feel like they were written in 1970. I can tell that the authors have tried to make the ladies seem modern by making them educated and letting them sleep around, but they’re still treated as sex objects. Each (except for Sally, because she’s the older married woman) is sized up for her physical attributes and how “expensive” she is. In one restaurant where Kevin is eating, he says the men are “very busy” and the women are “expensive.” This seems like an old-fashioned way to think about women. Each woman also has to be a sexual partner for one of the men (they can’t just be single) and we’re told when the female reporter is and isn’t wearing underwear. There are numerous little places where Niven and Pournelle try but fail to convince me that their women are modern. Even the character names feel like 1970: Kevin, Jennifer, Sally, Sandy, Glenda Ruth, Cynthia, Joyce, Horace. I just couldn’t believe this was the advanced human society of 3042 AD. If so, it seems we’ve regressed.
I know that this is simply an issue of two 60 year old men (they are now around 80) trying to write modern female characters. They probably can’t help it, poor guys. I could have forgiven the sexism if The Gripping Hand had been exciting, but it’s not. It’s boring.
I listened to the audio version produced by Audible Studios and read by L.J. Ganser. This was a nice production. Too bad it was so boring.
Pournelle and Niven have written some great stuff and this is a stand out. For once an alien race (the "moties") that is different and self-consistent is portrayed in a sympathetic light. I would recommend that you read "The mote in God's eye" first but not essential. One of the best Sci Fi novels from the recent era.
I'm a apocalyptic story fanatic...maybe that's why I prep. I've read to0 many end of the world as you know it books.
It was ok but I had a hard time following the story line a lot of times. There seemed to be a lot of unimportant nonsense mixed in. Perhaps this was the authors method of building depth to the story/characters but I found it derailed the plot.
The first book was better...however, I found that the author trying to pass creatures that can modify and improve advanced technology as unintelligent animals was more than a stretch.
Lover of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, and westerns in all media, including old-time radio dramatizations.
I enjoyed both the story and the performance, but neither left me begging for more. 'The Mote in God'd Eye' should definitely be experienced, first. Don't expect any new ideas or entertaining twists. It's solid scifi, but that's all.
I've been a fan of the Niven/Pournelle team forever. But apparently even the best have their bad turns, and The Gripping Hand is theirs. It's probably okay if you're still under the thrall of The Mote, so you don't notice how bad this one is. Otherwise though, this book does NOT stand alone as anything worth reading. Sorry, but that's just how it is.
The story is a bit slow and seems especially drawn out at the end. The characters are not particularly well developed except for the main 2 or 3. Several of the situations that caused major plot events seemed implausible. If you liked, The Mote in God's Eye, this one falls well short of the mark set by the classic.
I generally enjoy Niven/Pournelle books (Niven more so) ... but this one was rather uninspired. Nothing new was introduced, the characters weren't so interesting, there was no internal conflicts ... just recycled stuff to get the page count up so they could get paid.
I am an avid lover of books and stories. Audible has provided a great outlet for me to read when otherwise I couldn't. I love dogs.
The logic flowed
Yes. Who would not
The Moties were well done.
No, simply enjoyable.
No, it met my expectations.