Robert Heinlein called it "possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read". The San Francisco Chronicle declared that "as science fiction, The Mote in God's Eye is one of the most important novels ever published". Now Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, award-winning authors of such best sellers as Footfall and The Legacy of Heorot, return us to the Mote, and to the universe of Kevin Renner and Horace Bury, of Rod Blaine and Sally Fowler.
There, 25 years have passed since humanity quarantined the mysterious aliens known as Moties within the confines of their own solar system. They have spent a quarter century analyzing and agonizing over the deadly threat posed by the only aliens mankind has ever encountered - a race divided into distinct biological forms, each serving a different function: Master, Mediator, Engineer, Warrior. Each supremely adapted to its task, yet doomed by millions of years of evolution to an inescapable fate. For the Moties must breed - or die. And now the fragile wall separating them and the galaxy beyond is beginning to crumble.
©1993 Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
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.
I don't know who would enjoy this book after the first one. It was a fairly miserable sequel.
The performance wasn't that bad, the story was the problem.
Not really. Too silly on an ending, the characters got weak.
I wish I'd liked it.
The story is excellent , just like the first book you can get lost in the details and multiple number of characters. Do not expect a summary of events in this squeal, it only mentions events from the first book as the story progresses.
I have never finished this novel despite The Mote in God's Eye being my favorite novel. I don't know if it was my extremely high expectations or I was just judging it too harshly. Well I listened to this and I really enjoyed it and found it to be a decent sequel to "The Mote" I think the reader "who was excellent" really brought the novel to life and greatly enhanced the experience. So thanks Audible I am really glad I listened to this. Well Done!
Say something about yourself!
"The Mote in God's Eye" is one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels. When it appeared it took a truly novel, very anthropological approach to the subject of aliens, and it managed to make the Moties some of the most interesting aliens in the world of science fiction. This sequel picks up the story several decades after the original and spends the first half of the book reintroducing characters, reprising the plot line of the first book, and introducing a few new players (most of them descendents of people in the original). This reintroduction is long, tedious for someone who has read the original, and probably confusing for someone who hasn't. The second half picks up the pace because the Moties are back in the picture, and Pournelle and Niven do a great job of extrapolating the effects that contact with humans would have had on the Motie civilization. In summary, you definitely have to read the first book before you read this one, at which point you should fast forward through the first half of Gripping Hand as fast as your audio player will allow -- or get the WhisperSync version and skim to the middle and THEN listen. Ganser's narration is solid, but not worth the hours of listening required to get to the good stuff.
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 to 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.
"Waited for more"
In short - I was somehow disappointed in the book.
I had a unique situation, as I already had read the book once in paper format but as the first one (I read the first part of the series after this second part only - somehow started the other way around). So - the first time I loved the book - a lot! Then came a big pause (several years) until I got to read the first book of the series, liked it quite well and decided I had forgotten all about what happens in the second part, so let's read it again!
Well, somehow now it seemed that the first part was much more interesting and the main reason is that the story there moved much quicker. In this book - the Gripping Hand - half of the book or more you are waiting and waiting for some action to start at last, you are bored to death with descriptions of all the Imperial laws and casts and royals and lords and who knows what. Who cares, really??? Give me the aliens already! And when you get them and you already had read the first book, you don't have much of any surprises there left for them, and there seems to be much less interesting interactions with humans there as it was in the first book. So, maybe reading the first book, spoiled the second one... but it shouldn't be like that... so the only conclusion is that the author went wrong somewhere.
So - maybe, if you choose to read it as the only book of the series, it will still be a good choice. But I guess, you should better pick the first one.
I can't rate it bad though, as I loved it the first time I read it. And I liked the narrator, too.
"Surprising sequel to Mote in God's Eye"
I haven't read the printed book.
Matrix 3. It answers all the hanging questions of Mote in God's Eye.
The reader has a good empathy with the written word.
If it wasn't so long I would listen to it in one hit. But if it was short enough to listen to in one go it wouldn't be as involving or enjoyable. I was happy to listen to this over several days.
A brilliant sequel, I'm just waiting for Hollywood to realise there are good stories out there without having to re-hash anymore fairy tails.
"Doesn't pack the punch of the first book..."
It's not often that I don't finish an audiobook since I drive and run quite a lot, in the end I just drifted away from this. I may go back to it at some point, for some reason I can't really explain I didn't feel quite compelled to carry on and switched back to podcasts whist waiting for my next two Audible credits.
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