THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE (The Mote Series) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (2011, Kindle Edition)
Every now and then I find an older book which slipped past me when it was first issued. Not being a herd animal, I have a tendency to avoid all the “popular stuff”. Which is to bad because sometimes I miss something important.
The Mote In God’s Eye is a fine example of a “first contact” novel. It has everything: human galactic civilization, space battles, heroic spacemen, counter-plots, and very alien aliens. There are plenty of characters and much of the action is told through multiple points of view. The authors do their best to try and describe the aliens reasons and methods. No small achievement. This is one of the best science fiction books ever written.
The plot in basic: In the far future, humanity has expanded to the stars. After a turmoil resulting from the fall of the first human empire, a second has been established and is determined to unite the civilized worlds in harmony and peace, even if it has to be done by brute force. Humanity is ruled by a benevolent, if despotic, emperor who sends his fleets off to bring the lost sheep back into the fold. During one small skirmish near the Horse-head Nebula, an interstellar spacecraft is intercepted from the first non-human civilization. Although the pilot of the spacecraft is unintentionally killed, much excitement is generated within the empire and an expedition is mounted to seek out and discover the aliens. Eventually, the humans make contact with the new civilization, only to find the aliens have reasons of their own for venturing into the galaxy. Reasons which many not be harmonious with the overall aims of humanity.
Niven and Pournelle accomplished a lot with this novel. When they wrote the book, the idea of galactic empires seemed retro, but they researched the possibility enough to make it believable. A few years late a certain movie would hit the screens and the idea seemed plausible once again. Connection? Maybe.
The aliens are known as “The Moties” from the section of the galaxy where they originated. Somewhat mammalian they are broken down into a whole series of specialized castes for their dedicated jobs. Some give orders, some mediate, some do the heavy lifting. I would like to have seen the book spend more time on their planet, but the human reactions were the focus.
The weakest part of the book is characterization. The authors throw a myriad of humans at the reader, but few are memorable. And some of them are down-right stereotypical: the New Scotsman who speaks in a brogue, a space navy admiral of Russian descent who drops his articles when talking, etc. The book focuses on the ideas and concept of The First Contact.
Still one of the best science fiction novels I have read. No Dune, but good just the same.
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