Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: The Mote in God's Eye

I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Most of it though, is not what is known as "hard science fiction." I tend to dislike Spaceman Spiff adventure-type stories, and if there is a female alien on the cover wearing next to nothing, forget about it. So, despite the fact that we have many books by Larry Niven in our library (courtesy of my husband), I have avoided them like the plague. They looked liked something I wouldn't like. Then I got The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (published way back in 1974) from my LibraryThing Secret Santa. Wow! I am so glad that this book was pretty much forced into my hands. It is fantastic and one of the best sci-fi books I have ever read.

The Mote in God's Eye is the story of the Empire of Man's first contact with an intelligent alien race, after a probe containing an alien corpse is discovered heading for an inhabited system. Once the probe's origins are determined, a ship is sent to make contact. The Moties (aliens) they meet are friendly and only after a disaster occurs do some of the humans begin to be suspicious.

I won't say more, as I don't want to give away some of the delicious plot turns this book takes. It is a great story, one that made me late for work last week as I did not want to put it down after reading it at the breakfast table (always a bad idea!).

Even better than the plot is how thought-provoking this book is. What makes us human? Does psychology follow physiology? Do other creatures have souls? Must our enemies be evil? Is technology necessarily good or bad? Is war justified? And just who is Crazy Eddy?

One thing that generally keeps me away from a lot hard science fiction is how sexist much of it is. An author may speculate about a utopian society, and yet the women in it are still treated like a sub-class of people (Heinlein, I'm looking at you). In The Mote in God's Eye, the human's world is no different: it is a strictly patriarchal society and the women are almost viewed as chattel. The Motie society is, in contrast, a matriarchal one, where the leaders (the Masters) are all female (at least some of the time) and gender is a fluid state. I found the contrast to be interesting.

On the back of my copy of this book, there is a blurb from Robert Heinlein (who really is a favorite of mine, despite my complaints) about this book. He said, "Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read." I am inclined to agree.

Buy The Mote in God's Eye on Amazon.


  1. I bought this one in a SF bookstore in Dublin 15 years ago and was staggered- I've reread it several times since then and every time am struck by some new aspect of the story.

  2. OK, so this is a bit of shameless self-promotion, but I really do hope that if you loved this book, you'll love my (authorized) sequel, Outies, available now in the Amazon Kindle store (there's a free Kindle Reader download for PC/Mac?etc. if you don't have a Kindle). Would love to have your opinion of it.


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