The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) – Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

I’ve been getting more and more into some classic science fiction books, layering out a lot of the modern science fiction I’ve been finding myself reading, and I recall a friend of mine proclaiming that The Mote in God’s Eye is one of the best first contact books they’d ever read.

I trust his opinion so picked up a copy.

Despite some sexist overtones, some religious angles I could do without, and other moments that rubbed me the wrong way, I found this novel very engaging and loved that some of the tech the crew of the human ship were using was very prescient.

In the year 3017, a starfaring naval ship is sent to encounter something entering their solar system, and discover an alien life form. It seems it came from a not-so-distant star system and the human Empire sends an expedition to make overtures with these strange beings.

What they encounter is a strange race of beings so unlike humanity that we may not be able to relate to them in any way. And if humanity may be going in keeping secrets about themselves, would these beings, christened Moties be any different?

I really enjoyed the way the story unfolds (though have some problems with the sexism of the Navy and the lack of diversity). There is a sense of wonder and discovery, and it’s all tinged with an edge of worry, encroaching on fear because of our lack of understanding of ourselves and these strange beings.

The cast of characters takes us along on the mission and shares their lives with the reader as well, as personal lives go on, even in the midst of all the things that are changing around them.

The Motie civilization is vastly intriguing and lets us examine our own in comparison. In fact, when one reads the title of the book, one cannot help but paraphrase the biblical quote that completes it; before taking the mote out of your brother’s eye, remove the beam from your own.

Both civilizations in the novel have motes or beams in their eye preventing them from truly seeing, and helping their intergalactic brethren, and neither is being completely forthright with the other.

Smart, crisply written, and imagined I truly enjoyed the way the story played out. The Moties were truly alien and their attempt to understand us is as frustrating as the navy’s attempt to understand them.

There are parties on the expedition that are willing to take everything at face value but as inconsistencies begin to surface humanity may discover some truly terrifying things about what may be out there amongst the stars, and the things they’ll have to do to survive, peacefully.

A truly engaging science fiction novel, one that would be an amazing television series, as long as they updated some of the ‘isms’ that fill the story.

Apparently, there are a couple of sequels to this book but not sure if I’m going to explore them or not.


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