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This is going to be a tough one. Rarely do I ever leave a book half-finished, but with this one I nearly came close. Although I did eventually finish The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, I have to admit that I came close to giving up due to extreme boredom. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the ideas in the book or the detailed explanation of an extremely complex alien race, it’s that I found the writing to be excruciatingly dull, the characters lifeless and undifferentiated, and the tension and suspense almost non-existent.
This book falls squarely in the “Hard” Science Fiction category, so maybe that had something to do with it (I had similar trouble with Larry Niven’s other book Ringworld), but I tend to think it’s more than that. I may get some flack from some of the more technically inclined Sci-Fi fans out there, but I really think that, no matter how scientifically rigorous or technical a story is, it will still only work if there are characters that you can root for and conflict that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Now I won’t say that the book has no redeeming qualities, but I can’t honestly say that I would recommend it either.
The Mote in God’s Eye Summary
The book tells the story of mankind’s first encounter with an alien species named The Moties (due them residing in the Mote system). The supposed hero of the story is Roderick Blaine, the petulant, headstrong and thoroughly unlikeable captain of the battle cruiser MacArthur, whose ship is the first to rendezvous with the alien spacecraft. After the alien pilot of the first craft is killed, the MacArthur (along with another vessel) is ordered to travel to the Mote from which the probe came. It is there that they first come into contact with living Moties.
Although the first Motie they come into contact with is short, furry and asymmetrical, they soon learn that there are many different castes of Moties, each with their own specific functions in society and their own unique color and configuration of arms and legs. While their initial interactions with the Moties make them seem harmless and peaceful, there is a distinct sense that they are withholding some very important information that could alter their view of them.
While there are a number of different secondary characters that interact with the Moties (both on the spaceship and during an excursion to the Motie planet) none of them are particularly distinct or memorable. I often had a hard time telling who was speaking or what their specific role was on the ship. I do remember one character having a deep Scottish accent, but that’s about it.
The only two other characters that made much of an impression were Sally Fowler, the niece of an imperial senator and Horace Bury, a trader and merchant who is tasked with establishing trade relations with the Moties. Nevertheless, none of the characters come off as particularly likable or sympathetic. The humans spend most of their time arguing whether or not to destroy the Motie race completely, while the Moties themselves spend their time either following around their human counterparts or scheming to keep their true nature hidden from them.
The Mote in God’s Eye Review
The one redeeming factor that I found was in the eventual revelation of the Motie’s secret, and why they felt like they couldn’t reveal it to the humans. While I won’t give the secret away, I will say that it presents a really unique picture of a species that has evolved (and devolved) in a way that is different than humanity while at the same time sharing eerie similarities.
I’m not going to say that this book isn’t for everyone. There may well be plenty of people who find it exciting and illuminating (I guess there has to be if it’s this far up on the list). I’m just giving my opinion that the books shortcomings and faults far outweigh its positive aspects. At the end of the day, I read for enjoyment, and The Mote in God’s Eye didn’t provide enough of that to make it worth the time it took to read.