Saturday, May 10, 2014

First Impressions: The Mote in God's Eye (Book Review)

The Mote in God's Eye was written in 1974 by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  There are 560 pages in the paperback edition I checked out from the library.   I chose this book based on some echo of a memory that it was a significant sci fi book that maybe I'd like to read.  The cover has praise from Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers) and is described as 'the acknowledged masterpiece' of the team, a story of Mankind's first contact with an Alien Species.

This is an interesting book, different from what I usually read.  It's really detail oriented, and military oriented, which sometimes makes it hard to read.  It can be little bit of a slog.  But when I am able to hang in there, there's some really cool sci fi.  It reminds me a lot of Star Trek, there's even a Scottish chief engineer (...and a Scottish midshipman and Scottish Ensign, and an entire planet of New Scotland).

As in any good science fiction, there is fictional technology involved. The important technology to the human race is hinged around what is essentially warp drive, and a force field which helps to cool down the ship upon return from warp drive.  These are the defining technologies of the human race, and enabled interstellar travel and colonization.  Beyond that, there are lots of primitive mechanical technologies that seem pretty simplistic next to a different interstellar sci-fi world, like Star Trek.  No transporters, inertial dampeners or tractor beams to be found.

In addition, the social development in the book is highly limited.  As opposed to a world like Star Trek, the Navy is made up entirely of Men.  The same can be said for the science teams.  As of this point in the book, there is only one Human female in the story and at least a dozen named Male characters.  At times it seems as though this book has more in common with a classic seafaring novel of the 18th or 19th century,  (never my favorite genre) as opposed to a progressive science fiction series like Star Trek.

Some of the character's assumptions about the aliens are pretty boneheaded as well, they keep assuming they are mutations or somehow crippled.  But it is fun to hear them be so far off the mark, and sit, smug in my assurance that the writers will reveal the truth to be much more interesting.

I am about a hundred and fifty pages in, however, and things have gotten really interesting.  The high level of detail is an asset when talking about a new species of Intelligent Life.  They deeply consider the alien's physiology, technology and social order.  The writers release information slowly, leaving me hungry to learn more.  The detailed treatment of the scientific exploration of a new intelligent species along with their careful unfolding of such information helps me to get through their, otherwise unappealing and rather primitive sci fi world.

This book isn't quite what I'm used to.  I am eager to read more, but they are dragging it out a bit.


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