Best of Science Fiction #27: Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, “The Mote in God’s Eye”

Date of Publication: 1975
Subgenre(s): aliens, space, war

The premise: In the far future, humans finally encounter intelligent aliens. So, genocide or nah?

My experience: Start with Star Trek. Ramp up the racial stereotypes (yes, really). Increase the militarism. Take away the utopia and replace it with an Empire. Take away all the aliens. Ok, now put back one alien. This is a first contact story. A sloooooooow first contact story, with too many characters not well enough differentiated (much like the other book on the list from these authors, Lucifer’s Hammer).

I give the aliens a C+ for alienness: they had an in-universe excuse for quickly mastering English (sorry, Anglic) while we poor dumb humans never made much progress at all with their languages, but it still felt contrived. They had a moderately interesting social structure and more-than-moderately interesting theory of evolution. It wouldn’t surprise me if the authors started out with “What if an alien race evolved thusly…” and then tried to write a story around it.

Several times we switch over to the aliens’ point of view, which took away from the fun of the mystery, but we never could have figured out What Is The Deal With These Aliens without this device. So it fails as a mystery, but I don’t think it was ever trying to be one.

I give the token female a B-. She had a job and was good at it, even if the dudes patronized her to no end. Points off for her role devolving into “wife of important dude.” But come to think of it–if you count the alien females, this book passes the Bechdel test.

Points added for remarkably little moralizing about birth control/sanctity of life/overpopulation, though these issues are central to the story.

Ultimately, it was… fine. Not great, not terrible. Not really worth the time I put into it, but still, fine.

You would like this book if: You ever wanted the Trek universe to include a whole planet of Scotties

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