The mote in God’s Eye, written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and published in 1975, is one of the most famous novels of what is called ‘hard science fiction’.
In a distant future, mankind has colonized many planets thank to two inventions: the ‘Anderson drive’, which enables spaceships to jump from certain points in the universe to others almost instantly, and the ‘Langston field’, an energy field that protects the spaceships. The book describes the first rendez-vous with an alien race that had remained isolated in their planetary system; they’re willing to do anything in exchange of the technology that would enable them to leave their planet, and the protagonists must face the doubts of allowing them to spread through the galaxy.
Hard science fiction is characterized by a rigorous treatment of the story’s scientific aspects. For a work to be labeled as such, it must be precise, logic, believable and consistent from a scientific point of view, with every technology, phenomenon, scenario and situations described theorically possible (or plausible at least).
In Niven and Pournelle’s book, human science and technology is described with great detail, so much that reading might become dense at some points; however, for other aspects, the authors take the easy way, like stablishing the future society as feudal. Also works against the atemporal character of the story certain conservatism in the development of female characters. Unfortunately, the weakest point in the storytelling is where the attractive should have been: the description of the alien civilization.
Considering how different lifeforms on Earth are, why does science fiction still resort to anthropomorphic creatures? And, although they’re technologically more advanced than we are, conceptually their society keeps too many ‘earthly’ elements: they’re organized in castes, live in cities, move by vehicles, build museums… There’s nothing really new or surprising. Besides, althought most part of the narration is done from the human’s point of view, some passages take the alien’s, revealing an anthropological way of thinking. It might have been more appealing to readers to keep the creatures in mistery…
A bigger sin comes to join this absensce of mistery: lack of emotion. There’s uncertainty, but there’s no rythm: action flows without peaks of tension, no calm before the storm and no epic moments. If there’s no emotion in the first encounter of the human race with the aliens, then, where would be?
A good science fiction work must set questions and thinkings out through the storytelling. On this aspect, ‘The mote in God’s Eye’ succeds. Niven and Pournelle treat themes of such actuality as demographic explosion and its results; the economic consequences of introducing new technologies without plannification, or even if, under extreme circunstances, war is the only option for a responsible government.
The mote in God’s Eye was nominated to Nebula, Hugo and Locus awards the same year of publishing. It’s not a bad book. It’s only that maybe it didn’t grow old well.