"an interesting and enjoyable...experiment in...the union of technology and character..."
----K. Kris Hirst, About.com - Archaeology
"a very satisfying picture of a spacefaring civilization by the best hard-science fiction writing team (and now daughter) in the business...very much recommended."
----The Old Grey Cat, Wordpress.com
"...articulate and intelligent...everything a sequel to an acclaimed novel should be..." ----SF Book Reviews
"What does it mean to have a war so destructive that society is blasted back to the invention of the brick? ... how does one rebuild? ... Jennifer Pournelle has thought about exactly that. There isn't much science fiction written by broadminded, well-traveled polymaths." -- More Words, Deeper Hole: A Guest Review by Carlos
I thought about the post-war (or was it still war?) period of 2003-2004 for a good long time after returning home from Iraq. Of the many things I pondered, one was war fiction, and especially military science fiction. War books have compelling plots, generally along the lines of: there are good guys; there are bad guys. Sometimes bad guys, that is, guys who were individually bad, redeem themselves and become heroic good guys. Anyway, the good guys win, or die valiantly trying. War's over. The End.
But nothing I saw in Iraq was ever that cut-and-dried. On any given day, it was hard to tell if, when and where we were having a war. It was generally impossible to tell good guys from bad guys. There were many shades of both, on both sides. Technology sometimes won the day, but seldom won the outcome. None of us outsiders, ever, knew what the locals were thinking - even if they pretended to tell us. And everything, absolutely everything, including matters of life and death, was weighed and measured by social standards and rules of conduct that we simply could not read.
That's what "first contact" stories are really about - and that's what Niven & Pournelle did with The Mote in God's Eye
some 35 years ago. So, as I thought about it, I decided: wouldn't it be interesting to try to flip that around: to get inside the heads of locals and others who had the same dilemna in reverse. I drew a lot on my Iraq experience trying to do that.
To make this a credible sequel, I took careful, detailed notes on timelines, political precedents, character traits, and technologies from Mote and The Gripping Hand,
and tried to be excedingly careful to stick to the "realities" of that universe. But, given that the first Mote was written 35 years ago, I also wanted to update the science and gender issues that were at the core of the original novel. First, because Sally Fowler (a central character in the original book) was ostensibly an anthropologist, in my sequel, I brought in another anthropologist to serve as a new protagonist and do real anthropological things. Second, I spent a lot of studying reproductive biology, in order to write in backstory that made sense of the Motie's bizarre physiology. It's written up in the report in the Appendix. You don't have to read that, but if you are interested, you can - and if you demand more answers than are in the story itself, you should.
What I did NOT try to do was copy Niven & Pournelle's style. Firstly, they are, after all, still writing and need no help from me to do that. Secondly, I wanted to get at that sense of disordered confusion - that sense of nobody being quite sure where they are, literally and figuratively, as a place teeters on the brink of (or of pulling back from) war. So, each chapter deals with four threads. Mentally, I think of them as: Imperials (and what they are up to); Church and State (that is, events in New Utah's capitol city, St. George); The Pale (that is, Bonneville and the Barrens); and Beyond the Pale (that is, the Barrens and Outback). These threads each move forward independently for awhile, but of course come together as the book goes on. In Iraq, that would be something like trying to keep track of what's going on in Washington D.C., Baghdad, Nasiriya, and the desert wastes of Dhi Qar province. From the standpoint of standing next to a single well at a roadside shrine, it's hard to grasp that those other places even exist - let alone have much relevance. But of course they do.
Finally, the ending was intended as a bit of fun, consistent with the other "remote fringe" of Second Empire space (King David's Spaceship) that launched my father's career in science fiction writing. I hope that diehard Pournelle fans who spot the premise will recognise it for what it is: an intentional homage to him.
And by the way, I expect most fans of his know this already, but he's J.E. I'm J.R.