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The Mote in God's Eye Mass Market Paperback – March 1, 1991

4.2 out of 5 stars 491 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Mote Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the year 3016, the Second Empire of Man spans hundreds of star systems, thanks to the faster-than-light Alderson Drive. No other intelligent beings have ever been encountered, not until a light sail probe enters a human system carrying a dead alien. The probe is traced to the Mote, an isolated star in a thick dust cloud, and an expedition is dispatched.

In the Mote the humans find an ancient civilization--at least one million years old--that has always been bottled up in their cloistered solar system for lack of a star drive. The Moties are welcoming and kind, yet rather evasive about certain aspects of their society. It seems the Moties have a dark problem, one they've been unable to solve in over a million years.

This is the first collaboration between Niven and Pournelle, two masters of hard science fiction, and it combines Pournelle's interest in the military and sociology with Niven's talent for creating interesting, believable aliens. The novel meticulously examines every aspect of First Contact, from the Moties' biology, society, and art, to the effects of the meeting on humanity's economics, politics, and religions. And all the while suspense builds as we watch the humans struggle toward the truth. --Brooks Peck

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Robert Heinlein Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read.

San Francisco Chronicle As science fiction, one of the most important novels ever published.

Columbus Dispatch A superlatively fine novel...no writer has ever come up with a more appealing, intriguing, and workable concept of aliens.

Frank Herbert A spellbinder, a swashbuckler...And, best of all, it has a brilliant new approach to that fascinating problem -- first contact with aliens.

Theodore Sturgeon One of the most engrossing tales I've read in years...fascinating.

Minneapolis Tribune Intriguing and suspenseful...the scenes in which the humans and aliens examine one another are unforgettable.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (March 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671741926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671741921
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (491 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Starting on an unusual note; The Mote In God's Eye is the only SF book I have ever bought before reading. This may seem stupid, but I'm very glad I did it. Niven and Pournelle have succeeded in knocking Frank Herbert's Dune off my mental 'Best Books Ever!' list's top spot.
It's a fascinating tale of mankind's first contact with an utterly alien race - and for once, these aliens aren't all-powerful conquerers of worlds with but one weakness. Indeed, in many respects the Moties have problems similar to human difficulties...although that's not to say the Moties are at all similar to human beings. Oh no.
I won't go into depth about the alien society - that might spoil the book for you! The human society, however, is nearly as interesting as the alien.
At this point, I think back to comments I've heard about the book - that the human society is still plagued with today's problems (but of course - human society will not change radically in 1000 years, merely adjust to accept technological changes. And, of course, as the authors mention, an advanced human society will not evolve as natural selection can no longer apply [civilised societies care for the weaker members]). Another comment that sticks in my mind is that planets which belong exclusively to one ancestral faction from Earth are absurd. I beg to differ - those with similar cultural heritages would stick together, and countries would, I believe, launch individual colonisation programs, meaning that all the colonists on one world might indeed share their cultural heritage. And as a final note on the subject, the worlds with a single 'nationality' are few and far between; more than 200 worlds are colonised by mankind.
But back to the book.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Some science fiction books are driven more by technology and plot situations, and other are driven more by characters and dialog. The great Isaac Asimov's stories usually were the latter; for example, in his great Foundation series, there's surprisingly little gee-whiz gadgetry.

Niven's stories have always been very strong on brilliant futuristic gizmos and clever alien creations, but weak in terms of fleshed-out characters interacting in a deep way that you'll find in other genres of fiction.

So I can understand some of the negative reviews; it could be that those folks are just not fans of Niven-style sci fi.

If you're new to Niven, I strongly suggest you read his "Known Space" series before this book. In fact, start with his short story collections before you move on to the classic Ringworld. The stories get higher- and higher-tech. He even admits it, in the preface to his short story "Safe at Any Speed." For a writer, it's basically a tough challenge to create an interesting plot when he has pretty much painted himself into a corner with so much incredible technology, not to mention a human race that has been successfully bred for luck!

That's what makes this book such a kick. I love that, in contrast to his Known Space books, this book is pretty low tech. It's retro, in the way that Star Trek: Enterprise is to its TV predecessors. I also really dig the Moties. I love that the central dilemma they're facing, the thing that regularly imperils their entire civilization and makes them such a threat to us, is something that we dealt with almost trivially years ago. To me, the concept that it never even occurred to them to deal with it as we had, reinforces their alien-ness.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
"The Mote in God's Eye" is one of the finest collaborations I've ever read, only surpassed in literary quality and detail by Gibson's and Sterling's "The Difference Engine". Part of Pournelle's "Co-Dominion" future history series, the "Mote in God's Eye", is a fascinating, mesmerizing look at man's first contact with an alien civilization. Niven and Pournelle have created an alien civilization, "The Moties", that is among the most unique in science fiction. How the "Moties" interact with humanity's "Empire of Man" is both original and compelling to read. Although some may criticize Niven and Pournelle for creating a male-dominated, imperialist future for mankind, their female characters are a lot more credible than those I've read in recently published works such as Caleb Carr's "Killing Time". And I must commend how they've created many interesting personalities in their large cast of characters. You will find yourself rooting for them - both humans and Moties - as this gripping tale unfolds. Without a doubt, "The Mote in God's Eye" is one of the finest, most thoughtful, works of space opera, with an original twist on a time-worn premise. If you've grown tired of "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" or wish to delve further into science fiction, then this fine novel is a good place to start.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
There is part of me that really liked this book just based on the plot device. The whole idea of a truly alien race "stuck in a bottle" was very appealing and original -- even now, thirty some years after it was written.

But I still came out of this book feeling a bit let down overall. I won't rehash all the points made by the other reviewers who gave it four stars or less. For the most part, I agree with a good majority of their more erudite observations of inconsistencies, lack of character depth and datedness of prose.

But I do feel it necessary to add a couple of comments to the bucket just for the personal cathartic experience of doing so.

First, for a novel this long that has quite a bit of realistic detail, why did the authors decide to go so flat on the first contact with aliens?

*** (Don't read on if you don't want a spoiler.) ***

When the two human warships enter the Motie system and make first contact with the first living, sentient species in the history of mankind... it's all very humdrum and commonplace. There's no fireworks written into this momentous occasion, the biggest moment in mankind's history. Nobody on the ship is terribly excited. Nobody is particularly fearful. Very little criteria for first contact is put in place or carried out with an eye toward proper communication, safety, quarantine, or just good sense (Other than one warship standing by to destroy the other in case of trouble -- which was a good and believable scenario, but it didn't go far enough with the reality of the situation). In fact, a lone midshipmen is sent with no fanfare to blindly go aboard an alien ship where he then proceeds to take off his mask and breathe the air as if this kind of thing happens every day. No fear of germs.
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