For some reason I always find Larry Niven much better with Jerry Pournelle than without; [b:Inferno|100369|Inferno (Inferno, #1)|Larry Niven|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388270577s/100369.jpg|2015541], [b:Lucifer's Hammer|218467|Lucifer's Hammer|Larry Niven|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388268115s/218467.jpg|1842237] and [b:Footfall|116356|Footfall|Larry Niven|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320440216s/116356.jpg|1913289] are all winners (they have collaborated on quite a few other titles, but I have not read them yet). The Mote in God's Eye
is generally considered to be their partnership’s best book (have a look at [a:Larry Niven|12534|Larry Niven|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1182720933p2/12534.jpg]’s Goodreads page).
I believe the blurb by [a:Robert A. Heinlein|205|Robert A. Heinlein|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1192826560p2/205.jpg] that appears on many editions of the book’s cover* has been around since its first publication in 1974; and it has undoubtedly helped to shift thousands of copies (mine included). I guess it is a little like if you were a guitarist and Jimmi Hendrix tells people you can shred like a demented mofo. Who can resist that kind of recommendation? Is it just hyperbole though? Is The Mote in God's Eye
worthy of the accolade?
Yes, it is.
This is a first contact story rendered very believable and engrossing by the authors’ skills and attention to details. The “Moties” are one of the most well conceived alien races I have ever come across. They are very alien, very strange yet they have enough human character traits to be understandable. Of course, completely inscrutable aliens are fun but the more understandable aliens can be more emotionally invested in.
As the novel was written in the 70s its age inevitably shows in places. There are terms like “hyperspace” and “pocket computer” that we do not see in modern sci-fi. Today’s authors tend to invent new words for “hyperspace” and “pocket computer” sounds very quaint as they are now commonplace in the form of smartphones and tablets. These few terms notwithstanding I would argue that The Mote in God's Eye
stands the test of time very well. The alien’s design and their extreme specialization are just as wonderfully “SF-nal” on this reread as it was when I first read about it decades ago.
I have no idea who write what in the Niven / Pournelle partnership but they clearly work very well together, there is a unified voice in their highly readable prose style. The characters are better than just flat plot devices, though the book is clearly more about the plot than the characters. Both authors are excel at writing hard science fiction and the science details make the story that much more vivid and believable without ever bogging the book down with excessive infodumping. The “dramatis personae” at the beginning of the book kindly provided by the authors to help the readers keep track of a fairly large cast of characters is an interesting feature. However, the book is written so well that I never found it necessary to refer to it at any time.
The central and very human theme of this book seems to be how difficult it is for different races to coexist peacefully when there is a conflict of interest and when negotiations are hampered by deceptions. The issue is not entirely resolved in this book but leaves a lot of room for the readers to speculate and draw their own conclusions. There is a less well received sequel called [b:The Gripping Hand|218453|The Gripping Hand (Moties #2)|Larry Niven|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1356162269s/218453.jpg|441605] which I am not sure I will read as I am more than satisfied with this book’s ending.
One of the all-time greats IMO.
* Heinlein’s blurb reads “possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read”.