Reviews: The Mote In Gods Eye

Niven/Pournelle: An Imbalanced Partnership

I've read this book twice. The first time, my opinion was rather neutral, and the second time it quickly became entirely negative.

Larry Niven was, in his younger days, one of the great prose writers of the old sci-fi world. His straight-forward yet vivid descriptions, pacing, economy with words, and ability to render speculative science comprehensible to the layman all place him (to me) in a closed category with Zelazny, Bradbury, Cordwainer Smith, and few others.

This prose is nowhere to be seen in ''Mote," which is full of vague or non-existent descriptions and sloppy use of free indirect discourse. (Niven knew how to use indirect discourse far, far, better.) I tend to assume that Niven helped to outline the novel and Pournelle wrote it on a line-to-line basis.

The plot shows flashes of speculative ingenuity that are wholly Niven's, and there are stretches where his influence becomes solid and tangible—mainly passages describing alien technology and culture. Indeed, the plot is coherent and bears a certain amount of intrigue on its own, and certain sections flirt with becoming true xenofiction.

However, there are needless political, sexual, and romantic additions that must belong to Pournelle, and a xenophobia and close-mindedness that is found nowhere in Niven's works. Any hint of xenofiction disappears quickly in the latter half, as the aliens are shoehorned into a villainous role that is rather inconsistent with prior characterization. The reasons given feel forced and tacked on, and the climactic scenes are frankly flat and overwrought.

All in all, Mote is a disappointing and sloppily-written novel that I recommend against buying, especially if you're buying it because you like Niven. Save your money, you will be disappointed.

If you're thinking of reading this novel, allow me to instead recommend the first two Ringworld novels, Protector, all by Niven or any collection of Niven's stories. If you like xenofiction, Greg Bear's Eon series or much of Zelazny's sci-fi may also appeal to you.