Book Review: The Mote in God’s Eye

Like a lot of you, I read a lot of books. Unlike a lot of you, this is a relatively new thing for me. Since Mormonism is such an all embracing religion, we tend to be rather eclectic in our tastes. So if I think the M* audience might be interested in a book I’ve read, I’ll do a quick review of it. Note, there will be spoilers so that I can analyze the book, so don’t read this post if you don’t want significant plot points spoiled for you.

I just finished The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. This was written back in 1974 and is a classic of science fiction. Probably many of you have already read it. They wrote the book to be the penultimate first contact story and, I’ve got to admit they succeed in spades.

Long after the failure of the CoDominion, the second empire of humanity comes across an alien probe. When it unexpectedly attacks them, they capture it and find a dead alien creature on board. The humans put together an expedition to the Mote system where the probe had come from.

These aliens, that humans call the Moties, are asymmetrical in appearance and have incredible intelligence far beyond human capabilities. Their ‘animals’ are so intelligent that they soon take over and ultimately destroy one of the human warships.


The Moties seem very friendly, maybe too much so. Eventually we learn that the Moties are hiding information from the humans, such as the fact that they have a warrior caste that is as far beyond humans in fighting as their engineer class is beyond humans in technology.

The Mote in God’s Eye is a morally challenging book because it forces you to think about this fantastic situation and how you’d act in it. Not wanting to give much too away, the Moties are not evil, but they are a threat to humanity. “The Moties are not monsters!” insists Sally Fowler, to which Rod Blain replies, “No, just our enemies.” How should humanity respond to a well intentioned by very real threat? The end ‘solution’ is a lot like democracy, it’s the worse possible solution except for all the other solutions.

I particularly enjoyed the military aspects of the book. Jerry Pournelle is ex-military and it shows. One reoccurring them is military preparedness. The book argues that (as Wikipedia puts it), “…war is sometimes the only option for a responsible government.” The book stays exciting throughout despite many Star Trek like drops into philosophy. You can’t help but simultaneously love and fear the Moties, and this fortunately keeps the philosophy relevant to the story plus it’s interesting in and of itself. To a degree it reminded me of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, though that book was mostly philosophy on war with a bit of background story thrown in to boot.

One other aspect of the book that struck me was that the culture of this imaginative future, written in the increasingly free love 1970s, was a throw back to the family values of the 50s. Sally Fowler, the only female in the book, makes it very clear to her Motie guide that sexual relations outside of marriage is morally wrong, though she later almost violates her own beliefs on this subject. Religion is treated seriously throughout and one of the most important and morally significant characters is a chaplain. You can’t read a book like this and not feel that we’ve culturally lost something since then.

My Rating: 5 Stars


8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Mote in God’s Eye

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention » Book Review: The Mote in God’s Eye The Millennial Star --

  2. I read this one years ago and loved it. Own a copy and have read it a couple times. Don’t let the name get in the way of reading it if you enjoy science fiction. I didn’t get the same thing out of it when it comes to war. Rather, I saw it about the folly of caste systems and the idea that sometimes our worst fears are not always wrong. Then again I like it for its story and alien culture and not its message. There is a sequel to this one that was good, but not great.

  3. I still love this book. I think it is easily one of the best science fiction books ever written. Unlike much other science fiction it doesn’t feel dated. When I first discovered it as a teen I really, really wanted to live in that universe. In some ways I still do. I like most of the Niven and Pournelle collaboration books, but this is clearly their best.

  4. Bruce, sounds very good. I have had some hit and miss experiences with science fiction writing. This sounds worth reading.

  5. Another good Niven/Pournelle collaboration is Lucifer’s Hammer. Great post-apocalyptic stuff.

  6. Thanks for the review, I’ll have to check it out. The only N/P book I’ve read was “Fallen Angel”, which was just ok but had this great quote: “Ninety-nine out of a hundred dreams came crashing down around you. But if life always fell short of your expectations, that was no argument for lowering them. There was always the hundredth dream.”

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