The Mote in God’s Eye is a classic of the genre and one of the most well regarded tales of first contact. The plot is fairly straight forward: in the future humanity has developed the ability for instantaneous transportation across the vast distances of space thus allowing the colonization of many worlds across countless systems. After a mission putting down a rebellion the vessel MacArthur is undergoing repairs and refueling when a probe from a distant system suddenly arrives. Dispatched to investigate the crew of the MacArthur find within a dead alien creature. This discovery sends the crew of the MacArthur on a mission to the distant Mote to discover the origin of the alien probe vessel.
The Mote in God’s Eye is a textbook example of hard science fiction. Not only does it include the requisite explanations of technology employed the MacArthur it carefully constructs an alien society and masterfully envisions humanity’s interaction with this new species. There is a decidedly old school feel to the The Mote in God’s Eye with the focus of the story primarily on the cultural impact of humanity’s interaction with the “moties.”
While Niven and Pournelle manage to churn out some interesting characters over the course of the narrative, the staunch Kutuzov being a personal favorite, the is not on the characters and their relationships but rather on the manner in which they influence the interaction with the moties. While there is a romance element in the story it is completely and totally underdeveloped. The Mote in God’s Eye isn’t about interpersonal relationships between characters and is entirely about the science. If you’re a reader who enjoys stories with vibrant fully developed characters than this is not the book for you. This was precisely my problem with the book. I am definitely a reader who loves great characters and the underdeveloped crew of the MacArthur combined with the straight forward writing of Niven and Pournelle made the novel particularly challenging for myself.
The dryness of the narrative was definitely a major put-off for me and I was far less invested right off the bat than I was with Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. Both Rendezvous with Rama and The Mote in God’s Eye deal with a first contact situation they have very different approaches. With Clarke’s novel there a strong element of mystery and exploration, it leans heavily on that mystery and provides very little information to answer the questions it asks. Clarke’s novel is about the journey. The Mote in God’s Eye is far less meditative, offering instead a clear, cold look on interaction with a society completely and totally alien to us. The Mote in God’s Eye offers a fascinating intellectual journey but does not offer many thrills. The lack of characterization made some of the events feel a bit empty, lacking in emotional impact. With that being said The Mote in God’s Eye offers such a complete and total view of first contact that it is most definitely required reading for fans of hard science fiction.