REVIEW SUMMARY: Good first contact story.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: First contact story detailing the Empire of Man’s discovery of an intelligent alien species, the Moties.
PROS: Excellent world building; clear writing style; successful blend of several sf themes.
CONS: Too much debate and not enough action; last third of book mired down in diplomatic protocol.
BOTTOM LINE: A good book that I’m glad I read.
Lord Rod Blaine is the recently-promoted captain of the Imperial Space Navy cruiser MacArthur. He is assigned to transport Horace Bury, a trader suspected of aiding a rebellion, to the New Caledonia system. His mission quickly changes when an alien ship is discovered to be heading to that system from the remote dwarf star that is known as the Mote since it appears like a speck of dust in the even-larger star known as Murcheson’s Eye. Blaine seeks out the Motie planet with the aim of contacting the new species. His orders are to not reveal the technological secrets of the Empire to the Moties. If he should fail, the accompanying ship Lenin has orders to destroy MacArthur. When Blaine does make contact, he must decide if the aliens are truly as peaceful as they seem or if they are hiding something.
There were lots of things to like about The Mote in God’s Eye, all of which were delivered with a clear, descriptive and easy to read narrative.
The first thing that impressed me was the backdrop. The first chapters immediately immersed me into the middle of a future history that is wonderfully detailed and alluring. Although this was the first book written in the future history known as the CoDominium universe, it comes later in that timeline which was obviously fleshed out ahead of time. I found this future history to be a great backdrop for the story and would love to read some of the other stories in it.
I enjoyed the way the he book skillfully blended and switched between several science fiction themes like military sf, space opera, Galactic Empires and first contact. The combination of these themes made the book feel rich, like there’s a lot of meat stuffed between the covers. Fortunately I found the mix of themes to be quite appealing as they could have easily been watered down.
The authors also did an excellent job making the Moties believable. Oftentimes when reading stories with non-humanoid creatures, I tend to anthropomorphize the aliens. Not so here. I was constantly reminded that they were not human since they differed from humans in just about every way possible: biologically, socially, psychologically, culturally, sexually, etc. So the aliens actually seemed alien. I particularly liked the alien view of mankind’s habits and traditions. Overall, it was the book-long exploration of the Moties themselves that contributed most to the sense of wonder.
The characters in the book were mostly well done. The cast was relatively large yet I had no problem keeping them all straight. Each of them had a distinct personality and sometimes their dialogue was just plain funny. But the Bury character, who I thought would turn out to be a colorful, backstabbing evil-doer who was forever throwing a space-wrench in the works, turned out to be nothing more than a ho-hum passenger. Yawn. And, sorry, I was just not buying the token will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Blaine and Sally Fowler, the Senator’s niece.
Another nit: as much as I liked the rich backdrop, so much time was spent on world building that the main storyline of first contact seemed to drag on a bit. I’m all for sense of wonder, but that alone cannot carry a book. I though the story was at its high-action best when the crew of the MacArthur discovered the trouble with Tribbles.
I’m sure some of the slow buildup was done intentionally to enhance the mystery of what the Motie secret might be, but the build up was too slow and the payoff was only minor. How minor? The last third of the book, where the politicians must piece together the clues dropped along the way, almost seemed like an afterthought to bulk up page count and was mired down in diplomatic protocol. Bah!
Overall though, the cool science, thorough world building and well-imagined aliens made this a good book and I’m glad I read it.