A political novel about first contact with extra-terrestrials

The Mote in God's Eye - Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

To me there seems to be something about these pre-1980's science fiction novels that I am drawn towards reading. Maybe it has something to do with being influenced by my Dad to read the Isaac Asimov novels, or more likely it has something to do with my life long passion for science-fiction. However, the books written in my father's generation seem to have a lot more character, and a lot more insight, than much of the rubbish that seems to be churned out today (though maybe that has a lot to do with the consumerist nature of our society and that books are really only written on the basis of whether it will sell or not).

The Mote in God's Eye is a story, set a thousand years from now when humanity has colonised space, about the first contact with aliens (at is sentient extra-terrestrial life). The one thing that seemed to strike me as I was reading this book is that one could use the same concept when dealing with historical incidences of first contact, such as with the Native Americans or the Australian Aboriginals (or even the Chinese, though we have been in contact with the Chinese since Roman times, allegedly).

Before I go too deep into this novel, I will give you my thoughts on the story itself before I spoil the actual story for you (but don't worry, I will warn you beforehand). I can't say that it was the best book that I have read, and it did seem to drag on a bit, however at first I though that it was simply going to be a dissertation on a speculative alien culture that was definitely not human. However, just when it began to slow down, the action suddenly picked up again, and some rather nasty facts were revealed about these aliens. Mind you, we are revealed the truth about these aliens halfway through the book, and the rest of the novel you are left hoping that humanity realises the truth before they get themselves into no end of trouble. At this point though, I better warn you:


Spoiler Alert


The novel begins with a probe entering human space from a star called the Mote. The reason that it receives this name is because it can be seen in conjunction with a larger star called Murchenson's Eye (discovered by some guy named, surprise, surprise, Murchenson) which has a nebula that looks like a hood as its backdrop. On board this probe is a dead alien, so the humans decide to travel to this star to make contact with the first alien civilisation that they have discovered.

The scenario does not follow the same story as many of the first contact scenarios on our world have played out (namely a technologically superior culture encounters a culture that is still living a hunter gatherer lifestyle, and the technologically superior culture then proceeds to conquer and oppress the hunter-gatherer culture) but rather we have two cultures that are both technologically advanced which results in a story of political manoeuvring where both cultures attempt to develop a relationship without revealing their dark secrets.

One of the things that I found interesting about the aliens, called the 'Moties', is their origin. As I was reading this book I was really interested in finding out what they looked like, so of course I entered 'Motie' into Google Images, and came up with a number of pictures. This is one of them:


The reason that I found them interesting was because one of the themes of the book was evolution. One of the characters suggested (before first contact was made) that the reason that humans have not evolved beyond their current form is because when they evolved to this form they turned the evolutionary process around to change nature to make themselves comfortable. This is my attitude towards evolution in that creatures evolve, or more precisely adapt, to their surroundings, and when one can adapt their surroundings to suit themselves, evolution is no longer necessarily.

However, as it comes out, the Moties had continued to evolve, not so much because they needed to adapt to their surroundings, but because their surroundings became so toxic that they began to mutate. The the reason that they are asymmetrical is because they became involved in a nuclear war which began to mutate them. However, as is also suggested, there are elements of genetic engineering as the race is divided into castes that perform certain tasks for the whole.

The other thing about the Moties is that they reproduce quite rapidly. This I found to not be as speculative as some may consider as it is something that confronts us today. If you travel to some parts of the world you will discover huge overcrowding. Not only that, but the population explosion means that resources get used up much quicker. Back when this book was written, much of the majority world was living in poverty, and it was only us in the west that were living like kings. However with the rise of India and China we are suddenly finding that the resources (and space) are becoming ever more scarce. This is a reality in our world, namely that as populations increase, the demand for resources, and living space, also increases. Where there is not enough living space countries suddenly go to war to get more of it. We even see this here in Australia as the price of freestanding houses go through the roof. Then there is also the question of asylum seekers. The reason that Australians do not want asylum seekers to come to our shores is because we like our space, and our free standing houses. The more people that come to our shores, the less space we have for our back gardens.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/925457701