Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Mote in God's Eye

I do not think that one who basks in political correctness should bother with The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  If one looks both closely and shallowly at this book, one might decide that one has found trove of male chauvinism and racism.  I tend to do so, though only for my own personal entertainment.

The imperial navy, for example, seems to be comprised entirely of men.  This is not unusual, historically or currently, but the great assumption is often that the future will hold greater equality in all things.  Another example here is that the purpose of aristocratic women is apparently to perform as social butterflies, get married, and pop out heirs.  Once again, equality is generally expected in future settings, but then again: who is to say how the future and future human attitudes will develop?  The assumption of equality is based on current conditions facing no drastic changes -- which is entirely naive.  (There is another example, but it's a spoiler, so I won't reveal it.)

As for racism, the Moties (the alien race described) are a species with several genetic castes somewhat akin to polymorphism in insects.  There is a master caste, a mediator caste, a medical caste, a warrior caste, an engineer caste, etc.  Key in the argument of racism is that the master caste is white and the engineer caste (intrinsicly gifted in making things, but incapable of higher thought processes) is brown.  Here I can say that dark and light are used as the easily recognisable archetyes that they are, in western culture.  If that's not clear enough, think of the terms "white-collar" and "blue-collar".

Enough of the self-indulgent under-thinking, though.  Mote is basically a story of first contact -- the first first-contact -- with an intelligent alien civilisation.  Most books that I've read that deal with such a scenario assume a human civilisation that has yet to explore and colonise beyond the solar system -- assuming they got far off Earth at all.  Basically: contemporary settings.  In Mote, humanity has gone through the cycles of multi-stellar civilisation twice (the CoDominion and the First Empire), each followed by a collapse and period of barbarism, and has once again risen to a vast Empire.  For me, this is a unique experience.

The book is presented largely as a political drama, with several mysteries involving characters motivations.  There is little physical action, though what there is gripped my eyes and I had little desire to pull away.  All-in-all it had a somewhat Asimovian feel.  If you've read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, you'll know what I mean.  Dramatic irony and discovery are where most of the action is, and I think Pournelle and Niven did a great job.

To be honest, though, I do have a couple gripes.  First is due to my own misconceptions: I expected more military science fiction; an interstellar war.  I didn't get that, but I probably should have read the synopsis more closely.  I don't like to do that, though, as it may spoil too much.  The second is related to the romance in the novel.  The pairing is far too obvious and it develops far to quickly and suddenly.  I have this problem with a great many books by a great many authors, though, so it shouldn't be surprising, anymore.

As I said, though, it's overall a great book.  Probably because it doesn't involve war and high military drama, it may be one of the best first-contact stories out there.  Definitely a recommended read to all interested in such things.

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