The Gripping Hand
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|Cover artist||Lee MacLeod|
|Preceded by||The Mote in God's Eye|
|Followed by||Outies, 2010|
The Gripping Hand is a 1993 novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It is a sequel to their multi-award-nominated 1974 work The Mote in God's Eye. The Gripping Hand is, chronologically, the last novel to be set in the CoDominium universe (though in 2010, Pournelle's daughter released an authorized sequel). In the United Kingdom, it was released as The Moat around Murcheson's Eye (sometimes misspelled "The Mote around Murchison's Eye").
The Gripping Hand is set in the year 3042 (twenty-five years after the events of The Mote in God's Eye) and revolves primarily around two minor characters of the first book, Captain Sir Kevin Renner (ISN, Reserve) and His Excellency Horace Bury, Imperial Trader Magnate. It also resolves many of the conflicts and tension remaining from the preceding novel, but much of the plot cannot be understood without reading The Mote in God's Eye. A crucial plot element of the book is the idiom "on the gripping hand", a three-armed variation of the idiom "on the other hand" similar in meaning to "on the third hand", but with the added sense that the third-mentioned consideration is the most important one. The saying is native to the alien Moties, who have three arms, one of which is stronger but possesses less finesse. The idiom has also gained some use among fans of the book.
At the end of The Mote in God's Eye, Renner and Bury are secretly enlisted into Imperial Naval Intelligence. They spend the next twenty-five years investigating revolutions against the Empire so that the Imperial Navy can concentrate on blockading the Moties from entering into human space. While investigating economic abnormalities on the Mormon planet Maxroy's Purchase, Renner and Bury encounter widespread use of the phrase "on the gripping hand". While the source of the phrase turns out to be innocuous enough — the Governor picked up the expression as an Able Spacer on INSS MacArthur on the expedition to Mote Prime — the memories dredged up by the incident are too much for Bury. Driven by nightmares and a deep-seated fear for humanity's safety, Bury must confirm that the Empire is safe from the Moties.
Renner and Bury travel first to Sparta, the Imperial capital planet, to obtain permission to inspect the blockade. Along the way, they discover widespread interest in a second expedition to the Mote, as well as disturbing evidence that the blockade may soon fail.
In Mote, it is mentioned that a protostar is forming in the Coalsack Nebula. The Moties had studied it extensively and told the MacArthur expedition of their estimate that it would ignite in about 1,000 years. That estimate was deliberately falsified - the object was about to collapse and ignite at any moment. The newborn star would mean that a new Alderson Point would be created for interstellar travel, allowing the Moties a second exit from their system. Previously, the only Alderson Point accessible to them was positioned in the photosphere of the supergiant red star, "Murcheson's Eye", making a human blockade practical since the Moties had not stumbled onto the secret of the Langston Field.
Armed with the alarming new knowledge and carrying influential passengers, Renner, Bury, and their ship Sinbad depart for New Caledonia, the closest human system to the Mote. There the Imperial Commission decides that ships must be sent to the hitherto ignored star system where the new Alderson point is predicted to appear. Sinbad is among the ships dispatched. The point appears soon after the small, hastily assembled Imperial fleet's arrival—and so do the Moties.
The second half of The Gripping Hand is a tale of alliances, diplomacy, trade, and space combat between the Empire, led by Bury and Renner, and the many, many factions of Motie civilization. With the aid of the children of Lord and Lady Blaine, and an impressive piece of genetic engineering, Bury and Renner fight to stabilize the Mote civilization and save the Empire.
At the end of the story, the Moties insist that they have to choose between the two equal but unpleasant options of staying bottled in their home system, or expanding and spreading their eternal war through the galaxy. The humans exploit the Moties' idiom of "on the gripping hand" to present a third, stronger option: a genetic modification that would slow down the excessive reproduction rate of the Moties so that they can expand peacefully.
Notes and references
- Jargon File entry for "On the gripping hand"
- Some Motie masters had acquired the secret of the Langston Field, but it didn't help them; the Langston Field of any ship emerging from Murcheson's Eye would have absorbed so much energy as to be near its breaking point, and would be easy prey for the weapons of human blockade ships. The human expedition had deliberately withheld key information, including the fact that the Alderson exit point was within a star's photosphere, and that the Alderson drive induced crippling nausea and temporary unconsciousness, making the crews of such ships helpless to either fight or flee before the blockaders destroyed them.