The Mote in God's Eye

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The Mote in God's Eye
The Mote In God's Eye - original hardcover edition.jpg
First edition (hardcover)
Author Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Country United States
Language English
Series CoDominium
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Simon and Schuster
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 537 pp
ISBN 0-671-21833-6
OCLC 934734
LC Class PZ4.N734 Mo PS3564.I9
Preceded by King David's Spaceship
Followed by The Gripping Hand, 1993

The Mote in God's Eye is a science fiction novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, first published in 1974. The story is set in the distant future of Pournelle's CoDominium universe, and charts the first contact between humanity and an alien species. The title of the novel is a wordplay on Luke 6:41–42 and Matthew 7:3–5, which names a star as seen from a newly settled planet. The Mote in God's Eye was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards in 1975.[1] Robert A. Heinlein, who gave the authors extensive advice on the novel,[2] described the story as "possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read".

Plot summary[edit]

The book is split up into four parts.

The Crazy Eddie Probe[edit]

In the year AD 3017, humanity is recovering slowly from an interstellar civil war that tore apart the first Empire of Man. A new Empire has risen and is occupied in establishing control over the remnants of its predecessor, by force if needed.

Commander Lord Roderick Blaine, having participated in the suppression of a rebellion on the planet of New Chicago, is given command of an Imperial battlecruiser, INSS MacArthur, when the captain has to stay behind to restore order on the planet. Blaine is given secret orders to take Horace Hussein Bury, a powerful interstellar merchant of Arabian descent who is suspected of fomenting the revolt for his own profit, to the Imperial capital, Sparta. Blaine is one of the few people available who is wealthier than Bury, so he is the ideal man for the mission as he can't be bribed. The MacArthur is to be repaired in the New Caledonia system, then proceed to the capital. Another passenger is Lady Sandra Bright "Sally" Fowler, the niece of an Imperial Senator and a rescued prisoner of the rebels.

New Caledonia is the capital of the Trans-Coalsack sector, located on the opposite side of the Coalsack Nebula from Earth. Also in the sector is a red supergiant star known as Murcheson's Eye. Associated with it is a yellow Sun-like star. From New Caledonia, the yellow star appears in front of the Eye. Since some see the Eye and the Coalsack as the face of a hooded man, perhaps even the face of God, the yellow star is known as the Mote in God's Eye.

While in the New Caledonia system, Blaine receives a message saying that an alien spacecraft has been detected, and includes an order that MacArthur intercept it. Human ships use the Alderson Drive, which allows them to "jump" instantaneously between points in specific star systems. The alien craft, by contrast, is propelled by a solar sail, taking 150 years to cross between stars at sublight speed. MacArthur duly intercepts the craft and is fired upon by its automated systems, but manages to capture it relatively intact. However, on arrival at the planet New Scotland, its single occupant, evidently the pilot, is found to be dead.

The alien is bizarrely asymmetric, with two delicate arms on one side of its body and a single, much larger and stronger arm on the other. Although it is bipedal and has a head and face similar to humans, its anatomy is entirely different. It has no flexible spine and the face is capable of little expression. It is the first apparently intelligent alien race that humans have come into contact with. The ship itself is composed of alloys with remarkable properties and designed around unique, custom-built parts, no two alike, that perform multiple unrelated tasks simultaneously.

The Crazy Eddie Point[edit]

MacArthur and the battleship Lenin are sent to the Mote: the star from which the alien ship came. MacArthur carries civilian research teams intended to meet with and investigate the Moties, while Lenin is there to ensure the security of humanity's technology and secrets, avoiding all contact with the aliens. Aboard Lenin is the commander in charge of the mission, Admiral Lavrenti Kutuzov, a ruthless, supremely loyal officer who had already sterilized one rebellious colony planet to safeguard Imperial Reunification. Bury goes along ostensibly because a merchant is needed to assess the trade possibilities, but actually because there is nobody trustworthy enough to take him to the capital. Sally, a trained anthropologist, ranks too highly in the political aristocracy to be refused. Despite (or rather, due to) the civilians' distrust, Blaine remains in command of MacArthur.

The Mote has only one Alderson point leading to it, from Murcheson's Eye, and to reach it the ships must actually enter the outer layers of the red supergiant itself before activating the drive. Supergiant stars are up to 500 million km in diameter, but the outer layers are basically a hot vacuum, which the human ships can survive because of the protective Langston Field.

MacArthur successfully makes contact with the Moties. They have advanced technology (in some areas superior to that of the First Empire, let alone the current Second), but seem friendly and willing to share it. Indeed, they would have been a formidable threat to Humanity, had they not been bottled up in their home system. Although they also possess the Alderson Drive, they consider it a failure—the "Crazy Eddie" Drive which makes ships disappear. When everything works perfectly, the termination of their Alderson Drive tramline inside the supergiant destroys their ships, since they have no knowledge of the protective Field. The Moties deduce that humans use the drive because MacArthur and Lenin appear at the "Crazy Eddie Point", the local origin of their tramline.

Meet Crazy Eddie[edit]

The Moties are an old species that has evolved into many specialized subspecies. The first to board MacArthur is an Engineer, a brown fur form with amazing technical abilities but limited speech, who brings along a pair of tiny Motie "Watchmakers" as assistants. Some days later, an official delegation of Motie Mediators arrives, brown and white forms like the dead pilot of the probe ship, who have astounding communication and negotiation skills but very limited ability with tools. A contact party of humans, including Sally Fowler, accompanies them to the surface of Mote Prime. Each Mediator adopts a particular human in this group, becoming his (her in Sally's case) Fyunch(click), studying their subject and learning how to think like him or her, even to the point of exactly reproducing voice and mannerisms.

Back on MacArthur, disaster strikes. The Watchmakers have escaped, and although it was assumed they had died, they have actually been breeding furiously. Despite several attempts to rid MacArthur of the infestation, the Watchmakers, unknown to the human crew, continued quietly redesigning MacArthur and rebuilding it for greater living space. When they are discovered, a losing battle for control of the ship erupts. The crew is eventually forced to abandon ship. The contact party is also recalled without explanation and told to rendezvous directly with Lenin, which destroys MacArthur to prevent the capture of human technology. These events reveal the existence of an improved Langston Field which expands as it absorbs energy, increasing its surface area and dissipating heat faster.

During the evacuation, three MacArthur midshipmen escape from the ship in lifeboats. Unfortunately, these were reconstructed by the descendants of the escaped Watchmakers, and automatic controls force a landing in an unpopulated area of Mote Prime. Exploring unsupervised for the first time, they find a fortified dome-like structure whose doors are locked by a puzzle that requires relatively advanced knowledge of astronomy to solve. It is a perfectly maintained yet completely deserted building that appears to be some type of museum. Every aspect of Motie civilization is preserved in detail, including in-place fragments of several smaller domes which have been violently shattered. The exhibits as a whole provide evidence of a very long and violent history, though the Moties had carefully portrayed themselves to the Expedition members as completely peaceful.

Following this discovery, the midshipmen, Jonathon Whitbread, Horst Staley, and Gavin Potter, are reunited with Whitbread's Fyunch(click) Mediator escort, who reveals the self-destructive character underlying Motie society. Unlike human wars motivated by greed or malice, the Motie civilization is driven to conflict because of biology.

The Moties are sequential hermaphrodites, changing sex over and over again during the course of their lives. However, if a Motie remains female for too long without becoming pregnant, the hormone imbalance will kill her. This characteristic ensures a never-ending population explosion. Attempts at population control through chemicals or infanticide have always failed for the Moties, because those who (secretly or openly) breed uncontrollably eventually swamp those Moties who comply. Once the population pressure rises high enough, massive wars inevitably result.

Humans have encountered eight of the larger Motie subspecies, not including hybrids such as the Mediators: Masters, Engineers, Doctors, Porters, Farmers, Runners, Watchmakers and Meats, but the Masters concealed the existence of another type - the Warriors. Bred specifically for combat, they are innately superior in ability to any human soldier and capable of using any type of weapon. There are no longer any fissionable materials remaining in the Mote system, but asteroid bombardments serve as more than adequate weapons of mass destruction, giving the entire surface of the planet a cratered appearance resembling Mars.

Each war typically ends in the complete destruction of the current civilization on Mote Prime. However, due to their high birth rates, enough Moties always survive to eventually repopulate the planet. A faster rise to civilization leads to a longer period between Collapses, since productivity increases more quickly than the population. The museums exist to accelerate this process after a collapse. They are located in unpopulated areas to avoid their destruction during the inevitable wars. Once the surviving population is advanced enough to solve the puzzle at the door, they have access to a literal catalogue of civilizations, and the weapons to put them into effect. Population is controlled by disease and injury between collapses and reconstructions, but the cycles have thus far never been stopped completely.

The cycles of civilization, war, and collapse have apparently been repeating for hundreds of thousands of years. In some cases, Mote Prime was completely sterilized and then repopulated by those living in hollowed-out asteroids within the system. The current asymmetrical form is probably a mutation resulting from nuclear weaponry prior to a collapse.

Presumably, each civilization arises, unlocks the museums, and discovers that unless they can solve a problem that had plagued countless others, they are doomed. Thus, the Moties have become fatalistically resigned to the never-ending Cycles. Only a mythical character called "Crazy Eddie" believes there is a way to change this, and any Motie who comes to believe a solution is possible is labeled as a "Crazy Eddie" and deemed insane.

The current civilization is organized as a type of "industrial feudalism", where coalitions of related Masters govern the planet. Using the system's Alderson point to colonize other planets is proposed as one (ultimately unworkable) solution to the Cycles, leading to its designation as the "Crazy Eddie Point". Conflict erupts on Mote Prime between two groups of Masters considering this idea.

The smaller group recognizes that expansion to other planets would only postpone the Cycles; nearby planets would soon be filled with Moties, and the Alderson Drive takes time to use — years of travel across systems from tramline to tramline to reach distant planets. Eventually, it would be easier for Moties to challenge humans for their planets, especially since humans cannot compete with Moties, technologically, biologically, or even numerically. Motie victory would be inevitable, but eventually futile as the population continues to expand exponentially. However, the more powerful coalition of Masters sees this temporary solution as more appealing than the impending phase of collapse. Both groups send envoys to the human worlds with instructions to negotiate for the majority position. To conceal the danger to human civilization, the three midshipmen who reached Mote Prime are not permitted to return to Lenin and are killed while resisting capture.

Crazy Eddie's Answer[edit]

Lenin returns home, taking with it—in violation of explicit orders to avoid contact at all costs—the three Motie ambassadors. Kutuzov takes this step only after much debate.

The Motie embassy contains two Mediators called Charlie and Jock, and a Keeper (a sterile Master), known as Ivan. The choice of three infertile Moties occurs both to avoid conflict on Mote Prime, since no single family will control the mission, and to continue the deception of the humans. Their mission is to open the galaxy to their ships while concealing the inevitable drive to war of any Motie civilization. The Jump out of Mote System with the Alderson Drive reveals that the more complex nervous systems of the Moties produce a much more intense version of jump shock than humans experience, nearly killing the Moties.

Back on New Caledonia, an Imperial Commission is on the verge of granting colonies to the Moties, not realizing the ultimate danger. Fortunately, MacArthur’s sailing master, the unconventional Kevin Renner, manages to assemble various clues unknowingly gathered during the expedition. In particular, a series of images taken by MacArthur's cameras as it was attacked by the Motie probe ship reveal the well-kept secret of the Motie Warrior caste. This information, combined with the knowledge of unlimited population growth on Mote Prime, forces the commission to decide against permitting the Moties to leave their home system.

Because the Moties learned about the Langston Field, enabling them to establish colonies independently, it seems the only option is to send the Fleet to eradicate the entire Motie species. However, the Mediator Charlie, who represents the minority view from Mote Prime, persuades the Commission to establish a permanent blockade of the system's only worthwhile exit through the Alderson point, allowing the Moties to survive with the seemingly endless Cycles, until such time as the humans can find a cure for their birth rate, something "sane" Moties think impossible.

With Motie assistance in planning the blockade, the Commission accepts this alternative. Since the Moties are helpless for so long after a Jump, the ships of the human fleet can easily destroy any blockade runners with their laser weaponry, especially within the superheated photosphere of Murcheson's Eye. Even the Moties' improvement on the Langston Field — causing it to expand as it absorbs energy so as to faster dissipate heat — is useless in this environment. It simply causes faster heat absorption, resulting in a chain reaction that destroys every ship that makes the attempt to traverse the tramline even before they can return to inform others of the weakness.

Sally Fowler establishes a private foundation seeking a cure for the Moties' unavoidable birth rate. The book ends with the mediators glumly considering the future; Jock predicting that a later generation of humans will destroy the Motie species after the next collapse, but Charlie arguing that they have bought "hundreds of years of time"; and, perhaps, a cure will actually be found. In either case, it seems that "Crazy Eddie" was right — the Cycles will finally end. Jock reflects that Charlie has gone "Crazy Eddie", and thinks to herself the Motie definition of Crazy Eddie: "this delusion that all questions have answers, and nothing is beyond the reach of a strong left arm". Jock reflects that Charlie is perhaps right: "Two generations of power would not hate Moties".


Commander Roderick "Rod" Blaine 
A navy officer member of an aristocratic family, Blaine is promoted to Captain of the Imperial battlecruiser, INSS MacArthur, and given secret orders to take Horace Hussein Bury and Lady Sandra Bright Fowler, to the Imperial capital, Sparta.
Lady Sandra "Sally" Bright Fowler 
Twenty two years old, Sally is Senator Fowler's niece. After leaving the Imperial University at Sparta with a master's degree in anthropology, she persuaded her uncle that she should travel through the Empire and study primitive cultures first hand. Sally and a classmate, Dorothy, left Sparta with Sally's servants, Adam and Annie. During a stopover at New Chicago, they become caught in a revolution. Dorothy disappears and Sally is imprisoned. Months later, she is rescue by imperial forces and send home aboard the MacArthur.
His Excellency, Horace Hussein Chamoun al Shamlan Bury 
Magnate, Chairman of the Board of Imperial Autonetics, and influential member of the Imperial Traders Association. Son of a rich trader, educated on Sparta, he is the most rich and powerful man on New Chicago. He tries to take control of New Chicago by starting a revolution, with the help of Jonas Stone, and fails. The Navy suspects Bury was behind this rebellion, but there's not enough evidence to put him in preventive detention. He requests to appeal to the Emperor and is sent on the MacArthur to Sparta to make his appeal.
Bury's servant, skilled with dagger and poison learned on ten planets. Travels with Bury to Sparta.
Jack Cargill
First Lieutenant on board the MacArthur, gets promoted to Exec after the battle of New Chicago.
Jock Sinclair
the Chief Engineer on board the MacArthur. Born in New Scotland.
Jonathon Whitbread 
Midshipman on board the MacArthur. He's the first man to make contact with a living motie.
Horst Staley 
Midshipman on board the MacArthur.
Gavin Potter 
Midshipman on board the MacArthur.


Theodore Sturgeon, describing Mote as "one of the most engrossing tales I have encountered in years," reported that "the overall pace of the book [and] the sheer solid story of it" excuse whatever flaws might remain, particularly an unexplained key feature in the imagined alien society.[3] Portsmouth Times reviewer Terry McLaughlin found the novel "a superior tale, told without the pseudo-psychology background that seems to mar many a new science fiction novel."[4]

Brian W. Aldiss and Wingrove reported that while the imagined aliens were "fascinating creations," the "style and characterization [emphasize] the weaknesses of both Niven and Pournelle."[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "1975 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  2. ^ "Letter to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle about 'The Mote in God's Eye'", The Virginia Edition
  3. ^ "Galaxy Bookshelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1974, pp.121-22
  4. ^ "At the Library", Portsmouth Times, November 12, 1974, p.20
  5. ^ Aldiss & Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree, Victor Gollancz, 1986, p.655n43

External links[edit]