The Gripping Hand
|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 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 preventing rebellions against the Empire so that the Imperial Navy can concentrate on blockading the Moties in their star system. While investigating suspicious economic activity on the 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 a crewman on INSS MacArthur on the expedition to Mote Prime — the memories dredged up 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 to Sparta, the Imperial capital planet, to obtain permission to inspect the blockade.
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 that it would ignite in about 1,000 years. Bury and Renner inadvertently discover, much to their horror, that the estimate was deliberately falsified - the object is due to collapse and ignite much sooner. The newborn star will create one or more new Alderson Points for interstellar travel, giving the Moties at least one more exit from their system. The sole currently existing Alderson Point leads to the photosphere of the supergiant red star Murcheson's Eye, which made the blockade much more practical and was kept from the Moties.
Armed with the alarming new knowledge and carrying influential passengers, Renner and Bury depart aboard Bury's ship Sinbad 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 only dangerous Alderson Point will appear. All that can be sent on such short notice are two Imperial warships and Sinbad. They arrive — just in time to observe seven Motie ships emerge from the new Alderson Point.
The second half of The Gripping Hand is a tale of shifting alliances, diplomacy and space combat involving the many Motie factions and the Empire, as represented by Bury and Renner. With the aid of the grownup offspring of Lord and Lady Blaine, and a key piece of genetic engineering, Bury and Renner fight to save the Empire and incorporate the Moties into it peacefully.
In the end, the Motie alliance in favor of peaceful co-existence with humans defeats the one determined to expand at any cost. Key to this is a genetically altered parasite that can limit the excessive reproduction rate that had previously condemned the Moties to cycles of uncontrollable expansion, followed inevitably by war and the collapse of civilization.
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