Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Building The Mote In God's Eye
I think it is safe to say that the most successful collaboration between any two, or more, writers has to be that of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. When they work together, and publish a novel, it is guaranteed to become a best seller.

But how do these two forces manage to accomplish something that is so foreign to others? And make no mistake, collaborations are almost always anything but collaboration. There is almost always one who leads and one who follows. And it tends to show in each and every work. But when reading Niven & Pournelle, it is immediately apparent that the two are flowing together seamlessly. What weakness one has, the other fills in effortlessly.

Its amazing. And anyone who has never read one of their combined works is missing out on something really profound.

So where does "The Mote In God's Eye" come in here. Well the truth is that it is perhaps the best example of this wedding of minds, and has proven itself to be one of the greatest SiFi novels ever written. And its not just the content, or the science, or the structure, that makes it so. Its everything together, all rolled into one.

Some years ago the two collaborated again, and discussed how they actually created "The Mote In God's Eye" and detailed the different aspects of the total work. I read it somewhere, a good while ago, but back then it didn't impress me as it does now.

Anyway, there is a lot that goes into writing a successful novel, and especially a science fiction novel. There is just so much that goes into the entire process. So you can just imagine how much goes into two people, living apart and communicating in different ways. How they accomplish all this is a miracle alone.

Well, I have an old copy of Niven's "N Space" sitting around, and I know the article is located there, so I have lifted it out and am putting it here. That way others can get a good idea as to how these two writers have managed to make their magic with this magnificent work of art.

You should appreciate the novel better having read this article,.........guaranteed.

I have also read somewhere that the total amount of material cut from the original novel are considerable. It would be nice to have access to a 'director's cut', one that the two writers wanted to keep in, but were required to omit.


Collaborations are unnatural. The writer is a jealous god. He builds his universe without interference. He resents the carping of mentally deficient Critics and the editor's capricious demands for revisions. Let two writers try to make one universe, and their defenses get in the way.

But. Our fields of expertise matched each the other's blind spots, unnaturally well. There were books neither of us could write alone. We had to try it.
At first we were too polite, too reluctant to criticize each other's work. That may have saved us from killing each other early on, but it left flaws that had to be torn out of the book later. We had to build the worlds. From Motie physiognomy we had to build Motie technology and history and life styles. Niven had to be coached in the basic history of Pournelle's thousand year-old interstellar culture.

It took us three years. At the end we had a novel of 245,000 words which was too long. We cut it to 170,000, to the reader's great benefit. We cut 50,000 words off the beginning, including in one lump our first couple of months of work: a prologue, a battle between space-going warcraft, and a prison camp scene. All of the crucial information had to be embedded in later sections. We give that prologue here. When the Moties and the Empire and the star systems and their technologies and philosophies had become one interrelated whole, this is how it looked from New Caledonia system. We called it


Last night at this time he had gone out to look at the stars. Instead a glare of white light like an exploding sun had met him at the door, and when he could see again a flaming mushroom was rising from the cornfields at the edge of the black hemisphere roofing the University. Then had come sound, rumbling, rolling across the fields to shake the house. Alice had run out in terror, desperate to have her worst fears confirmed, crying, "What are you learning that's worth getting us all killed?"

He'd dismissed her question as typical of an astronomer's wife, but in fact he was learning nothing. The main telescope controls were erratic, and nothing could be done, for the telescope itself was on New Scotland's tiny moon. These nights interplanetary space rippled with the strange lights of war, and the atmosphere glowed with ionization from shock waves, beamed radiation, fusion explosions . . . He had gone back inside without answering. Now, late in the evening of New Scotland's 27-hour day, Thaddeus Potter, Ph.D., strolled out into the night air.

It was a good night for seeing. Interplanetary war could play hell with the seeing; but tonight the bombardment from New Ireland had ceased. The Imperial Navy had won a victory. Potter had paid no attention to the newscasts; still, he appreciated the victory's effects. Perhaps tonight the war wouldn't interfere with his work. He walked thirty paces forward and turned just where the roof of his house wouldn't block the Coal Sack. It was a sight he never tired of.

The Coal Sack was a nebular mass of gas and dust, small as such things go-eight to ten parsecs thick-but dense, and close enough to New Caledonia to block a quarter of the sky. Earth lay somewhere on the other side of it, and so did the Imperial Capital, Sparta, both forever invisible. The Coal Sack hid most of the Empire, but it made a fine velvet backdrop for two close, brilliant stars.

And one of them had changed drastically.

Potter's face changed too. His eyes bugged. His lantern jaw hung loose on its hinges. Stupidly he stared at the sky as if seeing it for the first time.

Then, abruptly, he ran into the house.

Alice came into the bedroom as he was phoning Edwards. "What's happened?" she cried. "Have they pierced the shield?"

"No," Potter snapped over his shoulder. Then, grudgingly, "Something's happened to the Mote."

"Oh for God's sake!" She was genuinely angry, Potter saw. All that fuss about a star, with civilization falling around our ears! But Alice had no love of the stars. Edwards answered. On the screen he showed naked from the waist up, his long curly hair a tangled bird's nest. "Who the hell-? Thad. I might have known. Thad, do you know what time it is?''

"Yes. Go outside," Potter ordered. "Have a look at the Mote."

"The Mote? The Mote?"

"Yes. It's gone nova!" Potter shouted. Edwards growled, then sudden comprehension struck. He left the screen without hanging up. Potter reached out to dial the bedroom window transparent. And it was still there.

Even without the Coal Sack for backdrop Murcheson's Eye would be the brightest object in the sky. At its rising the Coal Sack resembled the silhouette of a hooded man, head and shoulders; and the off-centered red supergiant became a watchful, malevolent eye. The University itself had begun as an observatory funded to study the supergiant.

This eye had a mote: a yellow dwarf companion, smaller and dimmer, and uninteresting. The Universe held plenty of yellow dwarfs.

But tonight the Mote was a brilliant blue-green point. It was almost as bright as Murcheson's Eye itself, and it burned with a purer light. Murcheson's Eye was white with a strong red tinge; but the Mote was blue-green with no compromise, impossibly green.

Edwards came back to the phone.

"Thad, that's no nova. It's like nothing ever recorded. Thad, we've got to get to the observatory!"

"I know. I'll meet you there."

"I want to do spectroscopy on it."

"All right."

"God, I hope the seeing holds! Do you think we'll be able to get through today?"

"If you hang up, we'll find out sooner."

"What? Och, aye." Edwards hung up.

The bombardment started as Potter was boarding his bike. There was a hot streak of light like a very large shooting star; and it didn't burn out, but reached all the way to the horizon. Stratospheric clouds formed and vanished, outlining the shock wave. Light glared on the horizon, then faded gradually.

"Damn," muttered Potter, with feeling. He started the motor. The war was no concern of his, except that he no longer had New Irish students. He even missed some of them. There was one chap from Cohane who .

A cluster of stars streaked down in exploding fireworks. Something burned like a new star overhead. The falling stars winked out, but the other light went on and on, changing colors rapidly, even while the shock wave clouds dissipated. Then the night became clear, and Potter saw that it was on the moon.

What could New Ireland be shooting at on New Scotland's moon?

Potter understood then. "You bastards!" he screamed at the sky. "You lousy traitor bastards!"

The single light reddened.

He stormed around the side of Edwards's house shouting, "The traitors bombed the main telescope! Did you see it? All our work-oh." He had forgotten Edwards's backyard telescope.

It had cost him plenty, and it was very good, although it weighed only four kilograms. It was portable-' 'Especially," Edwards used to say, "when compared with the main telescope." He had bought it because the fourth attempt at grinding his own mirror produced another cracked disk and an ultimatium from his now dead wife about Number 200 Carbo grains tracked Onto her New-Life carpets . .

Now Edwards moved away from the eyepiece saying, "Nothing much to see there." He was right. There were no features. Potter saw only a uniform aquamarine field.

"But have a look at this," said Edwards. "Move back a bit. .

He set beneath the eyepiece a large sheet of white paper, then a wedge of clear quartz. The prism spread a fan-shaped rainbow across the paper. But the rainbow was almost too dim to see vanishing beside a single line of aquamarine; and that line blazed.

"One line," said Potter. "Monochromatic?"

"I told you yon was no nova."

"Too right it wasn't. But what is it? Laser light? It has to be artificial! Lord, what a
technology they've built!"

"Och, come now." Edwards interrupted the monologue. "I doubt yon's artificial at all. Too intense." His voice was cheerful. "We're seeing something new. Somehow yon Mote is generating coherent light."

"I don't believe it."~ Edwards looked annoyed. After all, it was his telescope. "What think you, then? Some boby calling for help? If they were that powerful, they would send a ship. A ship would come thirty-five years sooner!"

"But there's no tramline from the Mote to New Caledonia! Not even theoretically possible. Only link to the Mote has to start inside the Eye. Murcheson looked for it, you know, but he never found it. The Mote's alone out there."

"Och, then how could there be a colony?" Edwards demanded in triumph. "Be reasonable, Thad! We hae a new natural phenomenon, something new in stellar process."

"But if someone is calling-"

"Let's hope not. We could no help them. We couldn't reach them, even if we knew the links! There's no starship in the New Cal system, and there's no likely to be until the war's over." Edwards looked up at the sky. The moon was a small, irregular half-disk; and a circular crater still burned red in the dark half.

A brilliant violet streak flamed high overhead. The violet light grew more intense and flared white, then vanished. A warship had died out there.

"Ah, well," Edwards said. His voice softened. "If someone's calling he picked a hell of a time for it. But at least we can search for modulations. If the beam is no modulated, you'll admit there's nobody there, will you not?"

"Of course," said Potter.

In 2862 there were no starships behind the Coal Sack. On the other side, around Crucis and the Capital, a tiny fleet still rode the force paths between stars to the worlds Sparta controlled. There were fewer loyal ships and worlds each year.

The summer of 2862 was lean for New Scotland. Day after day a few men crept outside the black dome that defended the city; but they always returned at night. Few saw the rising of the Coal Sack. It climbed weirdly, its resemblance to a shrouded human silhouette marred by the festive two-colored eye. The Mote burned as brightly as Murcheson's Eye now. But who would listen to Potter and Edwards and their crazy tales about the Mote? The night sky was a battlefield, dangerous to look upon.

The war was not really fought for the Empire now. In the New Caledonia system the war continued because it would not end. Loyalist and Rebel were meaningless terms; but it hardly mattered while bombs and wrecked ships fell from the skies.

Henry Morrissey was still head of the University Astronomy Department. He tried to talk Potter and Edwards into returning to the protection of the Langston Field. His only success was that Potter sent his wife and two sons back with Morrissey. Edwards had no living dependents, and both refused to budge.

Morrissey was willing to believe that something had happened to the Mote, but not that it was visible to the naked eye. Potter was known for his monomaniacal enthusiasms. The Department could supply them with equipment. It was makeshift, but it should have done the job. There was laser light coming from the Mote. It came with terrific force, and must have required terrific power, and enormous sophistication to build that power. No one would build such a thing except to send a message.

And there was no message. The beam was not modulated. It did not change color, or blink off and on, or change in intensity. It was a steady, beautifully pure, terribly intense beam of coherent light.

Potter watched to see if it might change silhouette, staring for hours into the telescope. Edwards was no help at all. He alternated between polite gloating at having proved his point, and impolite words muttered as he tried to investigate the new "stellar process" with inadequate equipment. The only thing they agreed on was the need to publish their observations, and the impossibility of doing so.

One night a missile exploded against the edge of the black dome. The Langston Field protecting University City could only absorb so much energy before radiating inward, vaporizing the town, and it took time to dissipate the hellish fury poured into it. Frantic engineers worked to radiate away the shield energy before the generators melted to slag.

They succeeded, but there was a burn-through: a generator left yellow-hot and runny. A relay snapped open, and New Caledonia stood undefended against a hostile sky. Before the Navy could restore the Field a million people had watched the rising of the Coal Sack.

"I came to apologize," Morrissey told Potter the next morning. "Something damned strange has happened to the Mote. What have you got?"

He listened to Potter and Edwards, and he stopped their fight. Now that they had an audience they almost came to blows. Morrissey promised them more equipment and retreated under the restored shield. He had been an astronomer in his time. Somehow he got them what they needed. Weeks became months. The war continued, wearing New Scotland down, exhausting her resources. Potter and Edwards worked on, learning nothing, fighting with each other and screaming curses at the New Irish traitors.

They might as well have stayed under the shield. The Mote produced coherent light of amazing purity. Four months after it began, the light jumped in intensity and stayed that way. Five month later it jumped again.

It jumped once more, four months later, but Potter and Edwards didn't see it. That was the night ship from New Ireland fell from the sky, its shield blazing violet with friction. It was low when the shield overloaded and collapsed, releasing stored energy in one ferocious blast. Gammas and photons washed across the plains beyond the city, and Potter and Edwards were carried into the University hospital by worried students. Potter died three days later. Edwards walked for the rest of his life with a backpack attached to his shoulders: a portable life support system.

It was 2870 on every world where clocks still ran when the miracle came to New Scotland. An interstellar trading ship, long converted for war and recently damaged, fell into the system with her Langston Field intact and her hold filled with torpedoes. She was killed in the final battle, but the insurrection on New Ireland died as well. Now all the New Caledonia system was loyal to the Empire; and the Empire no longer existed.

The University came out from under the shield. Some had forgotten that the Mote had once been a small yellow-white point.

Most didn't care. There was a world to be tamed, and that world had been bare rock terraformed in the first place. The fragile imported biosphere was nearly destroyed, and it took all their ingenuity and work to keep New Scotland inhabitable.

They succeeded because they had to. There were no ships to take survivors anywhere else. The Yard had been destroyed in the war, and there would be no more interstellar craft. They were alone behind the Coal Sack.

The Mote continued to grow brighter as the years passed. Soon it was more brilliant than the Eye, but there were no astronomers on New Scotland to care. In 2891 the Coal Sack was a black silhouette of a hooded man. It had one terribly bright blue-green eye, with a red fleck in it.

One night at the rising of the Coal Sack, a farmer named Howard Grote Littlemead was struck with inspiration. It came to him that the Coal Sack was God, and that he ought to tell someone. Tradition had it that the Face of God could be seen from New Caledonia; and Littlemead had a powerful voice. Despite the opposition of the Imperial Orthodox Church, despite the protests of the Viceroy and the scorn of the University staff, the Church of Him spread until it was a power of New Scotland.

It was never large, but its members were fanatics; and they had the miracle of the Mote, which no scientist could explain. By 2895 the Church of Him was a power among New Scot farmers, but not in the cities. Still, half the population worked in the fields. The converter kitchens had all broke down.

By 2900 New Scotland had two working interplanetary spacecraft, one of which could not land. Its Langston Field had died. The term was appropriate. When a piece of Empire technology stopped working, it was dead. It could not be repaired. New Scotland was becoming primitive. For forty years the Mote had grown. Children refused to believe that it had once been called the Mote. Adults knew it was true, but couldn't remember why. They called the twin stars Murcheson's Eye, and believed that the red supergiant had no special name.

The records might have showed differently, but the University records were suspect. The Library had been scrambled by electromagnetic pulses during the years of siege. It had large areas of amnesia.

In 2902 the Mote went out. Its green light dimmed to nothing over a period of several hours; but that happened on the other side of the world. When the Coal Sack rose above University City that night, it rose as a blinded man.

All but a few remnants of the Church of Him died that year. With the aid of a handful of sleeping pills Howard Grote Littlemead hastened to meet his God . . . possibly to demand an explanation. Astronomy also died. There were few enough astronomers and fewer tools; and when nobody could explain the vanishing of the Mote . . . and when telescopes turned on the Mote's remnant showed only a yellow dwarf star, with nothing remarkable about it at all .

People stopped considering the stars. They had a world to save. The Mote was a G-2 yellow dwarf, thirty-five light-years distant: a white point at the edge of Murcheson's Eye. So it was for more than a century, while the Second Empire rose from Sparta and came again to New Caledonia. Then astronomers read old and incomplete records, and resumed their study of the red supergiant known as Murcheson's Eye; but they hardly noticed the Mote. And the Mote did nothing unusual for one hundred and fifteen years.

Thirty-five light years away, the aliens of Mote Prime had launched a light-sail spacecraft, using batteries of laser cannon powerful enough to outshine a neighboring red supergiant.
As for why they did it that way, and why it looked like that, and what the bejeesus is going on . . . explanations follow.

Most hard science fiction writers follow standard rules for building worlds. We have formulae and tables for getting the orbits tight, selecting suns of proper brightness, determining temperatures and climates, building a plausible ecology. Building worlds requires imagination, but a lot of the work is mechanical. Once the mechanical work is done the world may suggest a story, or it may even design its own inhabitants. Larry Niven's "Known Space" stories include worlds which have strongly affected their colonists.

Or the exceptions to the rules may form stories. Why does Mote Prime, a nominally Earthlike world, remind so many people of the planet Mars? What strangeness in its evolution made the atmosphere so helium-rich? This goes beyond mechanics.

In THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE (Simon and Schuster, 1974) we built not only worlds, but cultures. From the start MOTE was to be a novel of first contact. After our initial story conference we had larger ambitions: MOTE would be, if we could write it, the epitome of first contact novels. We intended to explore every important problem arising from first contact with aliens-and to look at those problems from both human and alien viewpoints.

That meant creating cultures in far more detail than is needed for most novels. It's easy, when a novel is heavy with detail, for the details to get out of hand, creating glaring inconsistencies. (If civilization uses hydrogen fusion power at such a rate that world sea level has dropped by two feet, you will not have people sleeping in abandoned movie houses.) To avoid such inconsistencies we worked a great deal harder developing the basic technologies of both the Motie (alien) and the human civilizations.

In fact, when we finished the book we had nearly as much unpublished material as ended up in the book. There are many pages of data on Motie biology and evolutionary history; details on Empire science and technology; descriptions of space battles, how worlds are terraformed, how light-sails are constructed; and although these background details affected the novel and dictated what we would actually write, most of them never appear in the book.

We made several boundary decisions. One was to employ the Second Empire period of Pournelle's future history. That Empire existed as a series of sketches with a loose outline of its history~ most of it previously published. MOTE had to be consistent with the published material. Another parameter was the physical description of the aliens. Incredibly, that's all we began with: a detailed description of what became the prototype Motie, the Engineer: an attempt to build a nonsymmetrical alien, left over from a Niven story that never quite jelled. The history, biology, evolution, sociology, and culture of the Moties were extrapolated from that being's shape during endless coffee-and-brandy sessions.

That was our second forced choice. The Moties lived within the heart of the Empire, but had never been discovered. A simple explanation might have been ~o make the aliens a young civilization just discovering space travel, but that assumption contradicted Motie history as extrapolated from their appearance. We found another explanation in the nature of the Alderson drive, discussed later.


The most important technological features of the Empire were previously published in other stories: the Alderson Drive and Langston Field. Both were invented to Jerry Pournelle's specifications by Dan Alderson, a resident genius at Cal Tech's Jet Propulsion Laboratories. It had always been obvious that the Drive and Field would affect the cultures that used them, but until we got to work on MOTE it wasn't obvious just how profound the effects would be.


Every sf writer eventually must face the problem of interstellar transportation. There are a number of approaches. One is to deny faster-than-light travel. This in practice forbids organized interstellar civilizations.

A second approach is to ignore General and Special Relativity. Readers usually won't accept this. It's a cop-out, and except in the kind of story that's more allegory than science fiction, it's not appropriate.

Another method is to retreat into doubletalk about hyperspace. Doubletalk drives are common enough. The problem is that when everything is permitted, nothing is forbidden. Good stories are made when there are difficulties to overcome, and if there are no limits to "hyperspace travel" there are no real limits to what the heroes and villains can do. In a single work the "difficulties" can be planned as the story goes along, and the drive then redesigned in rewrite; but we couldn't do that here.

Our method was to work out the Drive in detail and live with the resulting limitations. As it happens, the limits on the Drive influenced the final outcome of the story; but they were not invented for that purpose.

The Alderson Drive is consistent with everything presently known about physics. It merely assumes that additional discoveries will be made in about thirty years, at Cal Tech (as a tip o' the hat to Dan Alderson). The key event is the detection of a "fifth force."

There are four known forces in modern physics: two sub-nuclear forces responsible respectively for alpha and beta decay; electromagnetism, which includes light; and gravity. The Alderson force, then, is the fifth, and it is generated by thermonuclear reactions.

The force has little effect in our universe; in fact, it is barely detectable. Simultaneously with the discovery of the fifth force, however, we postulate the discovery of a second universe in point-to-point congruence with our own. The "continuum universe" differs from the one we're used to in that there are no known quantum effects there.

Within that universe particles may travel as fast as they can be accelerated; and the fifth force exists to accelerate them.

There's a lot more, including a page or so of differential equations, but that's the general idea. You can get from one universe to another. For every construct in our universe there can be created a "correspondence particle" in the continuum universe. In order for your construct to go into and emerge from the continuum universe without change you must have some complex machinery to hold everything together and prevent your ship-and crew-from being disorganized into elementary particles.

Correspondence particles can be boosted to speeds faster than light: in fact, to speeds nearly infinite as we measure them. Of course they cannot emerge into our universe at such speeds: they have to lose their energy to emerge at all. More on that in a moment.

There are severe conditions to entering and leaving the continuum universe. To emerge from the continuum universe you must exit with precisely the same potential energy (measured in terms of the fifth force, not gravity) as you entered. You must also have zero kinetic energy relative to a complex set of coordinates that we won't discuss here.

The fifth force is created by thermonuclear reactions: generally, that is, in stars. You may travel by using it, but only along precisely defined lines of equipotential flux: tramways or tramlines.

Imagine the universe as a thin rubber sheet, very flat. Now drop heavy rocks of different weights onto it. The rocks will distort the sheet, making little cone-shaped (more or less) dimples. Now put two rocks reasonably close together: the dimples will intersect in a valley. The intersection will have a "pass," a region higher than the low points where the rocks (stars) lie, but lower than the general level of the rubber sheet.

The route from one star to another through that "pass" is the tramline. Possible tramlines lie between each two stars, but they don't always exist, because when you add third and fourth stars to the system they may interfere, so there is no unique gradient line. If this seems confusing, don't spend a lot of time worrying about it; we'll get to the effects of all this in a moment. You may also imagine stars to be like hills; move another star close and the hills will intersect.

Again, from summit to summit there will be one and only one line that preserves the maximum potential energy for that level. Release a marble on one hill and it will roll down, across the saddle, and up the side of the other. That too is a tramline effect. It's generally easier to think of the system as valleys rather than hills, because to travel from star to star you have to get over that "hump" between the two. The fifth force provides the energy for that.

You enter from the quantum universe. When you travel in the continuum universe you continually lose kinetic energy; it "leaks." This can be detected in our universe as photons. The effect can be important during a space battle. We cut such a space battle from MOTE, but it still exists, and we may yet publish it as a novella.

To get from the quantum to the continuum universe you must supply power, and this is available only in quantum terms. When you do this you turn yourself into a correspondence particle; go across the tramline; and come out at the point on the other side where your potential energy is equal to what you entered with, plus zero kinetic energy (in terms of the fifth force and complex reference axes).

For those bored by the last few paragraphs, take heart: we'll leave the technical details and get on with what it all means.

Travel by Alderson Drive consists of getting to the proper Alderson Point and turning on the Drive. Energy is used. You vanish, to reappear in an immeasurably short time at the Alderson Point in another star system some several light-years away. If you haven't done everything right, or aren't at the Alderson Point, you turn on your drive and a lot of energy vanishes. You don't move. (In fact you do move, but you instantaneously reappear in the spot where you started.)

That's all there is to the Drive, but it dictates the structure of an interstellar civilization. To begin with, the Drive works only from point to point across interstellar distances. Once in a star system you must rely on reaction drives to get around. There's no magic way from, say, Saturn to Earth: you've got to slog across.

Thus space battles are possible, and you can't escape battle by vanishing into hyperspace, as you could in future history series such as Beam Piper's and Gordon Dickson's. To reach a given planet you must travel across its stellar system, and you must enter that system at one of the Alderson Points. There won't be more than five or six possible points of entry, and there may only be one. Star systems and planets can be thought of as continents and islands, then, and Alderson Points as narrow sea gates such as Suez, Gibraltar, Panama, Malay Straits, etc. To carry the analogy further, there's telegraph but no radio: the fastest message between star systems is one carried by a ship, but within star systems messages go much faster than the ships.

Hmm. This sounds a bit like the early days of steam. Not sail; the ships require fuel and sophisticated repair facilities. They won't pull into some deserted star system and rebuild themselves unless they've carried the spare parts along. However, if you think of naval actions in the period between the Crimean War and World War One, you'll have a fair picture of conditions as implied by the Alderson Drive.

The Drive's limits mean that uninteresting stellar systems won't be explored. There are too many of them. They may be used as crossingpoints if the stars are conveniently placed, but stars not along a travel route may never be visited.

Reaching the Mote, or leaving it, would be damned inconvenient. Its only tramline reaches to a star only a third of a light-year away~-Murcheson's Eye, the red supergiant-and ends deep inside the red-hot outer envelope. The aliens' only access to the Empire is across thirty-five lightyears of interstellar space-which no Empire ship would ever see. The gaps between the stars are as mysterious to the Empire as they are to you.


Our second key technological building block was the Langston Field, which absorbs and stores energy in proportion to the fourth power of incoming particle energy: that is, a slow moving object can penetrate it, but the faster it's moving (or hotter it is) the more readily it is absorbed.

(In fact it's not a simple fourth-power equation; but our readers surely don't need third order differential equations for amusement.) The Field can be used for protection against lasers, thermonuclear weapons, and nearly anything else. It isn't a perfect defense, however. The natural shape of the Field is a solid. Thus it wants to collapse and vaporize everything inside it. It takes energy to maintain a hole inside the Field, and more energy to open a control in it so that you can cause it selectively to radiate away stored energy. You don't get something for nothing.

This means that if a Field is overloaded, the ship inside vanishes into vapor. In addition, parts of the Field can be momentarily overloaded: a sufficiently high energy impacting a small enough area will cause a temporary Field collapse, and a burst of energy penetrates to the inside. This can damage a ship without destroying it.


We've got to invent a term. What is a good word to mean the equivalent of "geography" as projected into interstellar space? True, planetologists have now adopted "geology" to mean geophysical sciences applied to any planet, not merely Earth; and one might reasonably expect "geography" to be applied to the study of physical features of other planets- but we're concerned here with the relationship of star systems to each other.

We suggest cosmography, but perhaps that's too broad? Should that term be used for relationships of galaxies, and mere star system patterns be studied as "astrography"? After all, "astrogator" is a widely used term meaning "navigator" for interstellar flight.

Some of the astrography of MOTE was given because it had been previously published. In particular, the New Caledonia system, and the red supergiant known as Murcheson's Eye, had already been worked out. There were also published references to the history of New Caledonia.

We needed a red supergiant in the Empire. There's only one logical place for that, and previously published stories had placed one there: Murcheson's Eye, behind the Coal Sack. It has to be behind the Coal Sack: if there were a supergiant that close anywhere else, we'd see it now.

Since we had to use Murcheson's Eye, we had to use New Caledonia. Not that this was any great imposition: New Scotland and New Ireland are interesting places, terraformed planets, with interesting features and interesting cultures.

There was one problem, though: New Scotland is inhabited by New Scots, a people who have preserved their subculture for a long time and defend it proudly. Thus, since much of the action takes place on New Scotland, some of the characters, including at least one major character, had to be New Scot. For structural reasons we had only two choices: the First Officer or the Chief Engineer. We chose the Chief Engineer, largely because in the contemporary world it is a fact that a vastly disproportionate number of ship's engineers are Scots, and that seemed a reasonable thing to project into the future.

Alas, some critics have resented that, and a few have accused us of stealing Mr. Sinclair from Star Trek. We didn't. Mr. Sinclair is what he is for perfectly sound astrographical reasons. The astrography eventually dictated the title of the book. Since most of the action takes place very near the Coal Sack, we needed to know how the Coal Sack would look close up from the back side. Eventually we put swirls of interplanetary dust in it, and evolving proto-stars, and all manner of marvels; but those came after we got very close. The first problem was the Coal Sack seen from ten parsecs.

Larry Niven hit on the happy image of a hooded man, with the super-giant where one eye might be. The supergiant has a small companion, a yellow dwarf not very different from our Sun. If the supergiant is an eye-Murcheson's Eye-then the dwarf is, of course, a mote in that eye.
But if the Hooded Man is seen by backward and superstitious peoples as the Face of God . . . then the name for the Mote becomes inevitable and once suggested, "The Mote In God's Eye" is a near irresistible title. (Although in fact Larry Niven did resist it, and wanted "The Mote In Murcheson ' s Eye" up to the moment when the publisher argued strongly for the present title.)


Long ago we acquired a commercial model called "The Explorer Ship Leif Ericsson," a plastic spaceship of intriguing design. It is shaped something like a flattened pint whiskey bottle with a long neck. The "Leif Ericsson," alas, was killed by general lack of interest in spacecraft by model buyers; a ghost of it is still marketed in hideous glow-in-the-dark color as some kind of flying saucer.

It's often easier to take a detailed construct and work within its limits than it is to have too much flexibility. For fun we tried to make the Leif Ericsson work as a model for an Empire naval vessel. The exercise proved instructive.

First, the model is of a big ship, and is of the wrong shape ever to be carried aboard another vessel. Second, it had fins, only useful for atmosphere flight: what purpose would be served in having atmosphere capabilities on a large ship?

This dictated the class of ship: it must be a cruiser or battlecruiser. Battleships and dreadnaughts wouldn't ever land, and would be cylindrical or spherical to reduce surface area. Our ship was too large to be a destroyer (an expendable ship almost never employed on missions except as part of a flotilla). Cruisers and battlecruisers can be sent on independent missions.

MacArthur, a General Class Battlecruiser, began to emerge. She can enter atmosphere, but rarely does so, except when long independent assignments force her to seek fuel on her own. She can do this in either of two ways: go to a supply source, or fly into the hydrogen-rich atmosphere of a gas giant and scoop. There were scoops on the model, as it happens.

[Image: p2240015.jpg]

She has a large pair of doors in her hull, and a spacious compartment inside: obviously a hangar deck for carrying auxiliary craft. Hangar deck is also the only large compartment in her, and therefore would be the normal place of assembly for the crew when she isn't under battle conditions.

The tower on the model looked useless, and was almost ignored, until it occurred to us that on long missions not under acceleration it would be useful to have a high-gravity area. The ship is a bit thin to have much gravity in the "neck" without spinning her far more rapidly than you'd like; but with the tower, the forward area gets normal gravity without excessive spin rates. And on, and so forth. In the novel, Lenin was designed from scratch; and of course we did have to make some modifications in Leif Ericsson before she could become INSS MacArthur; but it's surprising just how much detail you can work up through having to live with the limits of a model.


The Alderson Drive and the Langston Field determine what kinds of interstellar organizations will be possible. There will be alternatives, but they have to fit into the limits these technologies impose.

In THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE we chose Imperial Aristocracy as the main form of human government. We've been praised for this: Dick Brass in a New York Post review concludes that we couldn't have chosen anything else, and other critics have applauded us for showing what such a society might be like. Fortunately there are no Sacred Cows in science fiction. Maybe we should have stuck to incest? Because other critics have been horrified! Do we, they ask, really believe in imperial government? and monarchy?

That depends on what they mean by "believe in." Do we think it's desirable? We don't have to say. Inevitable? Of course not. Do we think it's possible? Damn straight. The political science in MOTE is taken from C. Northcote Parkinson's Evolution of Political Thought. Parkinson himself echoes Aristotle.

It is fashionable to view history as a linear progression: things get better, never worse, and of course we'll never go back to the bad old days of (for instance) personal government. Oddly enough, even critics who have complained about the aristocratic pyramid in MOTE-and thus rejected our Empire as absurd-have been heard to complain about "Imperial Presidency" in the USA. How many readers would bet long odds against John-John Kennedy becoming President within our lifetimes? Any pretended "science" of history is the bunk. That's the problem with Marxism. Yet Marx wrote a reasonable economic view of history up to his time, and some of his principles may be valid.

Military history is another valid way to view the last several thousand years-but no one in his right mind would pretend that a history of battles and strategies is the whole of the human story. You may write history in terms of medical science, in terms of rats, lice, and plagues, in terms of agricultural development, in terms of strong leadership personalities, and each view will hold some truth.

There are many ways to view history, and Aristotle's cycles as brought up to date by Parkinson make one of the better ones. For those who don't accept that proposition, we urge you at least to read Parkinson before making up your minds and closing the door. The human society in MOTE is colored by technology and historical evolution. In MOTE's future history the United States and the Soviet Union form an alliance and together dominate the world during the last decades of the 20th Century. The alliance doesn't end their rivalry, and doesn't make the rulers or people of either nation love their partners.

The CoDominium Alliance needs a military force. Military people need something or someone they can give loyalty; few men ever risked their lives for a "standard of living" and there's little that's more stupid than dying for one's standard of living-unless it's dying for someone else's standard of living.

Do the attitudes of contemporary police and soldiers lead us to suppose that "democracy" or "the people" inspire loyalty? The proposition is at least open to question. In the future that leads to MOTE, a Russian Admiral named Lermontov becomes leader of CoDominium forces. Although he is not himself interested in founding a dynasty, he transfers the loyalty of the Fleet to leaders who are.
He brings with him the military people at a time of great crisis. Crises have often produced strong loyalties to single leaders: Churchill, Roosevelt, George Washington, John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Crisis, etc. (A year after Kennedy's death Senator Pastore could address a national convention and get standing ovations with the words "There stood John Kennedy, TEN FEET TALL!!!")

Thus develops the Empire.
Look at another trend: personal dictatorship. There are as many people ruled by tyrants as by "democracy" in nineteen seventy-five, and even in the democracies charges of tyranny are not lacking. Dictatorships may not be the wave of the future-but is it unreasonable to suppose they might be?

Dictatorship is often tried in times of severe crisis, energy crisis, pollution crisis, agricultural crisis-surely we do not lack for crises? The trouble with dictatorship is that it generates a succession crisis when the old man bows out. Portugal seems to be going through such at this moment. Chile, Uganda, Brazil, name your own examples: anyone want to bet that some of these won't turn to a new Caudillo with relief?

How to avoid succession crisis? One traditional method is to turn Bonapartist: give the job to a relative or descendant of the dictator. He may not do the job very well, but after enough crises people are often uninterested in whether the land is governed well. They just want things settled so they can get on with everyday life.

Suppose the dictator's son does govern well? A new dynasty is founded, and the trappings of legitimacy are thrust onto the new royal family. To be sure, the title of "King" may be abandoned. Napoleon chose to be "Emperor of the French," Cromwell chose "Lord Protector," and we suppose the US will be ruled by Presidents for a long time-but the nature of the Presidency, and the way one gets the office, may change.

See, for example, Niven's use of "Secretary-General" in the tales of Svetz the time traveler. We had a choice in MOTE: to keep the titles as well as the structure of aristocratic empire, or abandon the titles and retain the structure only. We could have abolished "Emperor" in favor of "President," or "Chairperson," or "Leader," or "Admiral," or "Posnitch." The latter, by the way, is the name of a particularly important President honored for all time by having his name adopted as the title for Leader . .

We might have employed titles other than Duke (originally meant "leader" anyway) and Count (Companion to the king) and Marquis (Count of the frontier marches). Perhaps we should have. But any titles used would have been translations of whatever was current in the time of the novel, and the traditional titles had the effect of letting the reader know quickly the approximate status and some of the duties of the characters.

There are hints all through MOTE that the structure of government is not a mere carbon copy of the British Empire or Rome or England in the time of William III. On the other hand there are similarities, which are forced onto the Empire by the technology we assumed. Imperial government is not inevitable. It is possible.

The alternate proposition is that we of nineteen seventy-five are so advanced that we will never go back to the bad old days. Yet we can show you essays "proving" exactly that proposition-and written thousands of years ago. There's a flurry of them every few centuries. We aren't the first people to think we've "gone beyond" personal government, personal loyalties, and a state of religion. Maybe we won't be the last.

Anyway, MOTE is supposed to be entertainment, not an essay on the influence of science on social organization. (You're getting that here.)

The Empire is what it is largely because of the Alderson Drive and Langston Field. Without the Drive an Empire could not form. Certainly an interstellar Empire would look very different if it had to depend on lightspeed messages to send directives and receive reports. Punitive expeditions would be nearly impossible, hideously expensive, and probably futile: you'd be punishing the grandchildren of a generation that seceded from the Empire, or even a planet that put down the traitors after the message went out.

Even a rescue expedition might never reach a colony in trouble. A coalition of bureaucrats could always collect the funds for such an expedition, sign papers certifying that the ships are on the way, and pocket the sixty years someone might realize what had happened, or not. The Langston Field is crucial to the Empire, too. The Navy can survive partial destruction and keep fighting. Ships carry black boxes-plug-in sets of spare parts-and large crews who have little to do unless half of them get killed. That's much like the navies of fifty years ago.

A merchant ship might have a crew of forty. A warship of similar size carries a crew ten times as large. Most have little to do for most of the life of the ship. It's only in battles that the large number of self programming computers become important. Then the outcome of the battle may depend on having the largest and best-trained crew-and there aren't many prizes for second place in battle.

Big crews with little to do demand an organization geared to that kind of activity. Navies have been doing that for a long time, and have evolved a structure that they tenaciously hold onto. Without the Field as defense against lasers and nuclear weapons, battles would become no more than offensive contests. They'd last microseconds, not hours. Ships would be destroyed or not, but hardly ever wounded. Crews would tend to be small, ships would be different, including something like the present-day aircraft carriers. Thus technology dictates Naval organization. It dictates politics, too. If you can't get the populace, or a large part of it, under a city sized Field, then any given planet lies naked to space.

If the Drive allowed ships to sneak up on planets, materializing without warning out of hyperspace, there could be no Empire even with the Field. There'd be no Empire because belonging to an Empire wouldn't protect you. Instead there might be populations of planet-bound serfs ruled at random by successive hordes of space pirates. Upward mobility in society would consist of getting your own ship and turning pirate.

Given Drive and Field, though, Empires are possible. What's more likely? A representative confederacy? It would hardly inspire the loyalty of the military forces, whatever else it might do. (In the War Between the States, the Confederacy's main problem was that the troops were loyal to their own State, not the central government.)

Each stellar system independent? That's reasonable, but is it stable? Surely there might be pressures toward unification of at least parts of interstellar space.

How has unification been achieved in the past? Nearly always by conquest or colonization or both. How have they been held together? Nearly always by loyalty to a leader, an Emperor, or a dynasty, generally buttressed by the trappings of religion and piety. Even Freethinkers of the last century weren't ashamed to profess loyalty to the Widow of Windsor.

Government over large areas needs emotional ties. It also needs stability. Government by 50%-plus-one hasn't enjoyed particularly stable politics-and it lasts only so long as the 50%-minus-one minority is willing to submit. Is heredity a rational way to choose leaders? It has this in its favor: the leader is known from an early age to be destined to rule, and can be educated to the job. Is that preferable to education based on how to get the job? Are elected officials better at governing, or at winning elections?

Well, at least the counter-case can be made. That's all we intended to do. We chose a stage of Empire in which the aristocracy was young and growing and dynamic, rather than static and decadent; when the aristocrats are more concerned with duty than with privilege; and we made no hint that we thought that stage would last forever.


Robert Heinlein once wrote that the best way to give the flavor of the future is to drop in, without warning, some strange detail. He gives as an example, "The door dilated." We have a number of such details in MOTE. We won't spoil the book by dragging them all out in a row. One of the most obvious we use is the personal computer, which not only does computations, but also puts the owner in contact with any nearby data bank; in effect it will give the answer to any question whose answer is known and that you think to ask.

Thus no idiot block gimmicks in MOTE. Our characters may fail to guess something, or not put information together in the right way, but they won't forget anything important. The closest that comes to happening is when Sally Fowler can't quite remember where she filed the tape of a conversation, and she doesn't take long to find it then.

On the other hand, people can be swamped with too much information, and that does happen. There were many other details, all needed to keep the story moving. A rational kind of space suit, certainly different from the clumsy things used now. Personal weapons. The crystal used in a banquet aboard MacArthur: crystal strong as steel, cut from the windshield of a wrecked First Empire reentry vehicle, indicating the higher technology lost in that particular war. Clothing and fashion; the status of women; myriads of details of everyday life.

Not that all of these differ from the present. Some of the things we kept the same probably will change in a thousand years. Others. . . well, the customs associated with wines and hard liquors are old and stable. If we'd changed everything, and made an attempt to portray every detail of our thousand-year-advanced future, the story would have gotten bogged down in details.

MOTE is probably the only novel ever to have a planet's orbit changed to save a line. New Chicago, as it appeared in the opening scenes of the first draft of MOTE, was a cold place, orbiting far from its star. It was never a very important point, and Larry Niven didn't even notice it.

Thus when he introduced Lady Sandra Liddell Leonovna Bright Fowler, he used as viewpoint character a Marine guard sweating in hot sunlight. The Marine thinks, "She doesn't sweat. She was carved from ice by the finest sculptor that ever lived." Now that's a good line. Unfortunately it implies a hot planet. If the line must be kept, the planet must be moved.

So Jerry Pournelle moved it. New Chicago became a world much closer to a cooler sun. Its year changed, its climate changed, its whole history had to be changed. . Worth it, though. Sometimes it's easier to build new worlds than think up good lines.

A bandersnatch is twice the size of a brontosaur. Its skeleton is flexible but has no joints; the only breaks in its smooth white skin are the tufts of sensory bristles on either side of its tapering blank head. It moves on a rippling belly foot. Bandersnatchl live In the lowlands of Jinx, browsing off the gray yeast along the shorelines. You'd think they were the most helpless things In known space .. until you saw one bearing down on you like a charging mountain. Once I saw an ancient armored car crushed flat across a lowlands rock, straddled by the broken bones of the beast that ran It down.
"The Handicapped," 1968

Duos in literature are not uncommon. What stunned me is one of Harry Harrison and Ant Skalandis, the later never (?) met the former while a number of novels about Steel Rat has been written. Ant is a Russian and Harry doesn't speak Russian so Ant sent sinopsis of every book to his co-writer waiting for his approvals and remarks. Alas Steel Rat is no more popular in the US and the writings stay untranslated.
I've seen Ant's interview in surprise.
Check books out.
I started to read Footfall a few years back and for some reason it didn't do anything for me.

Maybe it was about elephants in elevator shoes--and no political pun intended. S5
(09-26-2012, 06:30 PM)Grizzly Wrote: I started to read Footfall a few years back and for some reason it didn't do anything for me.

Maybe it was about elephants in elevator shoes--and no political pun intended. S5

But Footfall has nothing to do with "The Mote In G-d's Eye", or even Pournelle's 'CoDominium/Empire' series. The Mote is part of that future history series.

In fact, I consider "The Mote In G-d's Eye" to be the greatest sci fi novel ever written. The alien's are completely original, unique, and totally believable. And while both Niven and Pournelle have their names on the title, it is obviously a Pournelle labour of love.

Footfall reminds me of being more Niven in origin. His use of exotic aliens in the Ringworld series, and others in his galactic uinverse, closely align to the elephant like creatures. I personally wasn't all that impressed with the work(the ending was too abrupt), compared to "The Mote", "Lucifer's Hammer", and the "Heorot" series. And I've been waiting for some time now for them to complete the Heorot series. I'm still waiting to see what became of Momma Grendel.

Thanks, John, I may look in to it. I saw it on the bookshelf at the bookstore and always wondered if it would be a good read or not. S22
If you have a book reader, I could send you a copy to read. And if not,.......what is wrong with you anyway, other than just being a 'Bedwetter'? S5

There is a second part to the series, which is not nearly as good, but it does continue with the "Motie problem" toward a more positive solution. And Pournelle's daughter is supposed to have another novel in the series, but I haven't read that one yet.

The Mote in G-d's eye is fantastic IMO. The species' dimorphic concept, and their reproductive 'problem' is most thought provoking, in light of the Mediator Moties, and how they affect the storyline. This is a Must Read novel. While Larry Niven generally gets far more credit than Pournelle as a writer, there is no question, to me anyway, that Pournelle more than holds his own. And he is far more well-rounded intellectually.


Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)