Book Review: The Mote in God’s Eye
September 20, 2011
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This book belongs on the short list of great science fiction: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Arthur C. Clark’s Childhood’s End. (I include Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Alan Dean Foster’s Midworld, and John Varley’s Steel Beech as well even though those authors don’t quite achieve grandmaster status.) It is well paced, full of good ideas, characters, and dramatic tension. But most importantly for lovers of vintage games, this book is probably one of the most significant literary antecedents of the Traveller universe:
- The human empire in the novel is divided up into sectors… each which has its own sector fleet.
- The Trans-Coalsack sector evokes the same feeling that the Spinward Marches does in Traveller does with its “behind the claw” style remoteness.
- The book discusses gas giant refuelling and demonstrates a ship stopping for fuel at a gas giant’s moon.
- There are barons, marquis and other noble types… and one naval officer gets knighted in the course of the book.
- The alien in the book is the prototype for the Droyne in Traveller….
- Each time that a world is introduced in the book, the basic stellar and system data is presented… much like the gloss presented on the first page of almost any Traveller Double Adventure.
The differences are equally intriguing:
- Ships jump instantaneously from points on the edges of the solar systems… creating an unusual web of jump-paths. (However… it can sometimes be quicker to make several jumps to come out to the other side of a star system than it would to travel across the star system directly.
- There is no anti-gravity, so high G burns are difficult for the crew.
- The pre-space Earth empire is the USA/USSR derived Co-Dominion. (If the book was written in the 80’s it would have been the Japanese… or the Chinese if written later than that.)
- Islam and Christianity are very much alive and influential in the futuristic empire. This is pleasantly anachronistic… as is the distinctly un-Traveller-like separation of women’s roles that is depicted. (Traveller tended to leave religion out of the picture and steadfastly make women completely equal as far as game mechanics were concerned.)
- The first Empire is technologically superior to the current empire… so even though the setting has a “Long Night” style breakdown and succession war period between them, the overall history is more like that of the Battletech universe with its shattered universe and long forgotten Star League era golden age.
- The world of Sauron (heh heh) develops deadly cybernetic supermen. The wars with these guys get a few more references than the clone wars got in the original Star Wars movie. It is reminiscent of the hints about the Butlerian Jihad from the Dune stories….
Wow…. A truly great book. I don’t expect this to ever be made into a movie, though. We are much too cynical a people to endure something like this on screen. It’s full of men that believe in their culture, their society… and that are willing to do what it takes to perpetuate it without apologizing about it constantly. Any director that tried to take this on would (depending on who was president at the time) either turn it into a Doctor Strangelove style farce or else give the lead characters the metro-Aragorn treatment by making them require additional fretting and breast beating before they do what needs to be done…. In that sense, 1973 was a perfect time for this masterpiece to be written. Science fiction had developed past the earlier 200 page novel stage, but had not yet descended into the pointless series and trilogy stage. As such, its 500+ pages are long enough yield an engrossing, deep experience without stringing you along through useless cliffhangers. It doesn’t hurt that the world of New Scotland is full of people that wear kilts, either.
I’d like to make a role playing game for this setting, but Marc Miller has beaten me to it….
"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."