The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) by Larry Piven and Jerry Pournelle

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The Mote in God’s Eye tells the tale of a group of humans who travel to a stellar system to find and meet with the first sentient alien race to be found. The Moties are both physically and mentally quite different to humans and the authors do an excellent job of creating a rich and interesting culture to explore. The Mote in God’s Eye is probably the best novel I’ve read this year.

The Moties are quite strange, bearing three arms and a lopsided physiology. The little details about the aliens and their civilisation are what make the story so interesting. As the tale progresses we see more and more of their history, allowing an unparalleled look into this imaginary culture. The only author I can think of who includes more ‘little details’ is George R. R. Martin.

Another of my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein, consulted with the authors while they were writing the novel and is quoted as saying it is the finest scifi novel he had ever read. I am compelled to agree. The Mote in God’s Eye is fine story telling with twists and turns that leave the audience guessing till the last chapter.

The Mote in God’s Eye is a prime example of how Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke could have been better. In my last review I discussed my dislike of that novel despite not knowing why exactly. The Mote in God’s Eye has focussed that feeling by showing that a lack of conflict (or the tension that the possibility of conflict creates) makes for boring reading. The Moties are an unknown quantity just like the Overlords but the difference is that the Moties could be a distinct threat to the human empire. That conflict is so well realised that till the very end you will wonder what exactly is going to happen.

An excellent novel, the Mote in God’s Eye shows an insight into humanity through the distinctly inhuman Moties that asks as many questions as it answers.

5 stars

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Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke

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It has happened folks! This is my 15th review since beginning this project and this is the first time I haven’t enjoyed reading the story I chose. Childhood’s End is a well written novel and I’m not sure I can put my finger on what I didn’t like but there it is. My first negative review.

Childhood’s End focuses on a benign invasion of earth by aliens known as the overlords. Their coming brings about peace and prosperity and turns earth into a utopia. The story tells of the aliens and human interactions with them as they take control of international relations and institute many changes.

As the tale progresses through its three sections (Earth and the Overlords, The Golden Age and the Last Generation) humanity slowly loses what makes it human and eventually ‘perfect’ humans evolve. They are basically vegetables who are super telepaths.

I think that is one of the main things that threw me about Childhood’s End. In the end humanity is changed forever. I don’t really like endings where the author decides to change everything to something unknowable. Such sweeping changes are hard to imagine and always leave me wondering if there hadn’t been a better, more palatable ending available.

Another thing that annoyed me was the lack of a main character. Usually the best part of any story is watching as a character changes and grows through his or her experiences. There is little character development in Childhood’s End as is a third person omnipresent narrator who doesn’t focus on one person for too long.

When it all comes down to it I guess I just didn’t like this book. I usually love Arthur C. Clarke but Childhood’s End simply didn’t appeal to me. Have a read yourself and tell me why I’m wrong below.

2 stars.

Rendezvous with Rama (1972) by Arthur C. Clarke

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ImageRendezvous with Rama is a beautiful novel written by the great Arthur C. Clarke. An enormous bullet shaped object has entered the solar system and looks to be made by aliens. It is fifty kilometers long and ten wide and it is perfectly machined and manufactured so that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this celestial object is heading towards earth with a purpose. A team is quickly reassigned and before long they enter through a triple reinforced airlock into the cavernous interior of Rama.

The descriptions of the shifting changing nature of the inside of the giant ship are what make this such an interesting and thought provoking search into the meaning of the universe. A long asked question, “are we alone in the vastness of space”, has long been the vehicle of exploration into the human mind, via the medium of Science Fiction and Arthur C. Clarke is nothing short of a genius. The ships insides are vast and over the course of the novel the sterile environment changes into one of lush beauty including the mind bending and surreal thought of looking up and seeing land and water hovering kilometres over your head (less mind bending having seen movies like ‘Elysium’ and ‘Upside Down’ but still…).

The Cylindrical Sea, a massive body of water that encircles the entire inside of the ship in a huge circle, was my personal favorite. Clarke uses simple reversals of everyday physics to create a magical world that could actually exist, given the right circumstances, but one that we can hardly comprehend despite it’s conforming to the laws of physics. It is ideas like these that make Clarke a master of making hard work look simple.

The Cult of the Space Jesus (not the actual name) is a funny aside made even more hilarious by the fact that none of the things being said are much different that the ‘actual facts’ offered up by modern day religions and Clarke doesn’t ridicule them openly. Reading between the lines you can tell Clarke isn’t one for organised religion. He is a spiritual man asking spiritual questions but he is a scientist in equal measure.

All told this is another classic Sci-Fi novel and definitely one for the ages.

5 Stars