You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Gripping Hand

Larry Niven's and Jerry Pournelle's The Gripping Hand is a sequel to The Mote in God's Eye. It starts about twenty-five years later. The Empire of Man has been through some changes.

Kevin Renner, the sailing master in the first book, has been working as a pilot for Horace Bury, the Arab leader of the trading league. Both have been secretly working for naval intelligence, keeping an eye on rebel (outie) activity, while looking out for any sign that the Moties might be escaping from their system. After a diversion where they settle a dispute with a Mormon breakaway system, they talk to Buckman, the astronomer to studied the newly forming star near the Mote system. Another astronomer has declared that the star will form earlier than believed, and they realize that the Moties fed them false information, because when the star forms, it will create new Alderson points to travel out of the Mote system.

Renner and Bury travel to Sparta to speak to Rodney Blaine, nor Lord Blaine, and his wife Sally, who run the Blaine institute, where they study the Motie problem. After a lot of discussion and disagreement, Bury gets permission to visit the blockade fleet at Murcheson's Eye. They end up taking Bury's private ship and following two other navy ships to the area where the new Alderson point will form. They discover that the star is collapsing and creating the new point. When they follow to the new star, the excitement begins.

Ships begin traveling from the Mote system through the new point and into the new star's system. The Empire's ships manage to stop some and capture others. The captured Moties ask to speak to Bury, surprising him. It turns out the Mediator was trained by Bury's original Mediator, and is familiar with the Empire. She tells them that she represents a group called the Medina Traders, from the outer parts of the Mote system. Mote Prime is at the end of a cycle and in chaos. Other groups are vying for controls of the new Crazy Eddie point, what they call the Alderson point.

Meanwhile, the Blaine's daughter has traveled through the points and into the Mote system. Her ship is captured by rival Moties and taken apart. Eventually she and her friend Freddy are reunited with the others. Renner, now acting commodore, orders Bury's ship and the navy ship back through the point to the new system. A chase ensues through the new star system, back through the new point, and to the old point where they go through to the Eye, and the ships that follow get destroyed by the blockade fleet.

Much of the book switches between space military tactics and negotiations between the Empire representatives, the Medina Traders, and other factions of Moties. There are new elements to consider, given the fractured nature of Motie civilization. If the Moties escape outside their system, their ability to efficiently mine resources and their need to continually reproduce means they could spread throughout the galaxy. Renner and the others must negotiate with the Moties while hiding all the details about the Empire's power and dealing with shifting Motie alliances. They do have an ace in the hole: a modified parasite that subdues the Motie breeding urge.

The plot is a little less interesting than the first book, and the characters less engaging. We do learn about alien culture, but there aren't any interesting revelations this time. Most of the story is taken up with the details of tactics and negotiations. There is a little drama in the interaction between the characters, notably the female reporter who comes along. But mostly the story is a little flat, lacking the drama of the first novel. The most interesting points were where the aliens and humans first interact, but those parts are short and swept aside for spaces chases. Somewhat disappointing, it still earns a B-.


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