The Gripping Hand

The Jerry Pournelle series with another of his collaborations with Larry Niven.

This one is a sequel to their The Mote in God’s Eye.

I prefer the UK title for this novel, The Moat Around Murcheson’s Eye, but “on the gripping hand” became a catch phrase for this novel much like “Think of it as evolution in action.” did with Niven and Pournelle’s Oath of Fealty.

Raw Feed (1993): The Gripping Hand, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1993.Gripping Hand

Stylistically this novel is odd in that it is almost entirely told in dialogue. It’s almost as if someone told the authors that readers particularly like dialogue so they decided to give them lots of it. [Having read more solo Niven works since then, I suspect this is Niven’s influence.]

Therein lies a symptom of its problems.

There are too many characters with many of them involved in subplots of no interest or hanging around for long periods of time just to have a brief bit of importance to the plot.

I’m thinking particularly of Glenda Blaine and boyfriend Frederick Townsend. I got tired of their on-and-off relationship. Slightly more tolerable, but ultimately just as pointless, was the brief affair between Kevin Renner and Ruth Cohen.

Perhaps Pournelle and Niven were making a point about important events being the product of many individual acts done by usually insignificant people except most of these people were important military figures and/or aristocrats. I’m thinking particularly of Alysia Trujillo, a reporter who has one moment of mild plot significance and spends the rest of her too long on stage time serving as a wise repository for explanations of various historical allusions, and Sauron-descended Terry Kakumi. (Perhaps the sections on the Saurons were Pournelle’s response to the shared world books on the Saurons that he’s edited.).

The dialogue I sometimes found confusing and disjointed but that could be my own lack of concentration while reading this during a bout of flu.

But the novel did have a lot of good points even if its effect was dulled by the Moties no longer being novel.

First, it featured as its main characters two of my favorite Mote in God’s Eye characters: Kevin Renner and Horace Bury (here rehabilitated from a seemingly greedy, treasonous trader to a former Arab nationalist agent now loyal to the Empire, dedicated to checking the Motie threat and who gives his life to the cause). For his part, Renner is just as much a playboy and curious smart-alec as ever.

I liked the Byzantine intrigue of the Asteroid Motie clans (the fact that Moties only have loyalty to their bloodline and not abstract ideals like race and nation is emphasized more here than in The Mote in God’s Eye) as the humans scheme and fight to put the rest of the Motie race under the control of the Medina Trading Company clan who in turn will insure sterilization of Moties going outsystem.

Pournelle and Niven (I suspect the former given the similar economic detail of his story “Tinker”) do a nice job showing how the economics and power of the asteroid clans shift with the orbital positions of their homes since trade routes and geopolitical relations shift as a result.

I also liked the vicious Motie warbots being described as vermin by other Moties since they are completely profligate with their resources of mass.

There is also a little more pessimism about the Empire in this story as aristocrats are increasingly depicted as being (unlike the Blaines) more interested in privilege than responsibilities. Pournelle realizes that’s probably a natural, inevitable consequence of this form of government. (Indeed, almost every governing group seems to increase their privileges with time.)

(I also liked Buckman’s presence though he wasn’t depicted as so much the preoccupied astrophysicist as in the preceding novel. He and Bury still have a special friendship though I would have liked to have had more with Buckman.)

This sequel does (despite its over reliance on dialogue and too many characters – usually the balance between stage time and importance is better in other Niven and Pournelle works) what a good one should do: explore under-or-unexplored areas of the original story. Here that’s the Motie asteroid clans and Motie power relationships.

 

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