The Mote in God's Eye

by Larry Niven
Series: The CoDominium #3
560 pages, Science Fiction
Reviewed by Lily A.

A tale of first contact, culture clash, and dangerous choices.


Note: This book was co-written by Jerry Pournelle. Pournelle owns the book's setting, The CoDominium series.

The CoDominium, empire of humanity, is at war within itself when it makes first contact. The aliens’ world orbits a star known as “The Mote”; a speck in the eye of a face-like nebula. Are they friends, or foes? Potential trading partners, bearers of new scientific knowledge, or perhaps the greatest military threat we have yet to face? For better or worse, the “Moties” will change how we see our universe.


Defending and improving the lives of one’s family and comrades is important to the majority of the characters, although their methods for doing so may differ.

Many characters seek to establish fair, profitable relations and mutual understanding with those quite different from themselves.

Deception is endorsed in cases where it is believed to be necessary for someone’s safety, but ultimately, honesty seems to produce the best results.

Characters sometimes do things which seem dangerous and morally disturbing when they believe that it will lead to a good result.

Spiritual Content

The CoDominium has a state church which appears to be Christian or at least based on Christianity. A chaplain of this church is sent with the first contact expedition to attempt to determine whether the aliens have souls, and if so, to establish a missionary venture.

A dissenting cult among the humans, called The Church of Him, or Himmists, was founded by a man who believed that a face-shaped nebula was literally the face of God.

One character seems to have been raised Muslim.

The aliens’ religion, such as is expressed to humans, involves a belief in the parents’ souls being reincarnated in their children.

Ferocious-looking statues are described as being “demons.”


The CoDominium is at war with a rebel faction. At least one rebel world has been heavily bombed. A woman of the CoDominium nobility is rescued from a prison camp, where fellow captives had been hiding her identity to prevent her execution.

References are made to past wars, including one where the catalyzing issue was genetic engineering performed on humans. Fears are expressed about the prospect of future war. Corpses are found in an abandoned colony. Some characters see hand-to-hand combat. A man who fears capture in enemy territory seems to commit suicide. There is a large body count of beings which aren’t up to human levels of rational intelligence, but which are cleverer than your average animal.

[SPOILERS] The alien world is quite old, and routinely decimates itself with territorial wars. They have very specialized castes, one of which are goblin-like warriors—lean, muscular, very toothy, and endowed with natural blades in the form of bone spikes, in addition to being weapons experts—who we see in action both in person and as portrayed in art. [END SPOILERS]

Drug and Alcohol Content

Wine and home-made whiskey are consumed by crew members and guests, but they do not seem to get drunk.

Sexual Content

An attractive human woman is on board the first contact vessel, and several men are interested in her, one seriously. Two characters eventually become engaged to be married. No human main characters are involved in sexual relations outside of marriage.

Procreation, family size, and contraception are all topics of discussion as the humans learn about the alien culture. [SPOILERS] The aliens have to mate or die, and have no effective means of contraception. This leads to severe overpopulation problems. [END SPOILERS]

Aliens change gender over the course of their life cycles.

Passengers strip to get inside a protective gel bath while the ship is under high-gravity acceleration.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

“Rape” is used as a term for something other than its original meaning. Contextually, it seems to be something like “cut loose, get rid of.” However, it is understood to be a crude term of the sort you would apologize for in the presence of a lady.

A character who was raised Muslim uses Allah’s name as an exclamation. Other characters sometimes use d---.

Different cultures, and people within those cultures, have different views on bathroom privacy.


“The Mote in God’s Eye” is a cleverly written piece of “hard” science fiction. It introduces us to beings which are physically and culturally quite different from ourselves, and leads us to, in some measure, sympathize with their position. While it is far from overtly Christian, is does contain a number of sympathetic Christian characters. Also, it is clear that the authors tried to think through the science and technology in their story, rather than relying on off-the-cuff technobabble to make their way through the universe.

Stylistically, the science-talk might be a downside, as it would slow the pacing for some readers. Morally, characters in tough situations take actions which are, at times, wrong or ethically debatable. In other words, they are fallible humans, not role models, and the authors do not go out of their way to correct them when they are displaying their fallibility. But I believe that there is still pleasure and value to be found here for mature readers.

Fun Score: 4
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

Did we miss something? Let us know!

Lily A. This review is brought to you by Lily A..
Read more reviews by Lily A.