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In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.
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Even before the stories were called “science fiction,” authors have speculated on and theorized about contact with alien beings. In 1974, two of the era’s most popular science fiction authors, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, decided to team up and produce the ultimate first contact novel, a tale they called A Mote in God’s Eye. Their different approaches to storytelling ended up meshing quite well; not only did they produce a landmark novel, they started a best-selling collaboration that lasted for decades. The book was praised by Robert Heinlein as “[t]he best novel about human beings making first contact with intelligent but utterly non-human aliens I have ever seen, and possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read.” Today, I’ll look at that original novel, one of my favorite novels of all time, and also its 1993 sequel, The Gripping Hand, which—while some feel that it’s not as strong as the original book—brings the tale to a satisfying conclusion.