Review of The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

May 5, 2006
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Radio Drama Review

Science Fiction Audio Book - The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven and Jerry PournelleThe Gripping Hand
By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle; Read by Jay O. Sanders
2 Cassettes – Approx. 3 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 1993
ISBN: 0671791109
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Biology / Politics / Economics /Galactic Civilization / Galactic Empire / Mormonism /

Twenty-five years have passed since the second Empire of man quarantined the mysterious aliens known only as Moties within the confines of their own solar system – afraid of the threat these aliens may pose to man kind. But the wall seperating man from the Moties is beginning to crumble…

The Gripping Hand is set in a the “CoDominium” universe originated by Jerry Pournelle. This is the sequel to their first novel together, The Mote In God’s Eye (not available on audio). The setting is that of a future interstellar empire in which humanity has only one major rival for complete dominance. The so-called “Moties” are an intelligent species that is so war-like, so very dangerous, that an enitre human naval task force sits blockading the Motie system’s only exit. The Moties are a species divided into distinct biological forms, each serving a different function. Master. Mediator. Engineer. Warrior. Each type is supremely adapted to its task, and only constant civil war has kept their population in check. Combined with the specialization is a terrible burden; if Moties don’t breed they die agonzing deaths.

For those who haven’t already read The Mote In God’s Eye, you may want to stop reading now as spoilers must follow. At the end of The Mote In God’s Eye, Sir Kevin Renner and His Excellency Horace Bury were secretly enlisted into Imperial Naval Intelligence. For the twenty-five years since then, they’ve acted as unpaid spies, keeping a watchful eye for “outies” (human raiders) in order that the empire might focus its meager resources on the overwhelming Motie threat. Bury is a merchant prince whose dealings allow him access to the underworld of many border worlds. Renner, a former naval officer, now acts as a field agent in the employ of Bury. When a botched Mormon kidnapping plot appears to involve a Motie phrase “the gripping hand”, Bury demands to inspect the fleet blockading the Motie system. His journey leads him to several surprises.

There’s a bit of bad news about this audiobook. If the abridgement had been longer there would still be some question as to whether or not we’d know what is going on in this book. I’ve listened about three times now and I’m pretty impressed at how much sense I’ve managed to make of it in spite of what little of the novel is there. It almost works. It has the barest framework of the plot left, lots of interesting characters, some very good dialogue, and a few simply brilliant SF ideas – but the final feeling I was left with at the end is great disappointment. We would really could have had a special audiobook here, if Simon & Schuster hadn’t knocked out so much in their drive to release 2-cassette abridgments as they did back in the early 1990s. This all is especially upseting because narrator Jay O. Sanders does a fantastic job with the accents and character voices. I think it is safe to say that the fad of abridging the snot out of every novel that comes down the pipe is over. That’s a good thing. It came to late for this audiobook. Some publisher out there should get a hold of The Mote In God’s Eye and record it, complete and unabridged, and while they’re at it they should get Jay O. Sanders to do the reading. We know he’ll do a good job.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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