(Note: In some countries this novel is known as THE MOAT AROUND
This is going to be a rather rapid reaction, because the book doesn't
really deserve more than a quick dissection.
First off: DO NOT LOOK AT THE MAP. Good lord. That thing is a cesspool
of spoilers. And not in a "well, now we know where they're going" way,
but in a "they just told us what Rosebud is" kind of way. Unless
you're the type of crazy person who likes reading the last page of a
mystery first, steer clear of the map.
Now, to begin properly, let's discuss what works in THE GRIPPING HAND:
The prose is smooth and, from sentence to sentence, generally
well-written. It's also nice to revisit the Moties and see their
unique culture from a new slant.
Okay, now that we're finished with the strengths, let's look at the
host of flaws which plague this book. Let me count them off:
First, starting off small, there's the recapping. Niven and Pournelle
recap just enough to annoy people who have read the first novel, but
don't manage to cover enough territory to actually fill in those who
haven't. The result is the worst of both worlds: On the one hand,
they're bogging down this book for everyone who read A MOTE IN GOD'S
EYE. On the other hand, they aren't actually making this book
accessible to anyone who hasn't.
Second, and in a similar vein, there's the clumsy and overwhelming
exposition. I was literally stunned by the sheer mass of "as you know,
Bob" lectures peppering the novel - I think they average about one
every ten pages. In some cases, they're even polite enough to
explicitly identify what they're doing. (Quote: "I may have to
lecture. [...] I won't explain that, you got it in high school, but
[insert explanation he just said he wasn't going to give].")
Third, the entire work is plagued by inconsistencies and
contradictions. Mostly these are internal, but there are also several
inconsistencies between MOTE and GRIPPING HAND. And that doesn't even
count the deliberate and ham-fisted retcon which drives the entire
plot. (Something which I found intrinsically annoying. With all of the
interesting possibilities raised by the Moties and the situation at
the end of the first book, why did they feel it was necessary to
resort to a retcon in order to come up with a plot? Heck, they
off-handedly discard another fascinating possibility explicitly. And
even the scenario they use in the book would arguably be more
fascinating WITHOUT the retcon.)
Fourth, there's still no thought put into the setting: A massive
interstellar empire can rule over dozens (possibly hundreds) of star
systems, but can't figure out how to ship produce a thousand klicks
and keep it fresh. The same society possesses Langston fields which
can protect a ship from the fury of a sun, but characters puzzle over
how to keep the Imperial family safe from atom bombs. The leaders of a
colony are quoted as believing that a fireworks display will be the
biggest show since one of their cities was bombed into oblivion (which
would be like a Japanese Prime Minister claiming that a fireworks
display will be the biggest show since Hiroshima). In one sentence
we're told that two colonies have stopped fighting with each other
because they collectively fear war with the Moties; in the next we're
told that they've stopped building defensively because they're no
longer afraid of war. Even accepting the fact that Niven and Pournelle
were constrained by the 20th century analog they had established in A
MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, there's still no depth or thought given to the
technology they show or the society it implies. This is world-building
of the Star Trek variety, and in many cases its even worse.
Fifth, the characters are still as flat as cardboard. In fact, if
anything, they're even more contrived than they were in A MOTE IN
GOD'S EYE: An investigative reporter is allowed to sit in at a meeting
where top secret material is being discussed, and only after the fact
does anyone realize this was probably a really stupid idea. More
retcons are used to justify important decisions. And, yet again,
you've got a couple of people falling in love at first sight and for
no apparent reason. (Perhaps that's the only kind of love there is in
the Second Empire.) It's not that I don't believe in love at first
sight. It's that Niven and Pournelle don't make me believe in love at
Finally, this book seems to suffer from many of the same problems that
Niven's RINGWORLD ENGINEERS did: The authors seem to be writing the
book as much from a desire to patch the problems criticized in the
original work as they are from a desire to tell a good story. The
result is predictable, turgid, repetitive, and boring.
That's the long of it.
Here's the short of it: This book is a complete and utter waste. It's
a waste of your time. It's a waste of a perfectly good opportunity. In
many ways, it's a waste of paper.
No matter how tempted you may be after reading THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE
to discover what happens next, please believe me when I say that the
pain of THE GRIPPING HAND just isn't worth it.
THE GRIPPING HAND
Publisher: Pocket Books
Cover Price: $7.99
Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671795740/digitalcomics
(Note: Using the Amazon.com link here gives me a kickback on any
purchases you make within 24 hours of clicking on it. Use it to voice
appreciation for my reactions or avoid it as a cheap shill at your
TO READ LIST
The Misenchanted Sword - Lawrence Watt-Evans
Diaspora - Greg Egan
Schismatrix - Bruce Sterling
The Quiet Pools - Michael Kube-McDowell
The Malazan Empire - Steven Erikson
I don't expect too many defenders of this book. I'll note
the places where I especially agree.
>(Note: In some countries this novel is known as THE MOAT AROUND
>Second, and in a similar vein, there's the clumsy and overwhelming
I point to this and the unnecessary story at the beginning, as
evidence of the missing hand of Heinlein.
>Third, the entire work is plagued by inconsistencies and
I agree that the writing was good if you overlook the glitches --
exposition, digression, and Nivenisms -- but I couldn't buy the basic
premise. As mentioned in text I cut, they disavow the premise of the
>Niven and Pournelle don't make me believe in love at first sight.
I felt like quoting this sentence fragment for no particular reason.
John Carr (j...@mit.edu)
> GRADE: D-
> THE GRIPPING HAND
> Published: 1993
> Publisher: Pocket Books
> Cover Price: $7.99
> ISBN: 0671795740
> Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671795740/digitalcomics
> (Note: Using the Amazon.com link here gives me a kickback on any
> purchases you make within 24 hours of clicking on it. Use it to voice
> appreciation for my reactions or avoid it as a cheap shill at your
IOW, "I hated this book, but please buy it anyway so I can make a few
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." (Benjamin Franklin)
As noted, clicking through the link will activate the kickback whether you
happen to order this particular book or not. And maybe somebody wants to buy
the book despite my negative conclusion. I'll admit that my review of THE
GRIPPING HAND doesn't include many positives, but that's not true of all my
Mostly it's just a format thing.
<shrug> In any case, click or don't click. It's up to you.
> My main objection to _The Gripping Hand_ is that Pournelle started saying
> "on the gripping hand" in Byte magazine, and has been imitated on the
I was sick to death of reading "on the gripping hand" by the end of that
book. I'm glad I've yet to have the misfortune of reading it anywhere
I never saw him do that. I and people I know use it based on having read the
Blah blah, OTOH blah blah, OTGH blah blah...
-xx- Damien X-)
I've used it. I try to keep it from becoming a habit.
It's sometimes useful as a three-part "pro, con, on balance" idiom.
Um... is an "idiom" a cliche used by an idiot?
What's that about? Did RAH crit N&P???
There is nothing worse, IMO, that authors trying to coin phrases and
invent slang. To me it just sounds contrived and stupid.
On the contrary. It *can* sound contrived and stupid, but sometimes
it's done well.
I don't think "gripping hand" is a great phrase, but it does have
enough resonance that people use it in real life. And I doubt
Niven/Pournelle even expected people to use it in real life. It's the
sort of phrase which could catch on in the fictional world, where
three-armed aliens have suddenly reified the old idiom-joke of "on the
one hand, on the other hand, on the third hand".
What SF idioms and catch-phrases really hit the sweet spot of
plausibility, euphony, and filling-a-gap? (For comparison, I'd say
that "on the gripping hand" scores medium, low, high on those three
Niven and Pournelle have to be credited with a direct hit for "Think
of it as evolution in action". I don't know if they invented it, but
it rings very true in _Oath of Fealty_ (and made the jump to fannish
Much more obscure: In Helen Wright's _A Matter of Oaths_, one
character notes shipboard gossip about another character: "The crew
agrees that he's a darling in the web-room and a stickler in the web."
(The web is the neurolink interface that controls a starship; the
web-room is where the web interfaces are, and thus the place where
people prep, hook up, and then unhook and cool off at the end of a
I love that line. You can tell instantly that crews have been saying
it for decades, about a particular kind of officer. You can tell that
it's a compliment. You can gather that while discipline is valued
while on duty, personal familiarity (perhaps even intimacy) is also
valued. And the words flow so nicely.
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.
Have you read THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE?
Think of him as the editor of _Mote_. N&P made extensive changes
based on his input. He had them cut the beginning of the novel so
it started with the real plot rather than an introduction.
John Carr (j...@mit.edu)
> "John F. Carr" <j...@mit.edu> wrote in message
>> I point to this and the unnecessary story at the beginning, as
>> evidence of the missing hand of Heinlein.
> What's that about? Did RAH crit N&P???
Apparently RAH was shown an early draft of _The Mote in God's Eye_ and
made a variety of helpful suggestions. I don't know how often this was
repeated, or how substantial his suggestions were, but I'm sure that
someone here does. So if you know, please enlighten us.
David Cowie david_cowie at lineone dot net
Containment Failure + 1635:35
I don't mind the phrase but I thought it's prominence odd,
since to the best of my recollection it wasn't in _Mote_.
There was use of "on the other hand", and wondering what
a Motie made of that phrase.
Also it doesn't quite work. For a human, "on the one hand X,
on the other hand Y" is a right vs. left thing. For a Motie,
"on the one hand X, on the other hand Y, on the gripping hand Z"
is a right vs. other right vs. left thing, without the strong
contrast between the first two.
"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely
mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way
down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space."
-- Douglas Adams
>What SF idioms and catch-phrases really hit the sweet spot of
>plausibility, euphony, and filling-a-gap? (For comparison, I'd say
Hodgell's "That which can be destroyed by the truth should be." wasn't quite a
catchphrase in the book, and I haven't used it much as a catchphrase, but I
*want* to. I get such a thrill from it. I'm also afraid of seeming like an
arrogant asshole if I use it, and haven't had that much call to use it, but
it's in my quiver.
I guess there's nothing in the phrase itself which betrays SF/fantasy origin.
>Niven and Pournelle have to be credited with a direct hit for "Think
>of it as evolution in action". I don't know if they invented it, but
Yeah. It pisses some people off, but it's definitely successful.
Oh! Heinlein: TANSTAAFL, I think from TMIAHM. (There Ain't No Such Thing As
A Free Lunch. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.) I don't know how many people
*say* the phrase, but I see the acronym used a fair bit.
I assume we aren't counting widely memorized SF poetry, such as "One Ring to
rule them all..."?
How about 'grok'? I met someone who'd tried to create a 'nest' in college,
and probably someone uses the phrase "water-sharing" or whatever it was.
(_Stranger in a Strange Land_) But grok is fairly common. I don't know if it
filled a gap, but it fit some need.
"Use the Force" and related phrases.
"Beam me up" and "I'm a doctor, not...", but I think they're only applicable
I can't think of anything from Babylon-5 which rose above the level of fans
bonding with each other, except maybe "Yes." as an answer to questions of the
form "A or B?" and that's probably not original to B-5, though it might be the
proximate source. Maybe "The avalanche has already begun" could have
potential, but I've only heard it from a dedicated fan. Though I *have* read
some variation of "They are a dying race, we should let them pass" used
recently, possibly about Israel/Palestine. Okay, maybe there is stuff beyond
fan-bonding, though nothing as ubiqitous as some of the earlier stuff.
Of course B-5 recycled Sagan's "We are all made of starstuff", and his
"billions and billions" also entered the collective conscious.
I wonder how many of all of these have spread beyond readers of the primary
source. I don't know if gripping hand has. I'm pretty sure "evolution in
action" has. (I've never read the source novel, though Niven also spread it
in his essays, which I have read.) I think "grok" has spread.
-xx- Damien X-)
Not at all. For moties, it's a contrast between various extremist
viewpoints represented by their multi-handed side, vs a concluding
synthesis on the single-handled side. The "strong contrast" being
between extremeism vs synthesis. On the one viewpoint, on the
other viewpoint, (switch sides) on ballance.
For that matter, you could think of the multihanded side as
representing extremes because one is up and the other is
the opposite, ie, down, while the other side metaphorically,
and prolly even homologously in biology, represents their fusion.
For a human use of it, I imagine the gripping hand as a tiedown
clamp sticking straight out of my chest. Metaphorically,
not halucinationally. But that's just me.
Anyways, it works much better than you seem to give it credit for.
Overuse sure is annoying, though.
Herebelow follows an exerpt of all the important parts of THE GRIPPING HAND:
We now return you to actual things worth reading.
> Herebelow follows an exerpt of all the important parts of THE GRIPPING HAND:
> "Crottled greep."
And if you've read _Footfall_, you've already read that scene, under
a different set of forged papers.
Steve Coltrin spco...@omcl.org WWVBF?
"God forbid that a child know what a member of the opposite sex looks
like naked before they're 13 and gangbanging each other in a back alley
after huffing paint." - drdoody
>Oh! Heinlein: TANSTAAFL, I think from TMIAHM. (There Ain't No Such Thing As
>A Free Lunch. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.) I don't know how many people
>*say* the phrase, but I see the acronym used a fair bit.
Is that really original to Heinlein? I would find that surprising, but
if so... that's probably the biggest success of this type. I thought
it was just one of those long standing standard cliches - but I guess
they all have to start somewhere.
>I can't think of anything from Babylon-5 which rose above the level of fans
>bonding with each other, except maybe "Yes." as an answer to questions of the
>form "A or B?" and that's probably not original to B-5, though it might be the
Not even close to original to B5. It's probably been around as a smart
assed answer for exactly as long as the form of the question has been
> Maybe "The avalanche has already begun" could have
>potential, but I've only heard it from a dedicated fan.
...not really original to B5 either, unless you mean the full phrase
"The avalanche has already begun, it is too late for the pebbles to
vote", which I still doubt is original to B5.
(I never saw more than the first couple of episodes of B5
incidentally, one day I'll rectify that but not today).
>I wonder how many of all of these have spread beyond readers of the primary
>I don't know if gripping hand has. I'm pretty sure "evolution in
>action" has. (I've never read the source novel, though Niven also spread it
>in his essays, which I have read.) I think "grok" has spread.
Evolution in action has definitely become a standard insult /
description in the real world. Grok is used widely in geek circles,
often by people who haven't read the source material (e.g. me and at
least one friend of mine), but probably not by people who aren't
*aware* of its source.
On the other hand, on the gripping hand has at least partially entered
the language. It's a phrase I use occasionally, and until about six
months ago during a similar thread I was completely unaware that it
had an SFnal origin. I thought it was just a useful standard phrase.
I think this is because I hang around so many geeks; other people are
probably unaware of it. But it's a phrase that makes sense and is so
clear in context I suspect it will one day take hold.
> I can't think of anything from Babylon-5 which rose above the level of fans
> bonding with each other, except maybe "Yes." as an answer to questions of the
> form "A or B?" and that's probably not original to B-5, though it might be the
> proximate source. Maybe "The avalanche has already begun" could have
> potential, but I've only heard it from a dedicated fan. Though I *have* read
> some variation of "They are a dying race, we should let them pass" used
> recently, possibly about Israel/Palestine. Okay, maybe there is stuff beyond
> fan-bonding, though nothing as ubiqitous as some of the earlier stuff.
"And so it begins" said in a ponderous Kosh voice has entered the
vocabulary of my immediate circle; usually said when one of the kids
learns some new way to endanger life, limb, or sanity.
The bottom line is, the phrase OTGH is an attempt to supplant an
already common phrase that means exactly the same thing. And saying
(imho) "look how clever I am." Rather than "Ah, here's an important
insight into Motie psychology."
And especially frequently used by computer people, math people, logic
people and so on.
Leif Kjønnøy, Geek of a Few Trades. http://www.pvv.org/~leifmk
Disclaimer: Do not try this at home.
Void where prohibited by law.
Batteries not included.
What phrase is that?
It's not "on one hand/on the other hand".
It's not "on one hand/on the other hand/on the third hand".
So what phrase is it that "on the gripping hand" is attempting to supplant?
What SF contains phrases or idioms which feel plausible *in the world
of the story*? What rings true as a phrase that those people would
keep handy in their vocabulary?
Bonus points if it pithily conveys something about their culture to
the reader. But I'm not (necessarily) looking for phrases that have
caught on in *our* world.
>> There is nothing worse, IMO, that authors trying to coin phrases and
>> invent slang. To me it just sounds contrived and stupid.
>On the contrary. It *can* sound contrived and stupid, but sometimes
>it's done well.
And not always authors. One I recently saw *here* in rasfw and instantly
fell in love with was one poster referring to a passing troll: "He's just
pissed off because his Turing test came back negative."
Maybe I'm just easily impressed, but I *love* that one-liner.
> The topic has swerved slightly, which is inevitable, but I'll try once
> to rebranch it back:
> What SF contains phrases or idioms which feel plausible *in the world
> of the story*? What rings true as a phrase that those people would
> keep handy in their vocabulary?
And of course the Lensman universe is rife with this. "QX" is the
really obvious one -- and one of the few that no origin story at all
is given for. Then there's the use of the Zabriskan Fontema as the
standard of stupidity
David Dyer-Bennet, <mailto:dd...@dd-b.net>, <http://www.dd-b.net/dd-b/>
RKBA: <http://noguns-nomoney.com> <http://www.dd-b.net/carry/>
Photos: <dd-b.lighthunters.net> Snapshots: <www.dd-b.net/dd-b/SnapshotAlbum/>
Dragaera/Steven Brust: <http://dragaera.info/>
> And of course the Lensman universe is rife with this. "QX" is the
> really obvious one -- and one of the few that no origin story at all
> is given for. Then there's the use of the Zabriskan Fontema as the
Not in the original Lensman books, no, but in Ellern's _New Lensman_
it's explained that "QX" was the spelling of the "unpronouncable
syllable" the Golden Meteor badges said. Dunno whether this was
something Ellern came up with entirely on his own or something Smith
had told him but had never mentioned in the books, but either way it's
> Oh! Heinlein: TANSTAAFL, I think from TMIAHM. (There Ain't
> No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.)
> I don't know how many people *say* the phrase, but I see the
> acronym used a fair bit.
I believe the phrase actually came from some economist, I forget
who. It predates Heinlein by a bit. But earlier forms were
usually TINSTAAFL (There is no ...).
> I assume we aren't counting widely memorized SF poetry, such
> as "One Ring to rule them all..."?
Considering poetry, you think Sting counts as a vorpal blade? It
never went snicker-snack...
> How about 'grok'? I met someone who'd tried to create a
> 'nest' in college, and probably someone uses the phrase "water-
> sharing" or whatever it was. (_Stranger in a Strange Land_)
> But grok is fairly common. I don't know if it filled a gap,
> but it fit some need.
'Grok' has sufficient usage that it's in some of the larger
dictionaries. It's rare in that it's an outright coinage, not
derived from any other word. 'Hobbit' is another such coinage
that's made it into dictionaries.
I said it the other day, and instantly regretted it - I think it sounds so
pretentious, but I couldn't think of another word at the time, for some reason.
I don't even like that novel.
Christopher Adams - SUTEKH Functions Officer 2004
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrante.
I don't like the novel either, but the word is useful. I"ve seen it used
outside sfnal circles, but not often.
(To reply send email to smileyman2002 at hotmail.com)
"The bottom line is, ..."?