The Mote in God’s Eye and The Gripping Hand draw together a number of common science-fiction tropes, primarily that of the encounter with an alien civilization. This is a venerable tradition; precursors could be said to include Cyrano de Bergerac’s seventeenth century descriptions of the peoples of the Moon and Sun in Other Worlds (1965; original pub-lications in 1657 and 1659) as well as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), with its Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, and talking horses. The early modern precursors include Sydney Wright’s The Amphibians: A Romance of 500,000 Years Hence (1924) and The World Below (1929), Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Venusian and Martian series, and Stanley Weinbaum’s A Martian Odyssey, and Others (1949; A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales, published in 1975, contains the stories from that work and the 1952 The Red Peri), in which are found some of the most imaginative renditions of alien creatures for its time. More recent, and highly acclaimed, additions to this genre are Frank Herbert’s Dune series (1965-1985) and Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal (1966).
The Motie books also draw on the ideas of space opera (or interplanetary romance) and galactic empire. The Skylark books by E. E. Smith and The Legion of Space (1947) and its sequels by Jack Williamson are early examples of the former. Of books...
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