This essay provides advice to authors, I promise. But please bear with me while I take you on a little journey into my own reading life . . .

Last summer I finally found my way to the web community GoodReads, signed up, and have been having a ball being part of this community of readers, writers, and “book people.” If you haven’t signed up yet, I urge you to join.

I joined a few of the groups, and should probably explore of a few more of them. Groups are where genre- or author-specific  discussions take place. As a lifelong science fiction and fantasy fan it isn’t weird that one of the first groups I joined was the SF/F group Beyond Reality. It’s been the scene of a few spirited discussions, given me the opportunity to plug myself a little—I try not to be too obnoxious about that—and just kinda chat with like-minded readers, though I don’t get in there as often as I’d like.

One of the things the Beyond Reality group does is read, book club style, the same book together as a group, one SF and one fantasy title each month. Up till now I’ve always looked at that with my standard trepidation (I’m well known for my Generalized Trepidation), always thinking of some reason not to join in, muttering something to myself then not doing something, which is how my Generalized Trepidation normally manifests itself.

But last month I saw that the December SF title at Beyond Reality was going to be The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The old trepidation stirred itself, but I was able to quickly master it. From my desktop computer, I can look to my left and see, about five feet away, a bookcase that contains, among other things, two shelves stacked two-deep with mass market paperbacks I’ve collected over the past several years and that I intend to one day read.

And there it was: a copy of The Mote in God’s Eye.


This is the edition I’m reading now…


When I was in high school, the school library had a very small collection of SF novels—fantasy hadn’t quite penetrated yet—and after the first semester of freshman year I’d pretty much familiarized myself with all of them, discussing with my friends which one I should read next, who’s read what, what sucks, and so on. No one had read The Mote in God’s Eye, but it called out to me, and one day I checked it out and started reading.

I remember liking it, but I also remember having a painfully slight attention span. As I started to play Dungeons & Dragons once a week, then twice a week, then three times a week, then sometimes four times a week if you counted Gamma World or Traveller, I started reading more fantasy, and . . . whatever meaningless excuses . . . and I had to return The Mote in God’s Eye to the library before I finished it. I remember wanting to finish it. I don’t remember disliking it, anyway, but I never did check it out again. That was probably thirty years ago.

…and this is the edition I read then.

Then, something like twenty-nine years later, I saw it on someone’s list of favorite SF novels of all time—I don’t remember who’s—and the memory of having started it so many years ago came back to me, and I decided I would read it again. I made a special trip to the bookstore to buy a copy, and I put it on my already hopelessly-overbooked (pun intended, I’m afraid) “to read” shelf . . . and that was about a year ago.

It was as though some cosmic convergence occurred then, and there was the Beyond Reality group, and there was the book, and without hardly thinking about it, I signed on to the group and made my intentions known that I was in for The Mote in God’s Eye in December.

I started reading it a few days early, and decided I would keep a pen with me while I read it so I could make notes and have something interesting to say on the Beyond Reality message threads. And I’m doing that, and you can follow the results there, if you so choose.

Then I got to the space between chapter seven and chapter eight.

A spoiler follows, so if you want to read this book, you might want to stop here and come back after you’ve read the first eight chapters.

This is the note I scribbled into my copy of the book, on page 67, right at the start of chapter eight:

BOO!—Really?!? Why is the dramatic discovery of the first sentient alien relegated to “off screen” action?!? HUGE disappointment!

And that gets us to our lesson for aspiring authors…

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

Link up with me on LinkedIn

Friend me on GoodReads

Find me at PublishersMarketplace

Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.



About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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4 Responses to WAIT . . . WHAT HAPPENED?

  1. Kameron says:

    Heh, I remember you giving me that advice while writing Maiden, and I have been ever conscious of making sure the interesting, dramatic events of my stories take place in front of the reader since.

  2. Cam Rawls says:

    It’s been a few years now since I read the book, so my mind is a little fuzzy on the specifics. I went into it knowing that the book was “hard sci-fi” and would be a bit outside my comfort zone, but I like to challenge myself.

    Your post reminded me that, while I put the book down many times over the months that it took me to finish, that was the first place that I stopped. I was quite peeved for a long time. I think it was at least a week before I picked it up again. I started another book, a fantasy, while I was deciding whether or not to go back to it. I felt cheated.

    After I cooled off a bit, I started thinking about why the authors might’ve done that. Maybe they thought that readers would do a better job of envisioning what that “first contact” would be like than they could write. If so, I think that it was a poor decision. I was taken out of the story wondering if I had a misprinted book. Alas, no.

    As an unpublished writer, it’s encouraging to know that even otherwise great writers can get things wrong. As a reader, I was disappointed. I remember liking the book overall, but not specific scenes or chapters. I’ll wait to read your review to see if there are any other bits that I blocked out.

  3. Yeah, I enjoyed the book when it came out and read it in a few days. I ran right over the spot you mentioned. There were several spots that did annoy me, all about the same issue. As one who struggles with the fact that every single thing I want to do means I have to do something else first, and before that something else (think paint inside cabinets) I could not believe in the creatures that could make incredible technology without first the machines that make the machines that make the machines that make the technology (let alone the procurement of materials and energy and education). Maybe the education was genetic, don’t remember. But I could not believe the technology without the long chain of causes behind it. Other than that, I thought the book was wonderful. And I liked the kilts, too.

  4. Pingback: IS SCIENCE FICTION BAD FOR US? | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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