Trying to remember a scifi novel where the warships were protected in part from enemy lasers and such by superconductive shielding that was in turn connected to a superconductive wire run through a tank of ice or water, the thermal mass of which helped dissipate the impact/ heat.

For years I was sure that this book was The Mote in God's Eye, and while there is a brief reference to something similar in the sequel The Gripping Hand, it wasn't there in Mote.

Anyone have any clue what the book is? Is it possible this conceit was in an early edition of Mote, but not later ones? Know I read this when I was younger and didn't just imagine it.

  • Do you mean space ships? It's been a while, but I don't remember any normal ships in Mote, only space ships.
    – Mr Lister
    Aug 30, 2012 at 6:46
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    There is a similar scene in The Ringworld Engineers. Louis Wu takes some wire from his superconducting suit and uses it to evaporate a large lake. Maybe that's what you're referring to? Aug 30, 2012 at 19:58
  • @MrLister - warships means space-ships in this context Aug 30, 2012 at 21:38
  • Indeed, space warships. I don't think it was Ringworld Engineers, but the fact that was also a Niven book makes me wonder again if there are different editions of Mote... Think we have first edition on hand in the shop, guess I'll try to answer my own question with that. Sep 1, 2012 at 1:02
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    @SingularityCo - I'm not sure if you've read all the Moties books, but their shielding method is fairly integral in the story, so I doubt it would have changed in any version.
    – SaintWacko
    Sep 6, 2012 at 15:53

2 Answers 2


While the Motie superconductors are referenced several times in The Mote in God's Eye, their use to distribute heat around a spaceship hull (and therefore avoid burn-through) is not referenced until The Gripping Hand. The trick with the superconductor running through a water tank to cool a ships superconductor coated hull is first mentioned by Freddie Townsend in chapter 7 of The Gripping Hand:

"Anyway, when we dive near a sun to get a gravity assist, I don't want solar radiation sleeting through Hecate, so I mounted this mucking great water tank alongside the cabin for a shield. And I freeze it. Then the hull's superconducting, of course, so I can cool the hull by running a wire into the water tank. I can do serious aerobraking or get awfully close to a sun because it can't fry us without first boiling all that thermal mass of water, and even then I can vent the steam."

That book came out in 1993, so it's entirely possible that you've read this when you were younger. It wouldn't make sense for this to be in The Mote, since humans just discovered the heat superconducting material and at no point in the story did humans fire upon a Motie ship, only on the Watchmaker improved MacArthur and her expanding Langston Field (which was a different trick from the superconducting hull).


In Niven & Pournell's novel Footfall, the humans build a massive atomic bomb powered ship called Gabriel with space shuttles bolted on to it. I'm pretty sure there's big blocks of ice involved as well. Could it be that you're associating this with Louis' use of superconductor fabric trailing in a lake as a heat sink from Ringworld Engineers?

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