Book Review: Lucifer’s Hammer

Lucifer's Hammer

Note: This is book 11 of my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge for 2008.

As far as ZOMG TEH WORLD IS ENDING! books go, this one by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle was really pretty good. The idea is that about the time humans and chimps were striking out on their own separate branches on the evolutionary tree, some dark planet out past Pluto slingshots a comet towards us. A bunch of time passes, and then in the late 1970s the dark planet proves to be one hell of a shot because the comet (dubbed “The Hammer” by the increasingly nervous onlookers) pummels the ever living crap out of Earth.

As you can imagine, things go bad. Huge amounts of water are vaporized and turn into rain that continues for months and even years. This, along with mile high tsunamis obliterate just about everything on any coast and create seas where there used to be savannas and valleys. And remember charming old world Europe? It’s gone. Totally underwater. Most tectonic plates around the globe get a bad case of the shakes, resulting in massive earthquakes and volcanoes that annihilate whole regions. And because of all that water vapor, clouds, and rain, the planet’s temperature is sure to drop so that earth-scraping glaciers are due more quickly than you might guess.

And yet all that is just the backdrop of Lucifer’s Hammer. The book’s real story is about how a handful of people survive (or don’t survive) the apocalypse. What I really liked about the story is how it took a huge cast of characters and wove them all into the same overarching tale. Many of the characters had at least tenuous relationships before the comet hit, so it’s often not much of a stretch. You get to see them do exciting stuff like running from the aftermath of the comet (termed “hammerfall” by the survivors), trying to scrounge up enough food to survive the coming winter, dealing with their own internal struggles, fighting off rival groups of survivors and would-be warlords, and trying to rebuild society. The whole thing ends with their facing the dilemma of trying to take the safe course that will set the human race back by a millennium, or taking a riskier route that might preserve some of the fire of modern civilization. It’s a great ride and a heck of a page turner.

It’s also worth noting that one of my favorite things about this book is how it unflinchingly presents moral dilemmas that are almost impossible to contemplate when you live in a safe neighborhood with a fully stocked refrigerator and easy access to endless food, supplies, and luxuries. If you were part of a relatively small group of survivors that has just managed to find a safe place and gather enough food and medicine to let you survive the weather, how would you deal with an endless stream of other refugees that threaten to overrun you. What would you do if taking in someone’s children meant that you and everyone else in your group would eventually starve, but turning them away meant that they would die but your group might survive? That’s the kind of thing that these characters had to deal with in the name of survival. It’s harsh, but it’s fascinating.

So, if you’re looking for a good page turner with a little science and a little morality thrown in for good measure, I could easily recommend this one.

Others doing the 52-in-52 this week:

Published by

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Lucifer’s Hammer

  1. I loved this book. I remember as a kid reading it in church one day (probably hidden in a Bible or something) and having my mom glance over and see the title had the word Lucifer in it. She was sure I was reading some devil-worshipping book and was about to sacrifice a goat.
    I loved the characters and the settings, end of the world books have always fascinated me, I just love seeing humanity dealing with the tough stuff I guess.

  2. This was one of the first “Apocolypse” style book I ever read, I believe it was NEW when i read it..and have read many of the same genre books, and seen countless movies on the same subject since, and to date, this book STILL stands out as the best of the bunch..VERY HIGHLY recommended reading, especially today.

Comments are closed.