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Lucifer's Hammer (1977)

by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,667612,389 (3.91)1 / 130
The gigantic comet had slammed into Earth, forging earthquakes a thousand times too powerful to measure on the Richter scale, tidal waves thousands of feet high. Cities were turned into oceans; oceans turned into steam. It was the beginning of a new Ice Age and the end of civilization. But for the terrified men and women chance had saved, it was also the dawn of a new struggle for survival--a struggle more dangerous and challenging than any they had ever known....… (more)
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English (59)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
4 Stars - A Post-Apocalyptic novel from 1977. Well told with good characters. As is typical with this genre, you come away most impacted with the realization of how very much we depend on technology and what a shock life becomes without it. Add to this the inevitable conflicts which occur with the fall of stable governments and you end up with a story worth your time, especially when crafted by master storytellers Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. ( )
  JohnKaess | Jul 23, 2020 |
SUPER 70s/80s, but the page-turning qualities more than make up for it. ( )
  goliathonline | Jul 7, 2020 |
I try to make it a point to finish any book I start (a corollary of that being that I usually read one book at a time so I can't trick myself into not finishing a book while telling myself I've not given up on it, I'm just reading the other book more). The only two exceptions to this rule in the modern era of my reading that I can recall are Greg Bear's [b:Eternity|116122|Eternity|Greg Bear|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51VaIjfFhUL._SL75_.jpg|1933075], which I thought read like unmitigated dross compared to its predecessor, and Niven and Pournelle's [b:Footfall|452995|Footfall|Larry Niven|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1190024076s/452995.jpg|1913289], which I started reading having confused it for Bear's [b:The Forge of God|2433635|The Forge of God|Greg Bear|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1266819849s/2433635.jpg|2235106]. Hmm, this is starting to look like some soap-opera ménage à trois, but anyway. A couple of weeks ago I spotted Lucifer's Hammer in my local charity book shop's bargain bucket. I recalled that Footfall's blurb said nice things about this book, and I'm always willing to give authors a second chance when that chance is part of a three-for-a-pound deal, so I grabbed this book and gave it a try.

I'm happy to say I found the book much better than Footfall — I finished it for one. The gist of the story is that a comet gives the Earth a glancing blow. The story is split roughly into three acts that deal with how people react to the comet's approach, then with the immediate aftermath of the strike, and finally with how they strive for long-term survival. The first act is basically a few hundred pages of introducing characters. Almost no one believes the comet will strike, because the scientists assure everybody it won't. The book was written in the mid 1970s and it seems awfully quaint that NASA doesn't think the comet will hit Earth, right up to the moment it does. As those familiar with 99942 Apophis know, these days we can figure out where these space-rocks will be in twenty years time, whereas in the book they seem to struggle with twenty minutes. This uncertainty is, I suppose, a plot device to ensure that people are caught mostly unawares when the comet strikes. This makes the last two thirds of the book much more interesting because the frantic efforts to survive do feel much more touch-and-go, however it does mean the first third of the book can drag a little.

The middle third is perhaps where the book excels. Civilisation goes to shreds within minutes of the comet striking. Some of the barbarianism committed literally moments after the first, distant strikes seem a little over the top. Would people really resort to murder within a couple of minutes of a comet strike some distance away, before it was even clear how bad things were? The authors think so. A lot of characters who were carefully introduced in the first third die off-page, and many more suddenly reappear much later in the book. As the story progresses all the surviving main characters end up together in the same sheltered valley, four of them literally dropping out of the sky and usefully landing in the fields alongside this valley. The struggle to survive the coming harsh winter begins. A lot of effort is put into convincing the reader how difficult surviving the coming cold weather will be. There's not enough food, not enough medicine, no more refugees can possibly be taken in, they're almost out of toilet paper, things are getting bad.

And then the book decides to turn into [b:The Stand|9668571|The Stand|Stephen King|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1289334155s/9668571.jpg|1742269]. Because surviving a comet strike and scraping through an impact winter aren't difficult enough, the authors throw a bunch of cannibals at our heroes. Oh, and the cannibals are a mixture of black street criminals, right wing Christian nut jobs, and the US army. The imminent Battle Between Good And Evil dominates the end of the book. After the good guy's not-very-convincing victory there's a rather rushed dénouement, with an off-page much-more-convincing victory, and a return to civilisation with electric cars and communist prison camps and the usual perks of Californian life. Oh, and a cringeworthy horror-movie-esque closing where the comet reaches the Oort cloud then starts to swing back towards the solar system. (Lucifer's Hammer 2 coming to your bookshops next summer. If you're reading other science fiction then Stop! It's Hammertime!)

The book, then, is a mixed bag. Niven and Pournelle are one of the exceptions to my finish-every-book rule. But, like the saying goes, the exceptions are in the pudding. This book is like a pudding, a hot fudge sundae if you will. Throw several million cubic metres of hot fudge sundae at a large rocky planet and some of it will stick, and some of it won't.

It's nice to read a book that dispels the Hollywood notion that every asteroid must either wipe us out or be blown up by some gruff deep-sea oil drillers. However, if you really want to read about post-apocalyptic battles betwixt Good and Evil then you really shouldn't be looking any further than The Stand. As far as science-fiction goes, I dare say there are better comet strike books out there, but while I'm looking for them, you could certainly do worse than this book. ( )
  imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
I try to make it a point to finish any book I start (a corollary of that being that I usually read one book at a time so I can't trick myself into not finishing a book while telling myself I've not given up on it, I'm just reading the other book more). The only two exceptions to this rule in the modern era of my reading that I can recall are Greg Bear's [b:Eternity|116122|Eternity|Greg Bear|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51VaIjfFhUL._SL75_.jpg|1933075], which I thought read like unmitigated dross compared to its predecessor, and Niven and Pournelle's [b:Footfall|452995|Footfall|Larry Niven|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1190024076s/452995.jpg|1913289], which I started reading having confused it for Bear's [b:The Forge of God|2433635|The Forge of God|Greg Bear|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1266819849s/2433635.jpg|2235106]. Hmm, this is starting to look like some soap-opera ménage à trois, but anyway. A couple of weeks ago I spotted Lucifer's Hammer in my local charity book shop's bargain bucket. I recalled that Footfall's blurb said nice things about this book, and I'm always willing to give authors a second chance when that chance is part of a three-for-a-pound deal, so I grabbed this book and gave it a try.

I'm happy to say I found the book much better than Footfall — I finished it for one. The gist of the story is that a comet gives the Earth a glancing blow. The story is split roughly into three acts that deal with how people react to the comet's approach, then with the immediate aftermath of the strike, and finally with how they strive for long-term survival. The first act is basically a few hundred pages of introducing characters. Almost no one believes the comet will strike, because the scientists assure everybody it won't. The book was written in the mid 1970s and it seems awfully quaint that NASA doesn't think the comet will hit Earth, right up to the moment it does. As those familiar with 99942 Apophis know, these days we can figure out where these space-rocks will be in twenty years time, whereas in the book they seem to struggle with twenty minutes. This uncertainty is, I suppose, a plot device to ensure that people are caught mostly unawares when the comet strikes. This makes the last two thirds of the book much more interesting because the frantic efforts to survive do feel much more touch-and-go, however it does mean the first third of the book can drag a little.

The middle third is perhaps where the book excels. Civilisation goes to shreds within minutes of the comet striking. Some of the barbarianism committed literally moments after the first, distant strikes seem a little over the top. Would people really resort to murder within a couple of minutes of a comet strike some distance away, before it was even clear how bad things were? The authors think so. A lot of characters who were carefully introduced in the first third die off-page, and many more suddenly reappear much later in the book. As the story progresses all the surviving main characters end up together in the same sheltered valley, four of them literally dropping out of the sky and usefully landing in the fields alongside this valley. The struggle to survive the coming harsh winter begins. A lot of effort is put into convincing the reader how difficult surviving the coming cold weather will be. There's not enough food, not enough medicine, no more refugees can possibly be taken in, they're almost out of toilet paper, things are getting bad.

And then the book decides to turn into [b:The Stand|9668571|The Stand|Stephen King|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1289334155s/9668571.jpg|1742269]. Because surviving a comet strike and scraping through an impact winter aren't difficult enough, the authors throw a bunch of cannibals at our heroes. Oh, and the cannibals are a mixture of black street criminals, right wing Christian nut jobs, and the US army. The imminent Battle Between Good And Evil dominates the end of the book. After the good guy's not-very-convincing victory there's a rather rushed dénouement, with an off-page much-more-convincing victory, and a return to civilisation with electric cars and communist prison camps and the usual perks of Californian life. Oh, and a cringeworthy horror-movie-esque closing where the comet reaches the Oort cloud then starts to swing back towards the solar system. (Lucifer's Hammer 2 coming to your bookshops next summer. If you're reading other science fiction then Stop! It's Hammertime!)

The book, then, is a mixed bag. Niven and Pournelle are one of the exceptions to my finish-every-book rule. But, like the saying goes, the exceptions are in the pudding. This book is like a pudding, a hot fudge sundae if you will. Throw several million cubic metres of hot fudge sundae at a large rocky planet and some of it will stick, and some of it won't.

It's nice to read a book that dispels the Hollywood notion that every asteroid must either wipe us out or be blown up by some gruff deep-sea oil drillers. However, if you really want to read about post-apocalyptic battles betwixt Good and Evil then you really shouldn't be looking any further than The Stand. As far as science-fiction goes, I dare say there are better comet strike books out there, but while I'm looking for them, you could certainly do worse than this book. ( )
  leezeebee | Jul 6, 2020 |
I just knocked this one off my top one-hundred novels of all time, but I did it with a heavy heart.

Memories of a novel sometimes simply don't live up to a re-read.

On the other hand, there are quite a few things about it that are still freaking fantastic, such as the science and the emotional impact of the comet strike. Most of the first third of the novel focused on the 70's modern society, with all the strange views common of that time, but that wasn't the most striking feature. I was humbled by the way they could turn so many flawed and normal people into an epic scene of pathos when they died.

I even had to set down the novel because the tears prevented me from reading through the meteor crashes or the tidal waves or the mud falling from the sky for weeks.

You know all those stupid apocalypse movies of the 90's? Yeah, this novel STILL does it better.

The rest of the novel was all about sheer survival for those who were left, and I was pleasantly reminded of Brin's [b:The Postman|889284|The Postman|David Brin|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348914032s/889284.jpg|924908] that outdid this novel for the post-apocalypse rebuilding, but props should always be given to those who did it first.

"Give my children the lightning!"

It's a good rallying call. It's the future, scaled down to the bare minimum after trawling the dirt and praying to make it through one winter. It's a far cry from Heinlein's eggs or Clarke's magic. It's realistic, or some might say, pessimistic.

But what else can we say about this great-grandaddy of all dystopian futures? It's still a damn sight better than most that have come after, even considering the racism, possible return to slavery, the cannibalism, and the wholesale slaughter by mustard gas, not even mentioning the whole nuclear war between Russian and China.

I carried Dan Forrester in my heart ever since I read this the first time. He was the most tragic and glorious character of anyone. A second read doesn't really change my opinion.

I did carry one caveat, though. He should have saved [b:Dune|234225|Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)|Frank Herbert|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1434908555s/234225.jpg|3634639]. Stories are just as important as scientific texts. I can only pray that later generations would carry it forward after conquering California and finding any intact libraries. Of course, this was written only a handful of years after Dune, so the authors hadn't realized the weight of the public's imagination by that time... but they did when it came to the commune filled with LoTR characters. :)

Niven and Pournelle really outdid themselves with this one. I went on to read the rest of Niven after plowing through this novel, but I never did read any of Pournelle's solo work. I still think that this novel was the best that either had written, even if I can't honestly say anything about Jerry's work.

Still a fantastic novel, regardless of it's faults. Anyone interested in dystopias really needs to read this one. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
"Good, solid science, a gigantic but well developed and coordinated cast of characters, and about a megaton of suspenseful excitement."
added by sturlington | editLibrary Journal 102 (13): p1528., Judith T Yamamoto (Jul 1, 1977)
 

» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Niven, Larryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pournelle, Jerrymain authorall editionsconfirmed
Feidel, GottfriedTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Freas, KellyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, ConnnorNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vietor, MarcNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Neil Armstrong and Buz Aldrin, the first men to walk on another world; to Michael Collins, who waited; and to those who died trying, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, Ed White, Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, Nikolai Volkov, and all the others.
First words
Before the sun burned, before the planets formed, there were chaos and the comets. (Prologue)
The blue Mercedes turned into the big circular drive of the Beverly Hills mansion at precisely five after six.
Tim Hamner stood at the top of a low hill. (Epilogue)
Quotations
He squinted against the brilliance. It flared and he closed his eyes. That was a reflex; wave reflections were a common thing out here. The flare died against his closed eyelids, and he looked out to sea. Wave coming?    

   He saw a fiery could lift beyond the horizon. He studied it, squinting, making himself believe…  

   “Big wave coming.” He called, and rose to his knees.    
    Corey called, “Where?”      
   “You’ll see it,” Gil called confidently. He turned his board and paddled out to sea, bending almost until his cheek touched the board, using long, deep sweeps of his long arms. He was scared shitless, but nobody would ever know it.     “Wait for me!” Jeanine called.    Gil continued paddling. Others followed, but only the strongest could keep up. Corey pulled abreast of him.      “I saw the fireball!” he shouted. He panted with effort. “It’s Lucifer’s Hammer! Tidal wave!”     Gil said nothing. Talk was discouraged out here, but the others jabbered among themselves, and Gill paddled even faster, leaving them. A man ought to be alone during a thing like this. He was beginning to grasp the fact of death.      Rain came, and he paddled on. He glanced back to see the houses and bluff receding, going uphill, leaving an enormous stretch of new beach, gleaming wet. Lightening flared along the hills above Malibu.     The hills had changed. The orderly buildings of Santa Monica had tumbled into heaps.     The horizon went up.      Death. Inevitable. If death was inevitable, what was left? Style, only style. Gil went on paddling, riding the receding waters until motion was gone. He was a long way out now. He turned his board and waited.     Others caught up and turned, spread across hundreds of yards in the rainy waters. If they spoke, Gil couldn’t hear them. There was a terrifying rumble behind him. Gil waited a moment longer, then paddled like mad, sure deep strokes, doing it well and truly.    He was sliding downhill, down the big green wall, and the water was lifting hard beneath him, so that he rested on knees and elbows with the blood pouring into his face, bugging his eyes, starting a nosebleed. The pressure was enormous, unbearable, then it eased. With the speed he’d gained he turned the board, scooting down and sideways along the nearly vertical wall, balancing on knees…     He stood up. He needed more angle, more. If he could reach the peak of the wave he’d be out of it, he could actually live through this! Ride it out, ride it out, and do it well…     Other boards had turned too. He saw them ahead of him, above and below on the green wall. Corey had turned the wrong way. He shot beneath Gil’s feet, moving faster than hell and looking terrified.     They swept toward the bluff. They were higher than the bluff. The beach house and the Santa Monica pier with its carousel and all the yachts anchored nearby slid beneath the waters. Then they were looking down on streets and cars. Gil had a momentary glimpse of a bearded man kneeling with others; then the waters swept on past. The base of the wall was churning chaos, white foam and swirling debris and thrashing bodies and tumbling cars.     Below him now was Santa Monica Boulevard. The wave swept over the Mall, adding the wreckage of shops and shoppers and potted trees and bicycles to the crashing foam below. As the wave engulfed each low building he braced himself for the shock, squatting low. The board slammed against his feet, and he nearly lost it; he saw Tommy Schumacher engulfed, gone, his board bounding high and whirling crazily. Only two boards left now.      The wave’s frothing peak was far, far above him; the churning base was much too close. His legs shrieked in the agony of exhaustion. One board left ahead of him, ahead and below. Who? It didn’t matter; he saw it dip into chaos, gone. Gil risked a quick look back; nobody there. He was alone on the ultimate wave.     Oh, God, if he lived to tell this tale, what a movie it would make! Bigger than The Endless Summer, bigger that The Towering Inferno: a surfing movie with ten million in special effects! If only his legs would hold! He already had a world record, he must be at least a mile inland, no one had ever ridden a wave for a mile! But the frothing, purling peak was miles overhead and the Barrington Apartments, thirty stories tall, was coming at him like a flyswatter.
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The story details a cometary impact on Earth, an end to civilization, and the battle for the future. It encompasses the discovery of the comet, the LA social scene, and a cast of diverse characters whom fate seems to smile upon and allow to survive the massive cataclysm and the resulting tsunamis, plagues, famines and battles amongst scavengers and cannibals.
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