First published back in July of 1977, ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ was the second book to be jointly penned by US authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – the first being ‘Inferno’ (1976).  The book received a good reception and was duly nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1978.  A graphic novel adaptation of the story was later published by Innovation Comics in 1993.

DLS Synopsis:
Tim Hamner couldn’t believe it.  After scouring the night skies as an amateur astronomer for years, his patient labours had finally paid off.  The Kilt Peak Observatory confirmed it and the International Astronomical Union made it official.  Hamner had jointly discovered a new comet.  Dubbed the Hamner-Brown comet; Hamner had reported the sighting of the comet at the same time as a young boy named Gavin Brown from Iowa.  Furthermore the comet was set to be one of the closest comets to have passed by the Earth.

With such an important chance to study a comet, documentary producer Harvey Randall begins drumming up the public interest in the forthcoming astrological event.  The US and Russia send space shuttles up to the orbiting spacelab ‘Hammerlab’ in order to garner as much scientific information about the approaching comet as they can.

The world’s scientists assure the public that the chances of the comet hitting the Earth head-on are literally millions to one.  However, as the days pass by, and the Hamner-Brown comet sores closer and closer to the Earth, the chances of a direct hit drop to thousands to one, and then down to just one in a hundred.

And then, with the world watching the approaching burning mass, the day of ‘Hammerfall’ finally arrived and the Hamner-Brown comet, now re-dubbed ‘The Hammer’ by the media, bursts into the Earth’s atmosphere and impacts the planet with truly devastating results.  Splitting up into a shower of smaller clumps before hitting the Earth, when the comet smashes into the planet, the catastrophic devastation unleashed across the entire globe was monumental.

Massive tsunami waves sweep outwards, flooding countless countries across the globe.  Land shifts its positioning, sinking below the water-level, further increasing the chances of massive flooding.  Volcanos erupt in a mass of molten magma – with the thick smoke produced from each of them mixing with the swirling mass of clouds that already encompass the entire globe.  Everywhere a sludgy rain of dirt and mud showers down; soon to be replaced by an unrelenting storm of rain that would seem to never cease.

To make matters worse China takes advantage of the situation immediately preceding Hammerfall; launching its nuclear weapons at Russia. Russia counterattacks China, with the US siding with the Soviets, adding to the devastation on China in this time of utter Armageddon.

And high up in space, the handful of US and Russian astronauts on-board the Hammerlab watch as the planet they call home is wreaked with mass destruction.  And over the ensuing days, they watch as the world is irrevocably changed and mankind is brought to the very brink of annihilation.

For those who somehow survived the initial days following Hammerfall, life would prove to be a bitterly hard and desperate struggle.  Mankind was on the verge of extinction.  Those left will need to band together and try to eke out whatever existence they can from the increasingly hostile environment that remains.

But with most of the US now under water, and the rest coping with the endless downpour from the thick mass of clouds that constantly blots out the sky above, maintaining a food supply enough to keep the survivors alive for more than a few weeks is tough enough.  Keeping everything together to live beyond that is a challenge that would test the ability of mankind to the very limits.  Since the Hammer had fallen, all life across the entire globe would be pushed to the point of annihilation.  There were tough times ahead.  And with those tough times, would come equally tough choices to make…

DLS Review:
The premise behind the novel is pretty straight forward.  You’ve got a big-old-comet heading towards Earth and no one believes it’s actually going to hit…and then it does.  The result is the near annihilation of the entire human race.  But it’s the colossal after effects of the comet’s collision with the Earth that causes by far and away the most damage.  Only small pockets of survivors remain following the tidal waves, earthquakes and severe flooding.  And those that have managed to survive will have to contend with even worse horrors brought about from the desperation of those around them.  Surviving
Hammerfall certainly isn’t a walk in the park.

Setting the scene and establishing the numerous characters that play their own intricate parts in the storyline takes the authors quite some time.  Indeed, the first hundred or so pages are a reasonably slow-moving ‘scene-setting’ exercise, which is far too focused on detailing everything involved, particularly with the public’s reaction to the incoming comet.  And it’s here that the author’s seem to forget to inject any spark of energy or excitement into these early pages.

Over these plot establishing chapters, the authors introduce a whole host of characters into the plot.  Indeed the novel is so character-rich that a two page ‘Dramatis Personae’ is included at the start of the book in order to assist the reader with remembering who is who.  Indeed, there are certain aspects of having such a large base of characters involved in the novel’s ‘journey’ that it works quite well in its favour.  Most notably, the reader is able to see how these characters cope, adapt and (hopefully) overcome the trauma and nightmarish hell that is unleashed upon them in the wake of Hammerfall.

That said, at times the novel does feel too clogged up with the sheer volume of characters being portrayed in the tale.  Early on the authors jump back-and-forth between all of these characters, detailing their individual lives as they each take upon the impending arrival of the comet.  However, once Hammerfall has hit the Earth and everything has turned to utter chaos and carnage, the characters begin to band together somewhat, until it’s only two or three parallel-running storylines which the story bounces back-and-forth between.

What’s of particular interest in the book in the tale’s development is how quickly the authors revert humanity to near primitives – with complete self-preservation soon the only meal of the day….everyday.  Indeed, within the pandemonium of the after-effects (which the authors detail with such a vivid and terrifying degree of realism), almost everyone has become as cruel and disconnected as the next.  And in amongst the dog-eat-dog mania of it all, an even more frightening horror is forming – that of The New Brotherhood Army.

By around the half-way mark, Niven and Pournelle really start to crank-up the tension and post-apocalyptic madness of the situation.  It’s been relatively slow going up until this point, but all of a sudden the authors pull out all the stoppers and unleash everything that they’ve got in their ‘entirely-possible-scenario’ arsenal.  And my god do they go for the readers’ balls with the maddening horror of what could occur.

With many similarities to Richard Laymon’s ‘Quake’ (1995), Walter John Williams’ ‘The Rift’ (1998), or indeed Simon Clarke’s ‘King Blood’ (1997); ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ gets into the thick of the catastrophic environmental impact as well as envisioning how utterly cruel and selfish humankind can turn when the shit really hits the fan.

Yes there’s strong elements of ‘Survivors’ (1975), ‘Earth Abides’ (1949) or indeed ‘The Death Of Grass’ (1956) in there (to name but a few).  After all, it’s about as post-apocalyptic as they come.  So of course we have a bunch of survivors who have banded together trying to pull together some form of a liveable community amongst the flooded chaos and quickly-perishing debris of what’s left.  But the possibility for a feel-good ‘against all odds’ type of recovery from here is only fleeting once the New Brotherhood Army raise their ugly head.

This leads to an action-rich and incredibly compelling final hundred-or-so pages, which seem to fly by in absolutely no time at all.  And by the end of this truly magnificent finale, it hard to not be left completely breathless with the brutality of our protagonists desperate fight for the continuation of their race.

As a final thought, the novel has come under the fire of painting black people in a none-too-flattering light.  And yes, there is perhaps an element of this within the novel – most notably with the criminal gang member character of Alim Nassor  However, this is undoubtedly a product of the time when it was written (1977) and is by no stretch of the imagine a particularly strong or glaring element within the entire complexity of the novel.  And it’s certainly not something that anyone should be particularly apprehensive about before commencing this natural disaster post-apocalyptic epic.

The novel runs for a total of 639 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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