Reviews of Lucifer's Hammer (1977)
Review by mrdude (2005-09-29)
Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is the story of a comet, which is eventually dubbed Lucifer's hammer, that - as one might guess - collides with the earth.
One thing that really stands out after reading this book is it's enormity. It simply deals with so many topics and encompasses so many aspects of the event that it depicts that it is really difficult to put down a solid opinion on the work as a whole. Parts of the book I loved, felt were very truthful and quite fascinating. Others I felt less enthused with and some made me upset at reading at all.
The book is divided into three sections, basically being pre-disaster, point of disaster and post disaster. I think a lot can be said for the fact that the authors took the time to write out such a strong back story. Niven and Pournelle seemed to strive to make this story very personal in nature by building strong character bases, and I felt they really did well in this effect. It was mind numbing at first reading their list of characters at the beginning of the book, which bordered on fifty, but I found that they structured everything and brought the characters to life enough that the reader had little problems with forgetting who was who.
There were some disappointments. Although certainly the authors had a story they wish to tell, and it is probably nit picking to complain about what the novel was not, I often felt that the story could have been much broader. Nearly all the story takes place in a relatively small area. The disaster was world wide, and yet the authors focused mainly on a region in California. There were some literary attempts to escape this, but because of such a strong emphasis on character development, most of it was drowned out.
I felt that Niven and Pournelle were at times attempting to address very portent issues, and while they did bring them up they failed in really getting any sort of message across. African Americans were often brought up in this novel, the main force of them being portrayed as horrid adversaries. I could see some inclusions of characters on the "good side" as a way of trying to even this out, but those characters tended to be less defined and passive to any hostile remarks aimed at them.
The other large issue that arose was a strong push toward industrialization. True this is a story about an act of nature doing great harm to human civilization, but the authors often portrayed environmentalists as quacks, or at times crazed cannibalistic religious fanatics. In the end the strongest message I got is that we as a people need to modernise as much as possible in order to concur other worlds. Although this message was somewhat convincing given the scenario put forth, it still seemed a bit imperialistic.
All and all I would still suggest this book despite it's few shortcomings. Niven and Pournelle are a great team of writers, all their works I have read including this one are captivating and thought provoking. Plus who can resist a good old fashioned end of the world tale.
(Review also posted at the IBDoF)
Review by bdolge (2003-03-17)
One of the great sci-fi books of all time. The science is as hard as they come, the charecters are (mostly) real human beings you can care about, the writing is can't put it down, and the society portrayed is believable and someplace you would be willing to live. The short form is that a comet strikes Earth and causes incredible destruction. The remaining 2/3 of the book is devoted to the charecters struggle to survive and reclaim civilization from the destruction and social chaos left by the impact. Real struggle, hard choices, humor, nobility, and the death of good people all occur. Co-operation and brains win over greed and savagery but not without bleeding a little. This is one of the few pieces(along with Brin's "The Postman") of the post-apocolypse genre worth reading. Read it.