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on May 20, 2016
Lucifer's Hammer was my first apocalypse. As a very young teen, I read this novel in one sitting, gripped by the idea of our civilization so easily shattered. When I sat down to read it again as an adult, I hesitated. So many of my beloved books of childhood have failed to live up to memory. Not so with this one. Aside from the lack of Google and the ubiquitous smartphone, I hardly noticed the difference in era. The themes are as relevant now as they were then and even more pressing. I highly recommend this book, easily one of my top five ever read.
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on December 22, 2003
This is without a doubt one of the best books that I've ever read and makes me very thankful that Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, who are very good authors in their own right, joined forces to become a force to be reckoned with anyone in terms of character creations, spinning a good yarn and making it very real. I read this book shortly after it was published, and more than 20 years later, it's still one of my favorites. The authors do a great job of capturing people, their hopes and their fears realized as the comet approaches and their reactions and deeds in the aftermath. For a great ``end-of-the-world'' book with wonderful imagery that can really evoke the amazing pictures in one's mind's-eye...this is NOT to be missed. Read it now.
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on April 23, 2003
This book is by far one of my favorite books that I've ever read. I have read many reviews that complain about the "slow" start to the book. Personally I found that the pace in the first third of the book was perfect. To many books that I've read start out with a bang and never let up. This book refreshingly develops the characters and situations surronding them to an extent that few other books do. By the time that "Hot Fudge Tuesdae" (the impact of a massive comet) arives, the authors have developed the characters to such an extent that their reactions to the events caused by HammerFall illustrate the changes in the way people must now live much more effectively than if the characters hadn't been developed to such a degree.
I'm not going to give the ending away, but it is also one of the top endings of any book I've read. It's not a cookie cutter ending that leaves nothing left to ponder. Instead it leaves the reader with much to think about even after they have finished the book.
I would strongly recomend this book to anyone who enjoys doomsday or classic sci-fi novels, as well as those who haven't been much exposed to these genres. After you finish reading it, you'll want to start at the begining and read it again (as I did).
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on December 27, 2002
This is the second most important book I've ever read, and I've read it 8 times. It isn't about survivalism, it isn't about racism (absurd assertion make by bigots who haven't read it), and it isn't a political commentary on the 70's. It is about stark reality and what is important if the delusions of political correctness,quotas, and journalistic provarication are [taken] away.
The comet is just a metaphor for a slate wiped clean, by whatever means. It says most gangs are black or hispanic and most farmers are white.That is not racism it's reality. And only woman have babies too. Sorry, that's just the way it is.
BUT, this book debunks every stereotype. There are blacks, women, whites, hippies(it was written in the 70's)... every kind of person, as heros as well. The heros are the people who value education, self reliance, forethought, and above all, an open and flexible mind. The villains are the lazy, the users, and the unmotivated.
The messages of this book is that some people are better than others, but it is up to the individual, himself, whether he is on the top or the bottom. Self respect, hard work, and education may, in the final outcome, mean everything.
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on October 8, 2002
I first read this book in 1986, and I'm glad to see it still in print, because I want to re-visit it some 16 years later. It is a true classic-not just your run of the mill sci-fi or fiction. This book has an element of realism to it and is absolutely one of the finest pieces of writing in its genre that I have come across.
I first learned of it when reading some material from the "survivalist movement"...people who continuously prepare for a societal breakdown. _Lucifer's Hammer_ was highly recommended as one of the most realistic novels available which would illustrate and drive home the realities of a potential worldwide disaster which would uproot life on the planet. I found it to be true; the authors did their homework. It was fun to think about during the Y2k scare/hoax!
In a moment, all rights to private property are gone. What was "yours" one hour ago, now belongs to the first and strongest band of warlords who stake it. I will never forget the band of suburban Boy Scouts who were in the mountains on a camp-out, and their transformation within days from boys to men; roving warriors under the leadership of their scoutmaster.
In later years, "Deep Impact" came to the theatres, and seemed to pick up in the spirit of "Lucifer's Hammer", in exploring the "impact" of a worldwide disaster.
LH is a modern classic. I can't wait to read it again. I still get goose-bumps when I think about those chapter introductions in the beginning giving a graphic description of the "maelstrom" heading toward earth.
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on August 26, 2002
Very well written, full of suspense.

This book is one of the best in the apocalyptic genre, along with John Cristopher's No Blade of Grass, which dealt with a world destroyed by a grass disease which killed grains as well as grass and left a world in starvation. It mainly dealt with the reactions of people to the disaster, which included the failure of law and order.

Another fine one was Alas Babylon, by Pat Frank, which dealt with the reactions of the people in a small Florida town following a destructive atomic war.

And of course, there was On the Beach by Nevil Shute, which also dealt with a post atomic war world and an American submarine crew stranded in Australia, where the physical effects of the radiation in the northern hemisphere was delayed by coriolis force.

In this book, the world-destroying catastrophe was a huge comet which struck the earth, resulting in total destruction of much of the world through tsunamis, earthquakes, torrential salt rains, and the resulting loss of millions of lives and of all government, national state and local, and hence of all governmental controls and functions. Impotent police, firemen, and elected functionaries; everything and everyone whose function was to maintain order are gone or reduced to non-entities.

Money is worthless, food and other essentials like clothes and gasoline are scarce and generally go to the strongest or the best armed. Cannibalism takes over in many places. There is no electric power, and candlelight replaces it for lighting.

The book deals with the lives, before and after, of several people, from a country mailman to a U.S. senator, and of course the astronomers, astronauts and others who were intimately involved as well as vignettes of secondary characters as the story develops.

The character development is excellent, and the book absolutely captured me. It is no wonder that it sold over a million copies.

Joseph Pierre
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on July 23, 2002
Given their attachment to the Reagan administration, I suppose I should not be surprised to learn that N&P are conservatives. But it was a bit disconcerting to read about the evils of hippiedom n a sci-fi work. Indeed, given the obvious fear of black gangsters and white [addicts], and the heroic actions of boy scouts and rugged individualist Senators, this book can easily be seen as a reactionary screed against the excesses of the sixties. The misogynistic clichés about how women must retreat to the kitchen when the times get really tough are expected. Still, the macho posturing is par for the course in this field, and does not mar the work over much. The story is quite entertaining, one would hardly think that the tail of a rock hitting the earth would be engaging, but N&P are nothing if not master story tellers. In the pre-apocalypse the characters drive the book, in the post apocalypse it's the story of their fates. Either way, it's an engaging page-turner. Almost any N&P work is worth the price of admission, but this one is a bargain at twice the price. They should make a mini series out of it.
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on March 11, 2002
After seeing the movie "Deep Impact" on TV recently, I decided to re-read an old favourite: "Lucifer's Hammer" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. And while "Deep Impact" was certainly a better effort than the simultaneously released "Armageddon", "Lucifer's Hammer" was so much better again.
The book describes the discovery of a new meteorite by a millionaire astronomer, Timothy Hamner. Its orbit is calculated to bring it very close to Earth and speculation starts that it might actually hit. The authors vividly describe two sets of events with a very different timescale: the gradual changing of the meteorite's orbit over a period of millions of years, and the very rapid change in human society from almost universal indifference to total obsession with this particular meteorite.
A joint US-USSR Spacelab mission is launched (the book is from 1978) to monitor and record the passing of the meteorite. When the meteorite hits Earth in a series of strikes ranging from the Mediterranean to the eastern Pacific, the crew is left stranded in space.
The book gives a brilliant and well-founded description of events following the meteor strikes: the giant tsunamis, the earth quakes and volcano eruptions, the mud rain, the onset of an Ice Age. It describes even better man's reaction to these events, told through a multitude of short tales. The story of a young surfer who decided to ride a tsunami created a picture that I found indelible.
The book then focuses on a number of survivors in California, gradually coalescing into three main groups: a community in a valley trying to re-establish an agricultural society; a band of society's outcasts led by a preacher who urges the destruction of all things technical; and the construction and operation personnel of a nuclear reactor that has withstood the strike impacts. The authors are very good in their portrayal of the initial panic and "everyone for themselves" mentality, followed by a need to restore some form of order in a world that has changed beyond imagining. Amongst all of this there are snippets of information on what is happening around the globe, showing the fragility of our civilisation to an event of this nature. And somewhere in all of that, the crew of Spacelab makes it back to Earth.
The book starts slowly because it introduces such a large number of characters who later are woven together in a quite intricate plot. The book falls into the category of "natural disaster science fiction", but is much better than the average offering in this genre, not because it so well represents the technical issues about a meteor strike, but because it meets the definition of good literature: it tells us a little bit more about ourselves. Niven and Pournelle have collaborated on a number of good books ("The mote in God's eye" is recommended as a sample of well thought-out classic SF), but in my opinion this is their best.
I found myself wondering why Hollywood had not used this book instead of the "Deep Impact" script. I suppose that like "Lord of the Ring" it would need a highly motivated director and producer to bring this to the screen, and compressing it into the usual three hours or less could be quite difficult. But it could be sooo good, if done well.
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on July 31, 2001
The two authors of this book were well ahead of Hollywood's apocalyptic endeavors with this classic. I found the characters to be well developed and the action non-stop, once you get into it. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle take care to spend the first section of the book carefully detailing characters and relationships before enacting Doomsday upon them. The time they do spend on the beginning is not wasted as the bond you build with them from the start helps to root your excitement in their escaping the comet's fury.
I think that they have, fairly accurately, detailed how humanity society would splinter under the duress of such an ordeal. How some would try with all their might to hang onto what they've been living with and create their own small society and others would abandon their humanity resulting in chaotic murder, unremorseful theft and cannibalism.
Overall, I couldn't put this book down. And of course, it being about Doomsday and the destruction and triumph of the human spirit didn't hurt either.
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on June 12, 2001
Maybe it was seeing the compelling original cover art for Stephen King's "The Stand" in my parent's book collection when I was five. Maybe it was the siren tests of the local fire station that I somehow always associated with nuclear war. Maybe it was all those old rusty yellow signs I saw on buildings in NYC, with the radiation symbol and one word "Shelter". Maybe it was even watching Jan-Michael Vincent and George Peppard ham around my TV screen in "Damnation Alley". Maybe it was all those reasons, but growing up I always had a fascination with "End of the World" stories. For years, I have read "The Stand" again and again. I bought World War III novels right and left, reading them all. I have watched classics like "The Road Warrior" and "The Day After" and bad ones like "The Ultimate Warrior" and "Ravengers". Hell, I've even made up a couple of listmania lists on the topic, and it was in researching them that I came across "Lucifer's Hammer".
How I managed to miss this book for all these years is quite beyond me. The book, though, is a pleasant discovery and a complete revelation. Written by science fiction greats Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, it is a fantastic and fantastically ambitious novel about (obviously enough, if you haven't been skimming this review) the end of the world. More than that, it is a page turner, possessing that magical "je ne sais pas" quality that makes bands into legends, actors into stars, and books into pop culture. As surely as a John Grisham novel or Tom Clancy techno-thriller, "Lucifer's Hammer" compels the reader onward, heedless of time, hunger, or any constraint that would dare suggest putting down the book.
The "Hammer" is a comet, delivering the one type of cataclysmic destruction we could reasonably expect to face in our lives. A key trick to the novel is the sense of inexorable, unavoidable doom. Up to the strike (and even beyond), there are a number of comet asides, passages that describe the roiling journey of the comet to its date with destiny and beyond. While man built the pyramids, invented the Printing Press, fought World Wars, the comet in its various stages of travel is described, rendering puny and insignificant that which we call our history. When the "Hammer" falls, no detail is spared in portraying the full scope of the horror unfolding.
I've always felt "end of the world" fiction has fascinated the general population for a couple of reasons. We certainly live in an age where it could happen in an instant, but also because (like a moth to a flame) we are curiously drawn to something so vast and alien, it is beyond our ability to grasp. These works offer us a small glimpse and insight into the concept of "global holocaust". In this respect, "Lucifer's Hammer" is truly one of the giants in this genre. It is bleaker than Stephen King's "The Stand", which had at least the assurance that God did exist, but "Lucifer's Hammer" is not without its version of hope either. Faced with annihilation, Niven and Pournelle have a complete cast of fleshed-out and well-written characters whose triumphs and defeats we don't just experience, we feel. There is no promise of victory or survival for these characters, but we empathize with their struggle to not simply pass on without a fight.
"Lucifer's Hammer" hits home as a believable work of what might be, and as a meticulously crafted piece of writing. It is well worth a purchase for science fiction and general fiction readers alike.
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