A disaster and post-apocalyptic novel rolled into one

Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

Well I am finally back from my trip after finally finishing this monster of a book 20 minutes before my plane touched down at Melbourne Airport (and what a horrid flight it was: I really should have put my carry on bag into the overhead locker - I so didn't need my laptop because I was too exhausted to do anything other than attempt to finish this book, despite the fact that the plane had to take the long way round due to a volcano in Bali). Anyway, I have to say that I am surprised that it took me so long to read this book, especially since I was on holidays because I tend to get through books much quicker than that (though this book does drag quite a bit in places – they really could have cut a chunk of it out – it really didn't need to be a soap opera). However there are two things I discovered:


1) Don't think you can read a book on a speed boat in Thailand during the wet season: not only will you be bouncing all over the place, when you hit that first rainstorm you get absolutely drenched and you can pretty much say bye bye book (I didn't because I thought it would be a little anti-social, which for some reason playing on your mobile phone wasn't, though I was surprised that I could actually get internet in some of the places I visited).


2) Don't expect to be able to read a book in a bar in Patong Beach: okay, they do have some normal bars, but pretty much you will find it impossible to do so in all of the others. When I first arrived I went to the nearest bar, ordered a beer, and went to sit at a table to read the book. However the two bar girls were surprised that I didn't want to sit at the bar, so when I sat at the table two of them rushed out and sat down next to me: oh, you reading book? what book you reading? I can't read!


In fact there was one bar that I went into and the mamasang simply refused to let me read. She kept on waving a tissue between me and the book and doing her best to distract me (which worked quite successfully). Okay, I probably could have stayed in my hotel but seriously, with all of the music blasting in through my window at night it is really hard not to say “what the hell am I doing in here? I should be out there”. Let's just say in the end I gave up knowing that none of the girls in any of the bars were going to let me have some peace and quiet (unless, of course, I went to the normal bars, but seriously they are nowhere near as fun).


Anyway, enough of that because it is not my intention to talk about Patong Beach or my holiday – I have another blog where I will be doing that (and since I have only just got home, and have quite a bit more to write about it, I won't be giving you a link – yet).


At first I thought this book was awesome. In fact as I was reading it I thought the book was so good that I was surprised that they haven't made a movie starring Dwanye Johnson:


San Andreas Poster



or Bruce Willis:


Armageddon Poster


Okay, in many cases it would probably be just another disaster movie, however most disaster movies call it quits straight after the disaster and the survivors (who you can work out pretty quickly because they tend to be the stars) say 'gee, we managed to survive, everything is going to be okay now'. Lucifer's Hammer goes much further than this as the authors explore not just the immediate aftermath but also the impact the disaster would have on the modern world. Mind you, it took me a little while to work out how it was going to end, especially during the time when they were attempting to pick up the pieces, but it became ever clear with the discovery of a still active nuclear power plant and the rise of a fanatical group of cannibals. Lucifer's Hammer is not just a book about a comet hitting the Earth, it is a disaster book and a post-apocalyptic adventure rolled into one.


I thought the use of a comet instead of an asteroid was much better, but my suspicion was that an asteroid would pretty much destroy the world (and they suggested that all of the asteroids that could hit the Earth have already done so). Also comets are notoriously hard to destroy (not that they could have easily done it in 1977, though they still could have sent a lunar lander out there and planted some nuclear devices similar to what they did in Armageddon). However the thing about comets is that out in the ort cloud they are simply lumps of ice, but as they approach the sun they transform into the object that we are all familiar with (and I also find it fascinating that the comet's tail always points away from the sun).






The thing with comets is that they are made up of millions of chunks of ice so even if the comet doesn't hit the Earth but the Earth still passes through the coma (the area around the comet) it still has the ability to have a huge impact (and as the authors suggested create an extinction level event, which also suggested that the Brown-Hamner comet was what wiped out the dinosaurs). Their portrait of what would actually happen when the comet passes by the Earth was also interesting since it didn't just cause huge tidal waves but also resulted in numerous Earthquakes and causing pretty much all of the volcanoes to erupt. The massive amounts of water that went up into the atmosphere would also result in almost perpetual rain – I sort of wondered whether the story of Noah's Ark is a report of such an event.


However the aftermath was also quite interesting. It wasn't just the survivor's struggle to last out the winter as well as trying to save as much of civilisation as possible, but also how such disasters can result in the rise of fanatics. This was described in the form of the New Brotherhood, which began as simply a group of soldiers resorting to cannibalism and then turning into a fanatical religious group which was growing by leaps and bounds. It is also interesting that this group is rabidly anti-technology believing not just that it was humanity's technology that brought about the destruction of the world, but that by allowing this technology to remain then the world will simply go back to the way it was before where people are effectively enslaved.


What we are seeing is the conflict being played out between those who wish to rebuild and those who wish to remake the world into something new. It is interesting that the whole 'fight the power' group identifies with the cannibals and the luddites (those who hate technology) though I suspect that this has a lot more to do with when it was written, since we are looking at the period shortly after the civil rights movement and the rise of the black panthers. However the authors seem to connect this more with the black militant groups as opposed to left-wing radical groups such as the Weather Underground.


The biggest problem that I found with this book though is that it starts to get a little like a soap opera, especially near the end. In fact even though it does pace well, it felt as if it was a little too long in places. Okay, granted, I had quite a few distractions in the time that I was reading it, however I did feel that it could have been cut down quite a lot, especially since parts of it do seem to drag.





Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1348366556