Not sure if I mentioned it before but I am a fan of the end of the world or apocalypse genre, when the movie 2012 came out I was pretty excited and could not wait to see it. I had never heard of this book before until I overheard a coworker of mine talking about it one day. Curious I looked it up and when I found out what it was about I knew I had to check it out. It is a one million copy seller as well, so I figured I could not go wrong.
Larry Niven is most famous for his novel Ringworld, which has won just about every award in science fiction including the Hugo Award. He has written many other books including The Mote in God’s Eye but none as famous as famous as Ringworld, he has also written scripts for various television shows. Jerry Pournelle is also a science fiction author and him and Niven have teamed up to write a few books through the years. Lucifer’s Hammer is their most famous novel together although Footfall is a well known novel among science fiction readers as well. Jerry is also a journalist who has written on various topics most notably computers. He has written extensively on for a variety of different magazines including BYTE and Survive.
The story is more like a movie than a novel in my opinion. It follows about a million characters, okay maybe not a million, but probably at least 30. 15 of those that are what I would consider major characters, meaning they are mentioned more than a hand full of times and contribute to the overall story line. This is something to be aware of before reading, I will admit that it was hard to keep all them in line. Good thing there is a cheat sheet in the front of the book that has all the characters listed and a brief description on who they are.
The story starts out with a party in California for a rich guy named Tim Hamner. He is a playboy and armature astronomer who along with another armature astronomer has discovered a new comet, named Hamner-Brown for both its founders. The first 70-100 pages is spent introducing all the characters and getting to know their “normal” lives. Harvey Randall is a reporter famous for his documentaries, Hamner convinces him to do one on the new comet. During the documentary various scientist are interviewed about the comet and how there is a small chance that it could hit earth. Eventually that small chance gets larger and larger until there is a 100% chance that it is going to strike earth.
There is no warning before the strike and all the characters make their own preparations just in case the worst happens. After the strike the reader follows most of the surviving characters through the aftermath of trying to survive and if possible trying to rebuild civilization. There are various camps of survivors, some result to cannibalism to survive others are crazy fanatical believing that it was God’s will to destroy civilization. The main group of good guys have built a somewhat primitive society and have some luxuries. There is a horde of vandals whose sole purpose is to pillage, kill, and take any and everything they can to survive, then move on. These two civilizations meet in an epic battle of survival.
This story is very long, I bought the mass market paperback and it is over 600 pages. I never usually care that much about how long a book is, but this one seemed to drag on for an eternity. As I mentioned above there are so many characters in the story, and each one is given quite a few pages in the story. At page 75 or so the authors were still introducing new characters that would have little to no impact on the rest of the story. With that being said it is really not needed, there is just so much going on that it’s hard to keep up with the main characters. I will defend the authors a little as it was interesting to see how some of these other lesser characters dealt with the disaster. I think what the authors were trying to do was show the reader as much as they could of what was going on in the world pre and post comet strike. In theory this is a good idea, but I think the execution was poor at best.
To me I felt there is just too much going on (have I said that already?), too many characters, and too many side stories, too much that did add to the main storyline, to make this a great novel. At times it was interesting to see how so many different people reacted to such a devastating event but after about three to four hundred pages it started to get old and I found myself longing for some action. That is another thing about this book the action is few and far between. I felt the author spent too much time trying to build up drama and over specifying things that were not important in any way to the advancement of the story. There is a long gap in the middle of the book that I felt hard to get through where there was little action and the story focused on a few characters trying to get to safety. It does not sound boring but it was a brutal read in my opinion. When there was time for some action the author would skip it and switch to another character, then after revisit the first character who would then tell what happened. So the reader would get the action after the fact. It was a bizarre way to write the story and left me wanting something more that would keep me interested.
The biggest action sequence other than when the comet hit, which I felt was downplayed as well, was the last 150 pages or so. I will say that these last pages really had me on the edge of my seat reading frantically to get to the next word to see what is going on. It was very exciting. But I think it is too little too late, the authors had plenty of pages and characters to do this the whole book but instead chose to drag the story out. The ending is very odd to in my opinion as well. There is quite a large argument that was justified, but then once again there is this giant dramatice buildup of what is going to happened then… then… everything fizzles and once again the action happens off page and the story is over. This is one of the most strange and odd endings to a story that I have ever seen. What I mean by that is that the ending itself is fine, most of the story is wrapped up and it makes sense. What I am talking about is how it was conveyed to the reader, more or less the writing style. Why would you build up to this big gradios ending then have it take place behind the secenes? Then the writers tell what happened in a brife epilogue. Maybe that is what I am trying to say about the story, I was not a big fan of the style the authors decided to go with.
The book does have some age on it as it was first published in 1977, and was recommended to me by a friend. I had somewhat of higher expectations for the book at the very least I thought it would be entertaining, but at the end I am left more or less feeling that I wasted quite a bit of time reading this one. I really hate to say that, as I love the premise and there are some cool ideas and interesting scenarios in the story. As I have said numerous times it is just too long and drawn out. I felt the story could have been at least 200 to 300 pages shorter and I think it would have been better. This is only the second book about the end of the world, not counting dystopian society books, that I have read. So I am comparing this to One Second After by William R. Forstchen, which is a great, well written, exciting book about the end of civilization and TheRoad by Cormac McCarthy. After comparing these two the Hammer falls to a very distant, very far-away third place. I do not want to say to skip this one, but reader beware that it is a long and tiresome read at times, with sprinkles of action thrown in. With all the alternatives in the genre out there it is tough to recommend this one. But it was a one million copies best seller, so take that information however you like.