Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Lucifer's Hammer - disaster sci-fi novel

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle was published in 1977.  I say this because it is the only explanation I can give for missing reading this novel before.  I  would have been 13, and living outside of Canada (on a sailboat in Central America, so no access to new books.  Really!).  Because otherwise, I surely would have heard of this book long before now!  I LOVE novels about disaster, and movies about them too.  So when I was looking through the Worlds Without End site for nominated science fiction books to read, when I saw the worlds 'gigantic comet' 'earth' and 'survivors', I was hooked. I HAD to read it, especially as it was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1978.  So it had to be good, right, if it was nominated?

It was.  It is.  It's fun to read a book that is 35 years old, have it set in 1977, and be jolted back to what life was like back then.  Specifically, to life when there was us, and them.  In this book, Russia is still the USSR, and the divide is still up, and they are on the wrong side for being communist.  I mention this not because politics enter into this book - it doesn't, not really, but because that strangeness from beyond the Iron Curtain is part of the space program that does play a part in this book. It was like a flashback time for me, because I was old enough to remember life in the 1970s, the aftereffects of the Cold War and the nuclear power problem.

But all of that is only a little tiny part of the book, background that sets up the real story:  the discovery of a comet that is going to pass near earth, only the trajectory changes, and part of the comet's tail pass through earth.  It is the end of the world, literally, as everything we know (expect from movies we've seen, etc) about the end of the world comes to pass: earthquakes, tidal waves, fires, power loss......and then the resulting ash cloud and rain.  I love the disaster part, the cataloguing of what happens when a meteor hits the earth (in this case, several make it through the atmosphere to land).  It is provided in satisfying detail in Lucifer's Hammer.

The best part though, are the people. It is delightful to read a disaster story where the characters are real, where their struggle to survive, and to find a safe haven to survive the coming first winter (the hardest), makes the book gripping.  I literally couldn't put it down.  I read it in one weekend, staying up very late one night, reading through meals with my family, ignoring housework, just happily engrossed in this wonderful story about the end of the world as we know it, and what happens after.

I even found myself laughing at some parts, and crying at others. It is about as realistic a look as I've seen.  And it's good.   The dialogue is good and strong.  It's a fabulous, fun story, and I think it's one of the best post-apocalyptic disaster novels I've read. It's also realistic. Most of the characters who survive are totally unprepared for the end of the world.

Best of all, books feature in this book. One very wise character does something with books that is so unexpected, and so practical, and it's a reminder of all the wisdom and knowledge found in books.

On a personal note, diabetes also features in this book, and it was very interesting reading about one character, who is on insulin when the meteor crashes, and what happens to him. 

 This was read for Carl's Sci-fi experience, and also as part of my personal challenge to read more nominated and winning Hugo and Nebula award novels.


Sam Sattler said...

I read this one in the late seventies and I remember how much I enjoyed it but few details. Your excellent review makes me want to find a copy and re-read the thing. Thanks for that.

Kathleen said...

Sounds like a great discovery to have made!

Cath said...

I've not heard of this one at all. The only Larry Niven I've read is Ringworld - I've always meant to read more by him but got around to it. To tell the truth I'm not that mad about end of the world sci-fi, I'm more into explorations of new planets, that kind of thing. So glad you loved this one, so great to read something and love it so much. I've just finished Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg and absolutely adored it so I know how it feels!

Susan said...

Sam: Thanks so much for telling me you've read it too! It's nice to meet someone else who likes disaster sci fi too :-) and if you reread it again because of my review, that's a real pleasure. Thanks!

I hope you find it, as I'm curious if you will like it as much now, and how you find it looking back on what we know about that era of world politics.

Kathleen: It was, thanks! A very fun one, too. Do you read science fiction?

Cath: I read Ringworld too, long ago! I can't remember much about it, so one day I will have to read it again. I remember that I did enjoy it very much.

I like the exploring new planets too - the one I'm reading now, Moving Mars, is about the colony asserting its independence from earth. Sounds not so fun, but so far it's fabulous. I'll come read your review of the Silverberg book :-) It IS fun to find new books to love!

There is something about exploration and ideas, that I really enjoy with science fiction. Do you have any ideas about what you are enjoying about our science fiction experience this year?

Cath said...

I realised that I have actually read the sequel to Ringworld as well... again... some years ago. I hardly remember them either, only that I thought they were amazingly imaginative and brilliant.

I read the Silverberg book in a day and a half. LOL. It's not a long book, 200 or so pages, but I just gobbled it up. It was all that's best about sci-fi. Will try to review it over the next couple of days but 'oh' I really think you would like it... it's amazing in the 'ideas' and 'preconceptions' department.

Can't wait to read about Moving Mars, I'm willing to try anything!

I wish I could put my finger on why I'm loving the sci-fi experience so much this year. It's been like a voyage of rediscovery. Sci-fi was *huge* with me in my teens and twenties and then I moved away from it and never really went back. It's a shame, so I'm trying to catch up now. To the point where I'm not sure whether I want to go back to Fantasy for Carl's OUaT challenge next month. Maybe I can find something that is more sci-fi orientated - Robin Hobb or maybe Stephen Hunt, I have the second of his Jackelian series on my Kindle and it's an 'exploration' one. We'll see.

Susan said...

Cath: well something is going on, because I was having the exact same experience last night in the bookstore! They had a 2 for 1 sale on, and I found far more sci fi than fantasy or even mysteries, which shocked me. I even found myself wondering if I could do Carl's fantasy challenge too!! I've got 8 new books to read in science fiction! I wonder if you and I are going through a similar phase? I just feel like science fiction right now. It all seems interesting!

Cath said...

There does seem to be something going on with us. I ordered two more Silverberg books from AM today, the library didn't have them and they sounded so good on FantasticFiction. I foisted Downward to the Earth onto Peter and he's now devouring it so I reckon it must be good! LOL. Have also just finished my first Robert Heinlein, slim little book called Time For the Stars. Not bad at all. Our grandaughter's here for a few days from tomorrow so I won't have time to read much, or post, but when she goes home I'll be off again. Like you my pile is getting big!

Off to read your new post.

Kathleen said...

I read very little science fiction so am always interested to hear about a book that I should add to my list.

Susan said...

Cath: that is too funny, because I've since read two more sci-fi books, and have just started The Atrocity Files! I've also got so many out from the library.....I need a holiday just to read and catch up.

Kathleen: Is this something you might read? I know you said you hadn't read much science fiction, have you read any? this is a fun one, and not too much science stuff to try to work out :-) not that you can't, but I certainly can't! lol

Charlotte said...

Gosh, that sounds good! I'll have to add it to my list.

Susan said...

Charlotte: I hope you enjoy it!!