Lucifer’s Hammer – Book Review

There are some books you plan to read, but never seem to get around to it.  In the case of Lucifer’s Hammer, this was true for me.  I like Larry Niven’s work, so I felt this would be a good read. I was not disappointed.

The story is a simple one – a comet is approaching earth and will strike it.  The book deals with three phases of this event: The time when the comet approaches, the actual strike of the comet and the aftermath.

The characters are varied and come from different walks of life.  They are a good representation of humanity and as each one of them deals with the disaster in their own way with different results.  It is ultimately the struggle between those who want to discard the fruits of civilization and those who try to preserve them.

From a conservative and libertarian standpoint, this is a great book.  The authors take on environmentalism, big government dependency and facing the realities of a worldwide disaster.  Probably the biggest issue that the authors are trying to get across to their readers is how much we are not prepared for a disaster from space.  In 1977 when this novel was released  both the Apollo and Skylab programs had just been canned in favor of the shuttle program.  The authors do not object to the shuttle program, but there does seem to be an underlying concern with the gap of time there would be in the space program in case of such a disaster.  The irony stretches to today with the cancellation of the shuttle program in favor of returning to rocket based missions. I do not think this is a good idea for much the same reasons.

If I have one a problem with the book, its seems the authors go out of their way to paint religion as the enemy of civilization and survival.  The religious people are nuts and fruitcakes of the story.  I have no doubt there would be some problems with this as some people do indeed look at such disasters through the lens of Biblical prophecy, but not all of them would do so.  Fact is, at time religion has been the saving grace of civilization through guarding knowledge in monasteries and such.  I am not speaking of Christianity, but also Buddhism and other faiths who have guarded and been the bastions of scholarship at times.  The one character that is religious that seems half OK is the local pastor at the Stronghold who offers advice but does not interfere other than to help the needy.  I am not saying religious people would not be a problem, what I am saying is that some would actually be helpful in such a situation.

Other than this, the book is one of the most realistic looks at disaster on a global scale from the standpoint of the technology of 1970s.  I don’t think much has changed other than the prepper movement has now become even larger.  The fact that we are more dependent on modern convenience actually makes the book seem more ominous to me.

I highly recommend this book for anyone to read, even liberals although they might not like the fact that they are proven to be the most unable to survive in a global disaster.

Next Review: A Canticle of Leibowitz

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If you look at a current disaster novel like “One Second After” you will see the “fruitcake” element is today the inner city gang rather than religion. (I still have not read the book I am going by a reliable report). The danger in society shifts as culture shifts.

I agree with Niven and Pournelle on the portrayal of religious groups as “fruitcakes”. When the book was written the religious cult movement in America was at it’s height. Jim Jones had just moved his People’s temple to Guyana, Hari Krishnas accosted people at every bus stop and airport in America, Scientologists were planning murders of British parliament members, and snake handling had come into fashion in rural America.Cults of every stripe were constantly in the news. With this as the backdrop of the novel religion took the beating it richly deserved at the time.

Ed Raby Sr says:

Given the specific context, I guess I can understand it. However, I was thinking overall history of the world in relationship to disaster. Religion has not always been a force for weird and wacko.