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3/5/12

Book Review: Lucifer's Hammer

Lucifer's Hammer was written way back in the late 70s--around the time of the first Star Wars movie. It is the prototypical comet/asteroid destroys the Earth book. It's generally well reviewed and almost always mentioned when people discuss post-apocalypse favorites.

I've had a paperback copy of the book for several years, and have tried to start reading it at least three times, but was unable to get very far. The first half of the book is pretty boring--a slow build, establishing a broad cast of characters before the inevitable comet collision. It was a challenge though, and after seeing many of you list it as a favorite, I figured it was about time to get through it. I picked up an audio version of the book and had better success in plowing through the slow beginning to get to the post-comet strike goodness.

Lucifer's Hammer certainly takes its time to get rolling, and unnecessarily so. The initial cast of characters is too big, with too many stories woven in for extra texture or detail. It's too wide of a net cast in the beginning stages of the book. We all know the comet is going to eventually hit--there's no suspense--so the slow build to the collision has little pay off. Some generous trimming up front would have been beneficial.

However, once the comet strikes, things start to get pretty good. The main storyline follows the "bug out" of different survivor groups from comet-ravaged Los Angeles to a rural "stronghold" community, and then that community's efforts to survive. When an army of fanatical, technology-hating cannibals comes after the community, things get interesting.

The second half is almost an entirely different book, with action and intrigue. Good stuff.
The characters are well written and their actions believable. This is not a shoot 'em up action story, but more in-line with books like One Second After--drama, suspense, survival, relationships and so on.

None of the characters in the book are "preppers" or survivalists--no one really thinks the comet is going to hit--though a few quietly make some last minute preparations. You're getting the apocalypse from a "normal" person point of view--a news reporter, a wealthy astronomer--not a dialed in survival group. Survival is shown as much a matter of luck and geography than anything else. Go in with that expectation.

Another point of complaint is the approach of the community--it essentially becomes a centrally planned, communist society. Things like private property rights are thrown out the window, with neighbors spying on neighbors and "hoarders" exiled from the community. Not something many of us would agree with, but certainly an approach that would emerge in many post-collapse communities.

Despite being over 30 years old, Lucifer's Hammer has aged fairly well. There's the Cold War tensions between the USA and the USSR, and a late 1970s racial point of view. There are some other dated elements, but nothing too big.

Lucifer's Hammer does not sugar coat the apocalypse--mass death, murder, starvation, cannibalism--it's pretty grim. If you're squeamish, there's some gory details that will almost certainly get to you. There's quite a bit of rough language, mostly from the thugs/cannibals. Finally, the main characters display some fairly loose morals, but they're mostly of the soap opera variety--fade as the couple goes to bed or cut in as they're waking up. It's certainly intended for a more mature audience.

Overall, Hammer is a good read. It's not great, and it's not a "must read," but if you're looking for a post-apocalypse classic and can plow through the boring first half, give it a shot.

Pick it up from Amazon >

6 comments :

  1. I couldn't even get through the audio version, the version I have, the narrator voice was so bad and mono toned that I kept falling a sleep and it annoyed me so much I deleted it off my iphone

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    1. I ALMOST didn't make it to the comet strike again, but plowed through. If I was going to do it again, I'd get through the first couple chapters and then skip ahead to the asteroid collision.

      Did you the version they have on Audible?

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  2. When "Worlds Collide" (1934) is the first modern collision tale that I know of.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Worlds_Collide

    In "Day of the Triffids" it is a comet storm that causes the mass blindness.

    So I don't think Lucifer's Hammer is the prototype. What it is is the first novel to try an realistically portray what happens when a comet hits the earth.

    Their much latter "Footfall" is an alien invastion version of the story. Their the pattern was the opposite- decent buildup, let down on the ending.

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  3. My dad has been passing a lot of books onto me lately to read & this was one of them. I have to agree that it was slow taking off, but in the end I'm extremely happy that I pushed on and finished it. Also makes you shake your head when you think about movies that have come out through the years that have similar story lines....

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  4. definitely slow beginning w/many characters to keep track of......however, this is one of my top ten favorite survivalist books and I highly recommend it.

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  5. I really enjoyed this book. I do agree that it takes a while to get rolling though. A must read for those interested in post apocalyptic fiction.

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