Lucifer's Hammer (1977)
By: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
The Hamner-Brown comet is discovered by rich playboy Tim Hamner who convinces famous documentarian Harvey Randall to make his comet famous. Along the way they convince astrophysicist Dr. Sharp to promote it scientifically and Senator Jellison to help get a joint US-Russian survey journey. However, as the comet gets closer, Hamner-Brown starts looking like Lucifer's Hammer bound to destroy mankind's civilizations.
This novel takes a broad scope and has a lot of characters. I admire its ambition, but with all the character I found myself caring about only a select few (much like The Last Man). This novel also walks the line between hard and soft (social) science fiction by integrating the hard science with common people's and the government's reactions. All this leads to a very unfocused and sometimes meandering plot, but an interesting experiment.
Harvey Randall is a famous journalist who has become somewhat dissatisfied with his life. Through the novel he comes to learn what is truly important to him, sort of. Certain aspects of his character like his intelligence and bravery were okay, but I had major issues with his mixed feelings on the women in his life.
Tim Hamner is a billionaire playboy who discovers the comet. He has a stronger and more relatable story arc than Harvey. He kind of gets lost near the end and reappears at the end. I wish he'd have been followed more closely.
Maureen Jellison is the daughter of Senator Jellison. She starts as a kind of minor character and is one of the prominent female characters. She, Marie and Eileen represent the women's liberation issues crushed by the end of the world.
The New Brotherhood is a strangely built enemy. Their sections seem very divorced from the rest of the narrative at the start until they come together at the end. As an enemy they had a very interesting, if racist and bigoted, slant. My issue is why we needed some of the story from their point of view. We get several looks into what they did through other characters.I would say it was to humanize them, but their sections just made me care about them less. There were some interesting race politics, but they were made more
effectively (and less stereotyped) by Rick Delanty the first African
Most of this novel is alive with the culture of the nineteen-seventies. There are even some somewhat archaic racial stereotypes and jokes. It is, as I've said many times, a cool look back at another era. I had a good laugh at the unintentional humor of their 'corrupt' politics. The post-comet survival is more technology focused and something that I compare more to Lest Darkness Fall (Which I may do a review on eventually) than something like Earth Abides. There are also numerous references to classic science fiction like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.
In the End
The end is quite the opposite of most every other book on this list in that it is overtly positive. That is fine. What's not fine is that the ending is just as uneven as everything else. It delivers on some great scenes, yet passes on others. Not bad, but not great.
It get progressively more interesting after the 75% mark. It takes a lot of reading to get there, but I think it's worth it.The things they could have left out are the more sensational serial killer bit and the New Brotherhood viewpoints. They could have been left out and I think the book would have been improved. This is a really good novel, but it doesn't quite make it to great. The focus technology as something to fight for was certainly interesting and that kind of case can't really be made today. It is a solid science fiction novel and a good apocalyptic tale.