Lucifer's Hammer

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Lucifer's Hammer
First edition
Author Larry Niven
Jerry Pournelle
Cover artist Anthony Russo[1]
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Playboy Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 494 pp
ISBN 0-87223-487-8
OCLC 2966712
LC Class PZ4.N734 Lu PS3564.I9

Lucifer's Hammer is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, first published in 1977.[2] It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1978.[3] A comic book adaptation was published by Innovation Comics in 1993.[4]

Plot summary

The story details a comet impacting on Earth, an end to civilization, and the battle for the future. It encompasses the discovery of the comet, the Los Angeles social scene, and a cast of diverse characters whose fate is to be among the few who survive the massive cataclysm and the resulting tsunamis, plagues, famines, and battles among scavengers and cannibals.

When wealthy soap company heir and amateur astronomer Tim Hamner codiscovers a new comet, dubbed Hamner-Brown, documentary producer Harvey Randall persuades Hamner to have his family's company sponsor a television documentary series on the subject. Political lobbying by California Senator Arthur Jellison eventually gets a joint Apollo-Soyuz (docking with the second flight-worthy Skylab) mission into space to study the comet, dubbed "The Hammer" by popular media, which is expected to pass close to the Earth. Despite assurances by the scientific community that a collision with Earth is extremely unlikely, the public, many of whom are fueled with religious fervor by the evangelist Henry Armitage, who teaches that the arrival of the comet signals the End Times, begins to hoard food and supplies in anticipation.

Eventually, to the shock of scientists at JPL in Pasadena, who could not track the trajectory accurately enough because of the comet's constant outgassing, the Hammer does fall, breaking up into several smaller comets that impact around the world with devastating results, striking parts of Europe, Africa, the Gulf of Mexico, and both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The strikes trigger several volcanoes and earthquakes around the world, including the San Andreas fault, heavily damaging the Southern California region and the rest of California, causing millions of casualties. Several of the fragments land in the ocean, causing further damage by the resulting tsunamis (which destroy several major coastal cities around the world, including Los Angeles, killing millions) and long-term climate problems due to the massive quantities of vaporized seawater.

Immediately following the Hammer's impact, anticipating the coming ice age and the inevitable southward migration of survivors from Russia into Chinese territory, China launches a preemptive nuclear attack on major Russian cities. The Russians are able to respond in time and, with American assistance, China is effectively destroyed but Russia still suffers devastating losses. Within hours of the comet strike hundreds of millions are dead and much of the world is left in ruin. As the survivors contend with weeks of nonstop rain, flooding destroys practically every dam and levee, leaving the search for food a top survival priority. Civilization crumbles as people use the few remaining weapons to protect themselves from each other.

Surviving "Hammerfall" is shown to be primarily a matter of random chance, with preparation being only a distant second factor. Hamner goes from being a dilettante astronomer to a determined survivor, with his new wife, Eileen. Randall shows true leadership abilities under fire, while Jellison and other land owners, farmers and ranchers become lords over their fiefdoms and the serfs they employ to provide labor, skills and security. Jellison forms the centerpost of these fiefs, dubbed "the Stronghold," where he presides over a small population of survivors who wish to retain civilization. The tone of life after "Hammerfall" is one where those who do not have valuable skills for a world without power or civilization are relegated to being manual laborers, regardless of their socioeconomic status or profession before the Fall.

Shortwave radio, the only surviving means of mass communication, is eagerly monitored and reveals a chaotic situation after the Fall. Several persons, including some who were previously officials of the former United States Government, claim, with varying levels of support, to be the new or currently acting President of the United States, while others are now self-proclaimed monarchs of various regions or areas. Many people subsist by looting former stores and by catching rats and various fish, especially the now-plentiful giant carp, which are mostly either former pet goldfish or their progeny, engorged by the massive supply of food available to them, primarily in the form of human corpses. Some advanced technical knowledge was maintained by the means of the preservation of a collection of books which had been wrapped in impermeable plastic and submerged in a septic tank prior to Hammerfall and later retrieved by a resourceful character who realized their potential value and likely scarcity in a post-Hammer world.

While doctors and farmers are still valuable, lawyers are unnecessary, but if civilization is to be rebuilt, scientific knowledge is the most valuable skill of all. Soldiers and police are diminished in status, and provide security alongside gang members and bikers, both within the Stronghold and within the New Brotherhood Army. This latter group forms the legions of Reverend Henry Armitage, who managed to take control of the remnants of a former United States Army unit which had largely survived the Fall due to its being on maneuvers in the Sierra mountains, at altitudes high enough to survive the flooding. Armitage integrates the soldiers and his pre-existing band of followers, initiating them into cannibalism to shame them into loyalty, and maintains even more loyalty through a strict egalitarianism, where even the slightest indication of racial, social, or other prejudice is swiftly and severely punished.

Armitage's charisma and his followers' strict, military-derived discipline makes the New Brotherhood Army into a formidable force. Jellison's stronghold is located slightly east or northeast of Springville, California, where the North Fork and the Middle Fork of the Tule River meet. West of this stronghold, the city of Porterville has been destroyed by the collapse of the dam at Lake Success. Massive and sustained rainfall has turned the former San Joaquin Valley into a swampy lake. Other small enclaves of civilization exist in this area until the band of cannibalistic zealots led by Reverend Armitage and his army of heavily armed soldiers begin a rampage through the area, culminating in a series of battles with the inhabitants of Jellison's stronghold.

Literary significance and reception

Judith T. Yamamoto in her review for the Library Journal said that the novel was full of "good, solid science, a gigantic but well developed and coordinated cast of characters, and about a megaton of suspenseful excitement." Her one negative comment was that the pro-technology pitch might turn off some readers but "all in all it's a good book, if not a great one."[5] Lucifer's Hammer received a nomination for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1978.[3]

See also


  1. "Lucifer's Hammer". ISFDB. 
  2. P. Curtis, Claire (2010). Postapocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract: We'll Not Go Home Again. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "1978 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  4. "Lucifer's Hammer". Comic Vine. 
  5. Yamamoto, Judith T. (1977-07-01). "Lucifer's Hammer (Book Review)". Library Journal. 102 (13): 1528. ISSN 0363-0277. 

External links