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Lucifer's Hammer

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The gigantic comet has slammed into Earth, forging earthquakes a thousand times too powerful to measure on the Richter scale, tidal waves thousands of feet high. Cities were turned into oceans; oceans turned into steam. It was the beginning of a new Ice Age and the end of civilization

But for the terrified men and women chance had saved, it was also the dawn of a new struggle for survival—a struggle more dangerous and challenging than any they had ever known….

629 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published July 1, 1977

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About the author

Larry Niven

659 books3,040 followers
Laurence van Cott Niven's best known work is Ringworld (Ringworld, #1) (1970), which received the Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, and Nebula awards. His work is primarily hard science fiction, using big science concepts and theoretical physics. The creation of thoroughly worked-out alien species, which are very different from humans both physically and mentally, is recognized as one of Niven's main strengths.

Niven also often includes elements of detective fiction and adventure stories. His fantasy includes The Magic Goes Away series, which utilizes an exhaustible resource, called Mana, to make the magic a non-renewable resource.

Niven created an alien species, the Kzin, which were featured in a series of twelve collection books, the Man-Kzin Wars. He co-authored a number of novels with Jerry Pournelle. In fact, much of his writing since the 1970s has been in collaboration, particularly with Pournelle, Steven Barnes, Brenda Cooper, or Edward M. Lerner.

He briefly attended the California Institute of Technology and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics (with a minor in psychology) from Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, in 1962. He did a year of graduate work in mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has since lived in Los Angeles suburbs, including Chatsworth and Tarzana, as a full-time writer. He married Marilyn Joyce "Fuzzy Pink" Wisowaty, herself a well-known science fiction and Regency literature fan, on September 6, 1969.

Niven won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for Neutron Star in 1967. In 1972, for Inconstant Moon, and in 1975 for The Hole Man. In 1976, he won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette for The Borderland of Sol.

Niven has written scripts for various science fiction television shows, including the original Land of the Lost series and Star Trek: The Animated Series, for which he adapted his early Kzin story The Soft Weapon. He adapted his story Inconstant Moon for an episode of the television series The Outer Limits in 1996.

He has also written for the DC Comics character Green Lantern including in his stories hard science fiction concepts such as universal entropy and the redshift effect, which are unusual in comic books.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,590 reviews
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,044 followers
June 28, 2016
Stop! Hammertime!

The Hammer disregards all pleas not to 'hurt 'em.'
Please, Hammer! Don't hurt 'em!


There should be a name for the particular type of book that is exemplified by some popular novels published between the late 1950s and the early 1980s. It's very distinctive, but hard to describe. Some characteristics include: an insistence on referring to men by their last names only, flat characterization which tends to adhere to sterotypical gender roles, a focus on jobs/career as being a key part of identity, and a predominance of loveless relationships and adulterous affairs. It's more than just that, though - I really have never managed to quite put my finger on it. But it doesn't take long to recognize. After a few pages, I was like, "Oh, it's one of those." (I also thought, throughout reading it, that it was published in 1970, not 1977 - maybe I saw a bit of misinformation, but it feels VERY dated and regressive.)

Still, this started out in the three-star range, and stayed there for about the first 40% of the book. For that section, I was strongly reminded of Neal Stephenson's 'Seveneves,' to the point where I suspected (and still suspect) that Stephenson read this book - and wanted to do it better. (Stephenson succeeded, if that was the goal.) Of course, the difference is that in Seveneves, we're getting hit by moon bits and in Lucifer's Hammer, by comet bits, but the setup is very similar: We see the discovery of the phenomenon, the media reaction, and start glimpsing the effects on the daily lives of a wide range of people, including politicians, experts, and average joes. There's also the crew up in Skylab. There's a huge cast of characters, which meant for me, in this book, that I didn't feel emotionally invested in any of them, and for a while, the book dragged a bit. (The way the many characters were handled reminded me a bit of Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Mars' books - but those are better-written (sensing a trend here?))

When the comet hits and disaster strikes, things picked up a bit. (How could that not be exciting?) Unlike 'Seveneves', we get a more typical 'aftermath.' The book focuses on rural California, and a group of ranchers that pull together for survival, initially joined by their dedicated mailman, who insists on continuing his route. (Did this influence David Brin's 'The Postman'? If so, again, Brin did it better.) As the small details of survival go on, the book becomes very similar to Pat Frank's 1959 'Alas Babylon,' in the way it focuses on a small group in an isolated rural location, and the ins-and-outs of how they keep alive. It got a bit tedious - and quite sexist (repeated mentions of man's 'natural instinct' to 'protect the female' coming out, and how 'women's lib' is now defunct), with a few dashes of racism. I'm also a lot more inclined to be forgiving of certain attitudes in a 1959 book than in a 1977 book. Throughout this part of the book, my opinion dropped down to two stars.

Around 80%, Niven and Pournelle pull out all the stops. It's like they figured, "If they've read this far, they're not going to stop now, so we can go all out and pull no punches with what we really think." This final part of the book is almost like a satire of right-wing attitudes - except that it's painfully clear that it's in earnest. I guess that it's a fascinating glimpse into everything that those of a certain mindset really fear?

(Talking about the end here, so - hiding... but really, I'd recommend reading this spoiler instead of the book):

And... down to one star.

Read for post-apocalyptic book club. I guess I'm glad I read it, just because I've seen it around nearly my whole life - even physically picked it up in the library on a couple of occasions - but never read it until now. But, hoo-boy, this was quite something. And not a good something.
Profile Image for carol..
1,563 reviews8,199 followers
February 1, 2015

Full review (links and all) at https://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2015/... because I am going to digress like you won't believe...

Good grief, reading hasn’t been such a chore since Professional Nursing Practice Foundations and Concepts. And in the fiction world, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. So perhaps you should take my review with a grain of salt, since plenty of people love Strange (unsurprisingly, no one admits to loving Practice Foundations). Niven and Pournelle start with a great idea, a since tried-and-true staple of the disaster genre–Earth facing an impending meteor pass. My first encounter with this phenomenon was Night of the Comet, a fabulous, campy film released in 1984 about two sisters who survive the Earth passing through the tail of a comet. My second-to-last encounter was The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters, a marvelous exploration of ethics and choice in the face of certain doom. (Technically, of course, Hammer was my last encounter with the genre). Hammer and Policeman represent two different approaches to disaster, one macro, one micro, and just guess which one I liked better. Of course, Hammer was released in 1977, and Policeman in 2012, so there is that little issue of societal norms shifting, but I didn’t let that stop me… honest.

Hammer takes a more societal approach, walking the reader through various characters’ lives, usually–but not always–related to the discovery of the Hammer-Brown comet. There’s the rich, eccentric discoverer of the comet, a documentary film maker, a senator, his daughter, a preacher, a secretary, a power plant executive, a stalker, the leader of a burglary ring, a mail carrier, various astronauts-in-training (of all of these, there are two black men, two white women and one Russian woman represented, and just guess who the secretary and the burglar represent)… I discovered there was a good reason for a list of characters at the beginning of the book. I needed it to know who I was supposed to pay attention to, because so many people were introduced for only four pages. Oh, and how can I forget the perspective of the comet that closed out so many of the chapters? When it is clear the asteroid will come closer than expected, money is wrangled to get a team of astronauts up into space to take samples, pictures and measurements, and I was surprised to find this was one of the most interesting sections for me.

For over a third of the book–and that’s a rather thick third, mind you–we’re treated to Waiting for Godot, Asteroid Edition. I ended up literally reading about ten pages a day–and finishing another series, a NetGalley book, a mystery, a UF re-read, and Quammen’s epic on zoonotic diseases in the meantime. Once the asteroid impacts, we get disaster scenes from even more characters, some of whom don’t live through it. Certainly, the various scenarios seemed well-reasoned both in the science sense (impact earthquakes, tsunamis, cloud cover) and the political sense (protecting the defense system, attacking other countries). The story starts to develop momentum as people are escaping the L.A. Basin and seeking safety in the midst of panic. It’s one of the most action-oriented sections, somewhat compromised by allowing one of the major narrators to go into an existential funk and his storyline to be taken over by a new character.

And that, I discovered, was the most significant problem with the story. Although using the perspective of many allows for the reader to understand the largeness of the scope of disaster, it makes emotional connection with any one character almost impossible. In Policeman, narration is provided first person, and although many of the projected responses to impact are exactly the same in both books, experiencing it through one man’s journey is far more profound and moving.

The last third of the story is the survival aspect, and lives of many of the characters start to intersect. The experiential timeline is compressed, and within a relatively short amount of time, a section of the population is reduced to cannibalism. How short? Well, one man’s personal supply of insulin hadn’t gotten low yet. For all Hammer‘s attempts at realism, that seemed a pretty profound psychological hurdle to overcome in a few weeks or months. Still, I was game; I’m a sucker for a good survivalist story.

It satisfied until the last few chapters, which centered on one of those philosophical debates about moving civilization forward or huddling by our fires in caves. I remained unmoved; the last book of The Policeman trilogy achieved a level of profoundness that made this discussion feel like a sixth-graders’ debate (no offense to any sixth-graders who might be reading this). Satisfying ending and all that, but I have the feeling I’ll forget the details in a few weeks.

This was a one-star beginning, four star middle, and two-and-half star end. Given all that, I’d say read this if you enjoyed Stirling’s apocalypse series (Emberverse), or perhaps The Stand, but don’t expect too much in terms of emotional engagement or character development. For those, I’d head over to the more modern interpretation of asteroid strikes in The Last Policeman and be prepared for all the feels.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
468 reviews3,254 followers
January 20, 2023
In deep space a little smudge appears near Neptune, amateur astronomer Timothy Hammer a millionaire playboy he's rather a timid philanderer sees the object. From a third generation wealthy family in Los Angeles Tim inherited a big soap company.Through his telescope it's a very let's be honest unimpressive thing but getting bigger. And the public will notice soon enough, a lot in fact become quite scared... In his private observatory located on a mountain top outside the city after numberless lonely nights, observing the universe Mr.Hammer feels elated. The world ignores now, yet not for long , the unknown comet one of millions in a "soup"surrounding the Solar System. Leftovers from its formation, once in a while a giant gas planet's gravity like Neptune captures a snowball and hurls it towards the Sun. Anything in the way is doomed Tim has to share the accolades with a teenage boy though, from Iowa named Brown.The International Astronomical Union (I.A.U.) has rules to follow, so officially Tim's comet is called Hammer-Brown which annoys the gentleman more than a little. However the boy reported the "heavenly body" at the same time so the proud Mr. Hammer even invites the kid to stay at his mansion , all expenses paid of course by the millionaire and see the local attractions. Mr.Hammer more importantly holds a party in his Beverly Hills home for family and friends to watch the television documentary about his Comet that he naturally financed.Tim wants them to see it, he's has done something significant... They'd never taken him the gentleman, seriously...Odds grow shorter against the dirty snowball MISSING and actually hitting the Earth, scientists become less confident as the comet comes closer.The solar wind makes the comet's tail millions of miles long, always away from the Sun the giant comet composed of ice , gases and some rocks beautiful even magnificent to the sky watchers on Earth. If it does hit, civilization will cease on Terra after pieces of the comet smash into the Earth's oceans, tidal waves hundreds of feet high, they'll be or even higher destroying everything in their paths. All around the Earth's coasts the sea expanding over the cities and beyond..Rivers, lakes, dry streams reclaiming their old territory.. tremendous heat caused by the invader burning the Earth's surface. Leaving large glowing holes many miles wide on our planet will inevitably, result in the unexpected death of countless victims. Killer winds massive hurricanes and earthquakes, perpetual rain soaking the world, floating bodies, flooding homes , building, farmlands. Sleeping volcanoes erupting spreading their deadly lava, ashes and gases..No crops no food no sunlight, no safe areas, nuclear war, maybe to finishing off the rest of the people or, back to the stone age. Later the glaciers come down from the north freezing all nothing can stop these monsters, for the few survivors a new Ice Age too. Everyone for themselves the strong the lucky and especially the brave, shall inherit the ruined world. The unthinkable occurs Lucifer's Hammer strikes our home...But some humans are still alive afterwards...Absorbing story which lifts the narrative above the ordinary into the sublime...
Profile Image for Adrian.
570 reviews210 followers
July 31, 2019
Now originally I had this marked as a re-read but do you know, if I had read it, I didn't remember it one little bit so I'm guessing I have really never read this before, which I have to say is very remiss of me, as this is a very good book, that's very good not great.

I have always enjoyed Larry Niven's books, hey Ringworld is one of my favourite SF books of all time, and this book is just so typically Niven. What do I mean by typically Niven ? Well he is one of the best exponents of world and character building and this is no exception. Yes its the Earth but he builds a fictional reality in the current time that is completely believable and you live it along with the characters, who you get to know really well through all 600+ pages.

The story built upon this solid character and setting foundation is a good one. One of Earth's possible destruction through a "Dinosaur killer" comet that might or might not hit the planet. From Astronauts sent up to examine it and plot it's trajectory, Senators trying to do their best for neighbours and voters, Scientists and Astronomers investigating the "Hamner-Brown" Comet, to normal everyday people, this book (Niven/Pournelle's writing) creates believable characters that you just want to follow through the story. You end up caring for these people and following their tales which all interweave, and it is this connectivity that is the backbone of Niven's good, oh ok great Novel. It weaves through the whole story, pulls you in, and you just ride along on the crest of an enjoyable wave of great writing.

Its a great story but still only 4 stars as I like my SF with more SF in them, as in Ringworld. Well written, great story, great characters and a very enjoyable read. Hmm must get back to Ringworld sequels soon.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books348 followers
November 21, 2014
There was a time when Larry Niven was one of my favorite authors. Of course, that time was when I was an immature SF geek who didn't read much else. Okay, I still think Ringworld was kind of awesome. And I have fond memories of some of his other collaborations with Jerry Pournelle, e.g. Footfall and Oath of Fealty. But the last few I have read really unearthed things I didn't notice when I was younger, and this one, which was one of their early collaborations, really shows its age.

Lucifer's Hammer is fine plot-wise. In fact, I'd say Niven and Pournelle always do very well with the plots and the hard SF. This is an end-of-the-world post-apocalypse adventure, and I love those like candy. So I enjoyed it despite groaning every now and then at the authors', ah... issues.

Written in 1977, Lucifer's Hammer is a "comet strike kicks the shit out of Planet Earth" scenario. The Hamner-Brown comet is spotted months away by a wealthy amateur astronomer, and as it approaches, excitement turns to apprehension as scientists keep revising the estimate of the odds of the comet striking Earth from "billions to one" to "millions to one" to "thousands to one," and... you get the idea. It is not exactly a spoiler to say that the comet does, in fact, strike the Earth — in fact, it fragments into pieces which land in massive strikes all over the globe. Pretty much every coastal area is wiped out, there are massive weather changes, tectonic shifts bring volcanoes to life, so yeah, pretty much the end of global civilization, as least for a few generations. It doesn't help that as soon as the strikes begin, the USSR and China launch nukes at each other. Thanks in large part to a joint US-Soviet space mission, with astronauts and cosmonauts watching the entire Armageddon playing out from orbit, they are able to prevent the US from launching and being targeted in return.

The remainder of the story takes place in California, where survivors in the San Joaquin valley go about preparing for the coming ice age and trying to rebuild what little civilization they can. Needless to say, this is complicated by both internal tensions and external threats from an army of anti-technology fanatics who practice ritual cannibalism, led by a mad doomsday preacher.

It's very exciting stuff, and also fairly realistic in how it approaches both the social and technological challenges of survival in a post-armageddon scenario.

So why only three stars? Well, for starters, there is Niven and Pournelle's usual problem with women. It was even worse in The Mote in God's Eye, and I was (pleasantly) surprised that there was not a lot of gratuitous rape to spice up the fall of civilization, but the female characters all pretty much go into instant "Attach myself to the nearest alpha-male" mode, and one of the characters is even referred to (ironically, and with awareness of her role, which she does not particularly like) as the "Princess" because her Senator father is the current leader of the survivors, and whoever marries her will ensure the stability and succession of the dynasty. So there was a little bit of awareness there, and yeah, it was written in 1977, but still, one gets the distinct impression that when the Senator's aide reflects smugly to himself that one of the few good things about Hammerfall was that it put an end to "Women's lib," he's kind of speaking for the authors.

Oh, then there's the part about that cannibal army forming around a group of Black Nationalists who were going on a crime spree when the Hammer fell. The New Brotherhood Army eventually becomes a multi-racial, ostensibly egalitarian organization ("egalitarian" in the sense that anyone regardless of race who steps out of line gets killed and eaten), but the leaders are the Black Nationalists and a black former Army sergeant. Until a white preacher comes and gives them a cause - namely, fighting technology. So, let's recap: when the Hammer falls and ends civilization, white farmers, politicians, and engineers start rebuilding a stable community, while black people turn into rampaging cannibals taking orders from a white guy. Umm, did nobody see any Unfortunate Implications in this even in 1977? I suppose Niven and Pournelle's defense would be that not all of the New Brotherhood Army is black, and there is a black astronaut who's one of the good guys, and a few black farmers in the Stronghold are mentioned. Well, okay then.

There's also an awful lot of "neener-neener, how do you granola-crunching hippies like your 'natural living' now?" as the survivors of a former commune realize that gosh, they really did like having electricity and plumbing. Niven and Pournelle do this a lot, as in Fallen Angels, where they spend the entire book poking at environmentalists and anti-space and anti-nuclear activists. In Lucifer's Hammer, the only surviving nuclear power plant becomes potentially the salvation of civilization.

So, basically:

White people, nuclear power, and the space program = good.
Black people, religion, and women's lib: Bad.

I am being a little snarky here. The authors weren't quite as horribly axe-grinding as, say, certain authors of political thrillers or grimdark fantasy. But still, this is a book that you will enjoy if you like the premise and don't pay much attention to subtext, but will probably annoy you if you do notice things like all the black people become cannibals!

Entertaining, suspenseful, a very good post-apocalyptic thriller for hard SF fans, and also slightly sexist and really (if unintentionally) racist.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,098 followers
February 9, 2017
I just knocked this one off my top one-hundred novels of all time, but I did it with a heavy heart.

Memories of a novel sometimes simply don't live up to a re-read.

On the other hand, there are quite a few things about it that are still freaking fantastic, such as the science and the emotional impact of the comet strike. Most of the first third of the novel focused on the 70's modern society, with all the strange views common of that time, but that wasn't the most striking feature. I was humbled by the way they could turn so many flawed and normal people into an epic scene of pathos when they died.

I even had to set down the novel because the tears prevented me from reading through the meteor crashes or the tidal waves or the mud falling from the sky for weeks.

You know all those stupid apocalypse movies of the 90's? Yeah, this novel STILL does it better.

The rest of the novel was all about sheer survival for those who were left, and I was pleasantly reminded of Brin's The Postman that outdid this novel for the post-apocalypse rebuilding, but props should always be given to those who did it first.

"Give my children the lightning!"

It's a good rallying call. It's the future, scaled down to the bare minimum after trawling the dirt and praying to make it through one winter. It's a far cry from Heinlein's eggs or Clarke's magic. It's realistic, or some might say, pessimistic.

But what else can we say about this great-grandaddy of all dystopian futures? It's still a damn sight better than most that have come after, even considering the racism, possible return to slavery, the cannibalism, and the wholesale slaughter by mustard gas, not even mentioning the whole nuclear war between Russian and China.

I carried Dan Forrester in my heart ever since I read this the first time. He was the most tragic and glorious character of anyone. A second read doesn't really change my opinion.

I did carry one caveat, though. He should have saved Dune. Stories are just as important as scientific texts. I can only pray that later generations would carry it forward after conquering California and finding any intact libraries. Of course, this was written only a handful of years after Dune, so the authors hadn't realized the weight of the public's imagination by that time... but they did when it came to the commune filled with LoTR characters. :)

Niven and Pournelle really outdid themselves with this one. I went on to read the rest of Niven after plowing through this novel, but I never did read any of Pournelle's solo work. I still think that this novel was the best that either had written, even if I can't honestly say anything about Jerry's work.

Still a fantastic novel, regardless of it's faults. Anyone interested in dystopias really needs to read this one.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,249 reviews231 followers
November 4, 2022
The "Hammer" drops!

The Hamner-Brown comet, separately but concurrently discovered by a pair of very excited amateur astronomers, was still a very, very long way from the earth in a typical high eccentricity orbit having barely begun its descent toward the sun. As the world's telescopes are trained on the incoming comet and its orbit is calculated to higher and higher degrees of accuracy, the possibility of an impact with the earth escalates to an uncomfortably high probability. The minute changes in mass and momentum, outgassing and the resulting small changes in the comet's orbit caused by the sun's radiation make it impossible, even up to the moment of actual impact, to accurately predict whether the comet would graze the earth's atmosphere, pass it by entirely or devastate earth with a direct impact.

Panic begins to tighten its grip on the world as a zealous fundamentalist preacher whips the US into a religious frenzy suggesting that the comet is a punishment from God visited upon a wicked humanity. Hoarding begins and roads clog as the population begins a mass exodus from coastal cities in anticipation of the possible tsunami that would result if the comet landed in the ocean. Even a joint Apollo-Soyuz mission sent into space to study the comet, now dubbed "The Hammer" by popular media, is unable to confirm or refute its potential collision with earth.

The final result is perhaps the worst of all possible outcomes. The Hammer does fall, having broken up into several smaller comets that land around the world with devastating results, striking parts of Europe, Africa, the Gulf of Mexico, and both the Pacific and Atlantic. Volcanoes and earthquakes are endemic around the entire Pacific basin as fault lines shift in California and everywhere else along the fabled Ring of Fire. Tsunamis ravage every conceivable inch of exposed ocean coastline and upstream for miles along major rivers such as the Mississippi. Weeks of non-stop rain liberally loaded with salt from the ocean impact drowns a devastated world for weeks after the initial impact and flooding destroys practically every dam and levee, leaving a search for food a top survival priority. Civilization simply falls apart as people are forced to defend themselves and whatever they were able to salvage from one another.

LUCIFER'S HAMMER is Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's graphic but frighteningly realistic vision of humanity's descent into anarchy and chaos and its struggle to re-establish a semblance of normality after an apocalyptic event devastates the world with inconceivable damage and death but does not actually push humanity over the brink of extinction - hoarding; heroism; brutality; the potential change in attitudes towards sex, sexuality, racism, marriage, religion and love; the evolution (or devolution) of government from democracy into potential more effective alternatives under the circumstances; the re-establishment of innovation and technological expertise; the potentially changing roles of women in a more basic almost feudally structured society; and, of course much more.

Most readers would class LUCIFER'S HAMMER as science fiction. However, I believe it is fundamentally an exciting thriller and a very impressive extended essay on the psychology and anthropology of humanity's behaviour in the face of global tragedy. The science of the comet, its formation in the distant Oort cloud, its orbit, its structure, its evolution as it accelerates towards the sun and the aftermath as the remnants race away from earth back into deep space, is touched upon but only in a cursory fashion. Sci-fi fans will probably think the book relatively weak in this area and would have hoped for much more depth in the science. Thriller fans, on the other hand, will see LUCIFER'S HAMMER as an exciting post-apocalyptic novel that just begs to be turned into a movie with an enormous budget for special effects.

From my perspective as a long-time fan of classic sci-fi, LUCIFER'S HAMMER gets only three stars. Others, less concerned about the science will doubtless rate it higher. I recommend that you read it and judge for yourself. You'll enjoy the book no matter which genre your tastes favour.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Donna Crupi.
Author 8 books13 followers
May 2, 2013
My God I loved this book! Back in high school I thought I wasn't a reader. Then I had an English teacher, Andy Page who would suggest I read certain books. This was the first one he recommended.

I found out it wasn't that I didn't like to read. It was that I didn't like to read crappy books.

Lucifer's Hammer is the sci-fi book I use to measure all sci-fi books against. With a memorable band of characters, a doomsday clock ticks down along with the explanation of the odds of the comet hitting the earth and shows these odds increasing at a steady, terrifying rate.

Talk about books you never forget! I read this in 1982 and I vividly remember reading the comparison of the shape of the comet to an ice-cream cone.

So much effort went into making the impact of the comet hitting the Earth so tangible and believable, that I sat on the edge of my seat reading well into the night for a solid week. I didn't know it at the time, but so many people were doing the exact same thing.

This is a great book!
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
498 reviews848 followers
February 20, 2015
The next stop in my end-of-the-world reading marathon was Lucifier's Hammer, the 1977 disaster epic by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Niven was an established, Nebula Award winning author in Los Angeles when in the early 1970s, he was approached by Pournelle, an engineer with a military background who lived in the area. Pournelle was looking for a partner to teach him how to write and inexplicably, the pair went on to co-author nine novels together.

After a dedication to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ("the first men to walk on another world") and the astronauts who died trying, the novel begins with a 47-character dramatis personae. Several of those listed begin assembling at a party in Los Angeles: Tim Hamner is heir to the Kalva Soap Company and an amateur astronomer who announces he's just discovered a comet, a dim smear not far from Neptune now known as the Hamner-Brown Comet. "Brown" is a kid in Iowa who reported the smear at the same time Hamner did.

A producer of television documentaries named Harvey Randall sees an opportunity for a series of prime time specials about the comet, with Kalva Soap as sponsor. Senator Arthur Jellison, the VIP of the party, sits on the Finance Subcommittee for Science and Aeronautics. His daughter Maureen Jellison has inherited a passion for the sciences from her father but struggles to forge an identity of her own.

Maureen's lover is Air Force Colonel Johnny Baker, an astronaut who laments the end of the Apollo program and holds out hope that Maureen and her father can pass funding for a manned mission to study the comet as it passes near Earth. Also hoping for a space race is Dr. Charles Sharps, a planetary scientist for JPL who along with JPL technician Dr. Dan Forrester, become the stars of Harvey Randall's comet specials. Sharps alleges that the Soviets are planning a comet mission and Jellison is able to scare up funding for a U.S. flight, with Johnny Baker and Lt. Col Rick Delanty, a black astronaut, docking in Spacelab with two Soviet kosmonauts, Pieter Jakov and Leonilla Malik, M.D.

Dr. Sharps has this to say to the viewers: "The points to remember are these. First, the odds against any solid part of the Hamner-Brown hitting us are literally astronomical. Over these distances even the Devil himself couldn't hit a target as small as Earth. Second, if it did hit, it would probably be as several large misses. Some of those would hit ocean. Others would hit land, where the damage would be local. But if Hamner-Brown did strike Earth, it would be as if the Devil had struck with an enormous hammer, repeatedly."

If you can't trust a scientist who in a science fiction thriller assures you that there's no danger, who can you trust?

As the comet approaches Earth, L.A. catches "Hammer Fever", with citizens preparing for the worst. Harvey sends his teenaged son Andy into Sequoia National Park with a Boy Scout troop led by his neighbor, bank president Gordie Vance. Harvey makes a few doomsday preparations -- packaging beef jerky, stockpiling pepper and liquor for trade, filling the swimming pool with fresh water -- while reassuring his nervous wife Loretta and promising Gordie that he'll look after his wife, civic booster Marie Vance, whose son is also in the mountains with Harvey's boy.

The authors supply regular updates on the Hamner-Brown Comet as it crosses interstellar space. Other comets have survived many such passages through the maelstorm. Much mass has been lost, poured into the tail; but much of the coma could freeze again, and the rocky chunks could merge; and crystals of strange ices could plate themselves across a growing comet, out there in the dark and the cold, over the millions of years ... if only Hamner-Brown could return to the cometary halo. But there appears to be something in its path.

The second act of the novel finds several characters meeting their doom amid chaos, flood and panic once the comet hits. Survivors make their way to the foothills of the Sierra Madre, where Senator Jellison has a ranch. Jellison was unable to be seen making doomsday preparations, but once he realizes that the comet has hit begins organizing the ranching community for the coming disaster -- torrential rain, food shortages, refugees and worse. In the third act, "worse" arrives as the remnants of a rogue Army unit, who've linked up with a Black nationalist outfit from Watts and discovered a taste for human stew.

It's a credit to Niven and Pourelle that they introduce so many compelling characters and put them into fascinating situations -- a nuclear power plant in the San Joaquin Valley that survives the flood and whose engineers sacrifice themselves to protect it, a plumbing supply store manager who discovers that logistics will be highly sought after commodity post-apocalypse, a troop of teenaged Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who hook up in the mountains to form their own community -- but more so than the 1978 version of The Stand, there seems to have been an edict here from the publisher to make massive cuts. At 629 pages, the novel ends up feeling anti-climactic, almost abridged.

I also had a problem with the fact that no one at NASA or JPL seems able to determine the trajectory of the comet until it's almost too late. Blame this on 1970s, Atari technology? I'd like to think mankind would've had a better estimate and more time to prepare for a strike, but I'm no scientist.

Despite the abridged feeling I got toward the end of the book, there were many more aspects of Lucifer's Hammer that I loved:

-- Reading an epic devoted to the end of times for Los Angeles was a welcome change of pace after reading about the fall of New York and the devastation of the Midwest in both The Stand and Swan Song. Niven and Pourelle are Angelenos and as such, know exactly where to put their lens as the disaster ensues. My favorite were the surfers who celebrate the comet off Santa Monica and get a front row seat for the 500-foot tsunami that wipes out the town.

-- The middle section of the novel explores the dynamics inside a post-apocalyptic stronghold and in addition to the logistical challenges, which the authors document with precision, raises fascinating moral challenges as well. Should refugees be given shelter? How many? Is it better to sacrifice the unessential so that others may survive the winter? The decision is made to turn out refugees in order to save the people who were here first. Exceptions are made for those who can offer essential skills: engineers, doctors, brewers. The local mailman is invited to stay to pass messages along his former route and bring Jellison information. A CBS executive who knows the senator is turned away to certain death.

-- One of the characters anticipates gatekeepers. When the comet hits, he goes home and begins sorting his library, spraying selected books with insecticide and wrapping them in plastic. The cache is buried in his septic tank, far from the reaches of looters. His ticket to Jellison Ranch becomes books: books on how to make soap, brew beer, build gardens. Army field manuals, maintenance manuals for cars and trucks, medical texts. The knowledge to rebuild civilization. He passes right on through.

In conclusion, if you're in the mood for a doomsday thriller with some compelling characters, strong dialogue, hard science and action that you don't have to wear a tinfoil hat to enjoy or turn your brain off to plow through, Lucifer's Hammer is highly recommended. My enjoyment was necessary here as I realize that I have no essential skills to be useful after an apocalypse. Book reviews do not seem like they'd be a high priority. I can't even tell jokes.
Profile Image for Checkman.
517 reviews75 followers
January 20, 2023
Not the book I remember reading in high school (1982-1986). Of course, that was thirty-four years ago (when this review was written)! Times and attitudes change. What was a thrilling page turner is now a cliched and overblown melodrama. What happened?

Stereotypes, clichés, overwrought writing, and some real interesting ideas about race, men and women. Not to mention a pretty negative view on Human nature in general. Talk about dark. And I've been a cop for the past nineteen years! Not everyone is that horrible or that quick to give into savagery. Yes there was what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, but that behavior wasn't so common in other areas hit by Katrina. In Jan 1998 we were living in Upper State New York when a massive ice storm rolled in; leaving millions without heat, phones or electricity for weeks - in January. It was pretty bad, but we all kept our heads and worked together. We did not become monsters in the first few minutes. The book fails badly in this respect and it effects the rest of the story after Hammerfall.

I consider myself to be a moderate conservative (well that's what my wife says I am) and I try hard (not always successful I should add) to have a live and let live attitude. As a teenager/young adult I considered Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven to be good writers and I agreed with their political and social opinions. Now they seem to be rather archaic and downright reactionary.

I am aware that the novel was written in the mid-seventies and aspects of it were in reaction to the changes that had swept through the United States in the previous fifteen years. I also try not to condemn novels written in the past. After all they are a reflection of their time - not the present. But Niven and Pournelle are still alive and they haven't really changed. They have websites/blogs and their opinions are in the open for anyone that is curious. Needless to say I'm not happy about having a fond memory of my youth disturbed. Well I guess that's the word for reading a novel about the end of modern civilization.

Sometimes I wish that we didn't change and could just hold onto those things we remember so fondly. Oh well. Onto the next book.


Well there I carefully read it from front to back. First time since 1985.

First the positive aspects. The book is still a very skillful large scale epic disaster novel. The middle part (where the comet hits and the characters struggle to make it through the first few days) is probably the best put-together, but even the first third, where we meet all the characters and go through the build-up worked. The last third gives us a battle between our community of civilized people and the evil army of cannibals. It's interesting to compare "Lucifer's Hammer" to "The Stand" when talking about the last third. Pournelle and Niven give the readers what King did not. A big violent battle between the two communities.

So on one level it's still a very readable and engrossing book, but there is no getting away from the political and social ideas that have caused such a fuss. Anyone familiar with my reviews are aware that I'm always the first to point out that judging a book written many decades ago by contemporary standards is unrealistic. However "Lucifer's Hammer" isn't that old of a novel and the political aspects get in the way at times. Pournelle has always been something of a provocateur and he had a grand time with this one (I need to include Niven here as well), but it gets in the way. I do not subscribe to mindless, knee-jerk, PC Think, but I found myself raising my eyebrow more than once. I couldn't help it. Also some of the writing is a little lazy in that the political views espoused by the authors face no real challenge from those folks on the other side. The "other side" is portrayed in simple terms and that's lazy. The real world doesn't have easy to see lines and often the "other side" has some good points. They aren't idiots just because you don't agree.

In the end I will increase my rating to 2.5 stars, but not higher.
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
March 22, 2016
Yep, still a five star read for me. It's everything a post-apocalyptic book should be, including very realistic. I've been reading this book for 25 years and I've probably read it 20 times and I'll read it 20 more. "We control the lightning!"

Profile Image for Terry.
365 reviews77 followers
April 15, 2018
Very interesting read. The idea of a comet strike is a scary one, for sure, and even though this may be a little dated, the outcomes still seem pertinent. While I liked the story overall, I never did really connect with the characters.
Profile Image for Kenneth McKinley.
Author 2 books232 followers
January 15, 2023
A classic in the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic sub-genre that has been sitting on my TBR shelf staring at me for way too long. This 640 page brick is a beefy tome with many slow-burn threads that play out, interweave with each other multiple times. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a story this size written in the late 1970s.

A comet discovered by amateur astronomy enthusiasts is headed this way in what promises to be a close fly-by of earth and one heck of a display in the sky. As it gets closer, the scientists calculations show that the near-miss is going to be more and more narrow. As a reader, you already know what’s going to happen. Where Lucifer’s Hammer shines is how the characters/society reacts.

Lucifer’s Hammer is all about how humanity handles the impending crises they’re about to thrust into. Watching a vibrant and diverse society wiped out on a global scale and the few stragglers left try to pick up the pieces when all the odds are against them slowly ratchets up the level of dread, despair, and hopelessness of this new world. As a reader, I continuously questioned what I would do if I were put in the same situations. How would I react to amount of death and destruction, the lack of basic supplies, and the inability to improve my situation past that of the Middle Ages. In a story of this size and magnitude, I’m sure there are some liberties taken with the science, or inaccuracies that you might expect from 1977 knowledge. None of that bothered me. If I had any knocks on the story, it would be that too many characters were too similar, and I found myself having to continually ask, “Okay. Who is this person again?” But, all in all, I can see why Lucifer’s Hammer is considered a must read for fans of apocalyptic fiction, and I would agree.

4.5 two-hundred foot tsunamis out of 5
Profile Image for Timothy Boyd.
6,645 reviews35 followers
April 14, 2021
I have read about this book for years and have always been meaning to get around to it. My book club picked it as the recent read and I am so glad they did. Of course I knew with two grandmasters of SiFi writing it I was prepared to be amazed and I wasn't disappointed. Excellent read with great characters, excellent story and the perfect amount of science in it to make the story believable. You won't be sorry if you grab this up and give it a read. Very recommended
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
July 13, 2020
The end of our civilization comes as a comet hits the world & we're shown through the eyes of a bunch in California. This book has it all & is well researched. I first read it when it came out in the 1970s & am surprised by how well it has aged - very well indeed. Perennial problems with race, religion, & the morals of survival are all examined through a large, but well drawn cast of characters.

I read this with the Evolution of SF group & it was a great pick since I can see where it helped spawn several excellent other SF novels including The Postman & One Second After. It also examined some hard truths about how much we take for granted. The end was fantastic: "Give my children the lightening." Wow. Yes that's a bit of a spoiler, but you'll need to read the book to find out just how much is held in that small sentence. If you haven't, I highly suggest you do.

I don't think this is the correct audio edition. I'm pretty sure mine is from the 1980s or 1990s & was ripped off a cassette tape I got used from the library. Well done.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,114 reviews111 followers
July 20, 2020
This is a large SF apoc/post-apoc novel. I read is as a part of monthly reading for July 2020 at The Evolution of Science Fiction group and in a month (in August 2020) it should be in Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group. The book was first published in 1977 and was nominated for Hugo, but lost to Gateway by Frederik Pohl.

The story’s title is a name of the comet, which should go right next to Earth in 1977. Originally the comet was named Hamner-Brown Comet by the names of the discoverers, but Hammer sounds so much better! The first roughly third of the novel introduces a horde of characters, quite unusual for the SFF at the times of writing, 41 persons listed as Dramatis Personae as there are few missing! They are different people of different status and profession, from Tim Hamner, a wealthy hobbyist astronomer, who co-discovered the comet to a journalist team that covers the story, to a professional criminal, a sex maniac, a solder, a postman, a congressman, scientists, astronauts and many more.

It should be noted that the majority of actors are white men, while women are more in the role of a trophy wife or secretary and majority of black people are with criminals or movements like Black Panthers. Moreover, right after the calamity there is a widespread practice of teenage wives, who prefer to get a husband to likely rape/death. I highly doubt that the new SF book with such depictions (even while there are strong women and positive blacks) would have been published, and for sure it wouldn’t have been nominated for Hugo. It is fascinating how times change!

The first third doesn’t sound like a SF, more a contemporary fiction with some mention of space program and comets, but nothing out of place. Moreover, most actors are sure that the comet will miss, up to the very last day and if the novel would have been shorter, I’d believe that it is a story about unsubstantiated human panic.

As the comet hits both land and sea, the global catastrophe starts, described in painstakingly small details. The authors definitely made their research and part of it maybe seen in epigraphs before each chapter, taken from such books as How the World Will End and The Coming Dark Age.

An interesting novel with well written calamity and people rapidly abandoning veneer of civilization, but I’d prefer less characters, shorter, more straight-lined story.

Profile Image for Michelle Morrell.
1,040 reviews75 followers
August 1, 2016
Lucifer's Hammer isn't just a book about a comet. Lucifer's Hammer is a full-on 1970s disaster film, full of polyester flared slacks and unfortunate hair. All the peril and pathos of an epic apocalyptic masterpiece, set around the Hollywood normal lives of strangely familiar characters dramatically ripped asunder and the epic levels they go to for survival. It's a big book in more than page numbers.

What I liked:

It's smart. There is a lot of science peppered throughout, real facts and knowledge written well, so it felt like part of the story while still teaching me quite a bit. This really felt like the granddaddy of the specific genre "long, epic disaster porn." (contains no actual porn, though some refreshingly modern views on sex and relationships).

The fellow that saved the books! I had heard about this scene before and never realized it was from this. Note to self: always keep an ample supply of large ziplocks on hand, just in case. And start curating better reference materials!

What I didn't like:

The casual racism, sexism, classism, other-ism. Seriously, if you weren't an affluent white guy, someone somewhere would 1) say something rude, 2) behave rudely and/or 3) express shock if you were actually a decent, competent human. Over and over, coloring everything. Sexism. Classism. And especially racism. It's important to remember how things were, and feel superior that we're evolving, but daaaamn, not something I will pretend to enjoy reading. It puts a sadness on my soul to think this is the era I was born into. I'm going to hope it was written to be overwrought, as much the book was.

Still, I'd get annoyed and put it aside, but every time I went back. Down at the bottom of it all, this is rollicking good disaster story, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.
Profile Image for Kat  Hooper.
1,584 reviews402 followers
August 21, 2015
3.5 audio Originally published at FanLit.

When bored millionaire Tim Hamner discovers a new comet, he’s excited to finally accomplish something without the help of his family. Harvey Randall, who’s producing a TV documentary about the comet, expects his show to be wildly popular. And the American and Russian astronauts who are chosen to study the comet are proud to be chosen for such an important international mission.

All the experts said there was no way the Hamner comet would hit the Earth. But there are always plenty of people who are ready to panic — the type who start hoarding guns, ammo, and canned food. Then there are the types who are ready to prey on the panicky folks — doomsday cults declaring it’s the end of the world, or burglars waiting for the rich people to flee their expensive homes. When the comet does hit the earth, all those weirdos and the normal folks who are left must figure out how to survive on a destroyed planet. Faced with the stress of just trying to stay alive, will they become selfish and greedy, or will they work together to try to recreate their lost civilization?

Lucifer’s Hammer is an exciting post-apocalyptic story first published in 1977. It takes a while for the comet to hit as Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle introduce us to a large cast of characters — Tim Hamner and his girlfriend who doesn’t want to marry him because she has career ambitions; Harvey Randall and his dumb wife who prepared for the end of the world by stocking her freezer and packing nail polish; a senator and his beautiful daughter; a sociopath who’s stalking a young woman; a man who runs a nuclear power plant; two Russian astronauts and two American astronauts. And there are others. Though none of these characters are particularly interesting or likable, Niven and Pournelle do a good job showing us how the possibility that the world is ending affects each of them in different ways.

Once the comet finally hit, I was riveted. The action never let up. Natural disasters, the threat of world war, the fast decay of civilization — it all seemed so frighteningly possible. The catastrophe affected characters differently, seeming to strip off all the “civilization” they pad themselves with — the way they want to be perceived by others — and revealing the essence of who they really are. In Niven and Pournelle’s version of the end of the world as we know it, most humans immediately become selfish and cruel, unwilling to share food or shelter, and ready to kill those who may have something they want. Perhaps I have too much faith in humanity, but I had a hard time believing that we’d so quickly stop grieving and so quickly start turning on each other. Maybe I’m just naïve, but I’d like to think that, for most of us, such a huge tragedy would bring out empathetic cooperation rather than egocentric competition.

The authors do, however, make a good case for situational ethics, especially when dealing with such issues as biological warfare and slavery. As one character puts it, “A civilization has the ethics it can afford.” Even if I found it hard to believe, it did make me think about how our ethical standards might depend on the condition of our society, and it made me appreciate the society I live in.

Written by two middle-aged white men in the 1970’s Lucifer’s Hammer has some distasteful depictions of women and blacks. I suspect that the authors would say “but one of our astronauts is a woman and another is a black man!” and indeed they were probably the two most admirable characters in the book, but that wasn’t quite enough to make up for the ugly bits, especially the gang of black “brothers” who were the villains of the story.

I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version which is almost 25 hours long and is read by Marc Vietor who was excellent, as he always is. Though I have some complaints, the basic truth is that I was caught up in the exciting story and would recommend this audio version of Lucifer’s Hammer to anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic disaster stories.

The gigantic comet had slammed into Earth, forging earthquakes a thousand times too powerful to measure on the Richter scale, tidal waves thousands of feet high. Cities were turned into oceans; oceans turned into steam. It was the beginning of a new Ice Age and the end of civilization. But for the terrified men and women chance had saved, it was also the dawn of a new struggle for survival–a struggle more dangerous and challenging than any they had ever known….
Profile Image for Kristin.
1,109 reviews30 followers
February 27, 2008
Lucifer’s Hammer falls into the “End of the World/Catastrophic Event/How Will the Human Race Survive” category, and it can be further broken down into those niche genres in SF which wipe California off the face of the map then discuss how Earth will survive.

Destruction of California aside, this was a really good book. Tim Hamner discovers a comet, which upon further investigation will be moving through Earths solar system in the immediate near future. Chances of it hitting are a million to one…nope, better make that 100,000 to one. Oops! Slight miscalculation, 10,000 to one. Wrong again! 1000 to one. Oh, drat! It hit in 6 places!

The first third of the book establishes the characters and how people react to the news of impending doom. And there are a LOT of characters. Some don't believe it, some go all out in their preparations, some wait till the very last day.

The second third of the book deals with impact and the days immediately after impact: how huge tsunamis wipe out any coastal area, cities and islands; the force of impact drives sea floor mud and ocean water far into the atmosphere and rains down upon the land causing huge flood events; mega-hurricanes are spawned affecting weather patterns over tremendous areas; earthquakes shake the continents and Russia and China launch nuclear weapons at each other. It looks at how people respond both individually and as small groups. It gets a bit gruesome, but I like that look at reality.

The third part of the book speculates what people would do to survive, how would they react to this new state of survival and I have to say the authors did a pretty good job on touching on a bit of every part of humanity, the good, the bad and the very ugly.

But I do have a few complaints, mostly with the third part of the book. This was written in the 70's and the 70's attitude toward women was still prevalent. Women were to be protected, took subservient roles to the men (housewives who volunteered, secretaries, accountants, cooks). What really got my goat was for one small group trying to survive, when the current leader died (predicted to happen anytime in the next "year") the new leader of the valley would be determined by whomever his daughter married. Three guys were posturing for her "attentions" while she was sneaking off to sleep with a fourth. Gimme a break!

It was also brought to my attention that blacks are stereotyped in this story as the poor inner city types who continue to rob, pillage, and rape both before impact and after. The authors attempted to counter this by sending a black man into space and have him return a hero, but his part is rather minor compared to the gangs roaming the countryside.

Still, if one can put aside some of the quirks and if you like end of the world type stories, this one was pretty darn good.
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,813 reviews314 followers
August 10, 2015
A disaster and post-apocalyptic novel rolled into one
10 August 2015

Well I am finally back from my trip after finally finishing this monster of a book 20 minutes before my plane touched down at Melbourne Airport (and what a horrid flight it was: I really should have put my carry on bag into the overhead locker - I so didn't need my laptop because I was too exhausted to do anything other than attempt to finish this book, despite the fact that the plane had to take the long way round due to a volcano in Bali). Anyway, I have to say that I am surprised that it took me so long to read this book, especially since I was on holidays because I tend to get through books much quicker than that (though this book does drag quite a bit in places – they really could have cut a chunk of it out – it really didn't need to be a soap opera). However there are two things I discovered:

1) Don't think you can read a book on a speed boat in Thailand during the wet season: not only will you be bouncing all over the place, when you hit that first rainstorm you get absolutely drenched and you can pretty much say bye bye book (I didn't because I thought it would be a little anti-social, which for some reason playing on your mobile phone wasn't, though I was surprised that I could actually get internet in some of the places I visited).

2) Don't expect to be able to read a book in a bar in Patong Beach: okay, they do have some normal bars, but pretty much you will find it impossible to do so in all of the others. When I first arrived I went to the nearest bar, ordered a beer, and went to sit at a table to read the book. However the two bar girls were surprised that I didn't want to sit at the bar, so when I sat at the table two of them rushed out and sat down next to me: oh, you reading book? what book you reading? I can't read!

In fact there was one bar that I went into and the mamasang simply refused to let me read. She kept on waving a tissue between me and the book and doing her best to distract me (which worked quite successfully). Okay, I probably could have stayed in my hotel but seriously, with all of the music blasting in through my window at night it is really hard not to say “what the hell am I doing in here? I should be out there”. Let's just say in the end I gave up knowing that none of the girls in any of the bars were going to let me have some peace and quiet (unless, of course, I went to the normal bars, but seriously they are nowhere near as fun).

Anyway, enough of that because it is not my intention to talk about Patong Beach or my holiday – I have another blog where I will be doing that (and since I have only just got home, and have quite a bit more to write about it, I won't be giving you a link – yet).

At first I thought this book was awesome. In fact as I was reading it I thought the book was so good that I was surprised that they haven't made a movie starring Dwanye Johnson:

San Andreas Poster

or Bruce Willis:

Armageddon Movie

Okay, in many cases it would probably be just another disaster movie, however most disaster movies call it quits straight after the disaster and the survivors (who you can work out pretty quickly because they tend to be the stars) say 'gee, we managed to survive, everything is going to be okay now'. Lucifer's Hammer goes much further than this as the authors explore not just the immediate aftermath but also the impact the disaster would have on the modern world. Mind you, it took me a little while to work out how it was going to end, especially during the time when they were attempting to pick up the pieces, but it became ever clear with the discovery of a still active nuclear power plant and the rise of a fanatical group of cannibals. Lucifer's Hammer is not just a book about a comet hitting the Earth, it is a disaster book and a post-apocalyptic adventure rolled into one.

I thought the use of a comet instead of an asteroid was much better, but my suspicion was that an asteroid would pretty much destroy the world (and they suggested that all of the asteroids that could hit the Earth have already done so). Also comets are notoriously hard to destroy (not that they could have easily done it in 1977, though they still could have sent a lunar lander out there and planted some nuclear devices similar to what they did in Armageddon). However the thing about comets is that out in the ort cloud they are simply lumps of ice, but as they approach the sun they transform into the object that we are all familiar with (and I also find it fascinating that the comet's tail always points away from the sun).


The thing with comets is that they are made up of millions of chunks of ice so even if the comet doesn't hit the Earth but the Earth still passes through the coma (the area around the comet) it still has the ability to have a huge impact (and as the authors suggested create an extinction level event, which also suggested that the Brown-Hamner comet was what wiped out the dinosaurs). Their portrait of what would actually happen when the comet passes by the Earth was also interesting since it didn't just cause huge tidal waves but also resulted in numerous Earthquakes and causing pretty much all of the volcanoes to erupt. The massive amounts of water that went up into the atmosphere would also result in almost perpetual rain – I sort of wondered whether the story of Noah's Ark is a report of such an event.

However the aftermath was also quite interesting. It wasn't just the survivor's struggle to last out the winter as well as trying to save as much of civilisation as possible, but also how such disasters can result in the rise of fanatics. This was described in the form of the New Brotherhood, which began as simply a group of soldiers resorting to cannibalism and then turning into a fanatical religious group which was growing by leaps and bounds. It is also interesting that this group is rabidly anti-technology believing not just that it was humanity's technology that brought about the destruction of the world, but that by allowing this technology to remain then the world will simply go back to the way it was before where people are effectively enslaved.

What we are seeing is the conflict being played out between those who wish to rebuild and those who wish to remake the world into something new. It is interesting that the whole 'fight the power' group identifies with the cannibals and the luddites (those who hate technology) though I suspect that this has a lot more to do with when it was written, since we are looking at the period shortly after the civil rights movement and the rise of the black panthers. However the authors seem to connect this more with the black militant groups as opposed to left-wing radical groups such as the Weather Underground.

The biggest problem that I found with this book though is that it starts to get a little like a soap opera, especially near the end. In fact even though it does pace well, it felt as if it was a little too long in places. Okay, granted, I had quite a few distractions in the time that I was reading it, however I did feel that it could have been cut down quite a lot, especially since parts of it do seem to drag.
Profile Image for William.
676 reviews335 followers
August 1, 2017
A truly fabulous, and extremely scientific scenario for a possible end of modern civilisation, due to meteor strike.

One of my very favourite sci-fi and space opera books when I was just entering university. Terrific stuff. I also totally loved The Mote in God's Eye
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,602 reviews462 followers
December 6, 2012
In my quest to read classic post apocalyptic classics, I couldn't very well ignore the famous Lucifer's Hammer, although having read it, I now wish I did. Any book opening with a list of characters (and not being Shakespeare) should warn the reader of how difficult it'll be to keep those characters straight, which was definitely the case here. It might have been easier, had the characters been more likeable, but they were just a bit like stereotypes and not very relatable. The introductions took so long, it was hundreds of pages before any action even took place. Once the Hammer falls (and this book was written years before Hammer time, so none of those jokes work) the book becomes more interesting and more entertaining, but it is still so slow and cumbersome to read. I'm all for epics, but a post apocalyptic epic of that size with that many characters should be as good as The Passage to make it worth while. This book was interesting in parts, decently written, with some good developments, a lot of racism and a lot of detailed information about comets and also surprisingly not that dated considering its age (probably the least dated older book I have read), but overall just not enjoyable enough to warrant the time it took to read.
Profile Image for MadProfessah.
370 reviews165 followers
December 5, 2020
Lucifer’s Hammer is one of the classic works of science fiction; it was nominated for the Hugo and Locus awards for Best Novel. Written by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven and published in 1977, Lucifer’s Hammer is one of the most prominent examples of the post-apocalyptic trope of modern science fiction. Set primarily in California, the story follows a large cast of characters as they are affected by the discovery of the Hamner-Brown comet, its rapid approach to Earth, catastrophic collision and immediate aftermath.

The story is set in the late 1970s and the cultural assumptions and depictions are somewhat jarring as one views them from the perspective of a gay, Black man living in the 21st century. This is not a new experience I (and am sure many other readers who are not in the expected target audience of straight, white, males) have had reading alleged classics of science fiction. Honestly, I would say that Lucifer’s Hammer has fewer “ugh!” moments than others I have read. (Looking at you, Robert A. Heinlein!) For example, the N-word does appear in the text, unexpurgated.

The primary way the disconnect between the modern reader and the somewhat dated text manifests is in a lack of empathy for the primary characters. I was never that invested in whether a particular character that we’ve been given a first-person perspective of would survive or not. To me, the narrative tension in the book that kept me reading to the end was the recognizable plausibility of the depiction of the rapid deterioration of civilization after the cataclysmic comet collision and whether human civilization would still be viable at the end of the book. Pournelle & Niven use 3-4 main characters as devices through which they tell the story. The first is Tim Hamner, a rich astronomical dilettante who happens to discover the comet and then escapes with a woman-who-is-not-his-wife to Northern California after devastating tidal waves basically inundate and decimate Southern California where he lives. Another is Harvey Randall, a producer of television documentaries who does a series of stories on Hamner and the comet. The third most prominent character is Maureen Jellison, daughter of U.S. Senator Arthur Clay Jellison. When the comet strikes, Jellison becomes the de facto leader of a group of survivors in Northern California, due to his thforesightedness to stockpile useful supplies on his ranch in the area. There are many other characters who also get first-person accounts, from the murderer-rapist who takes advantage of the turmoil and confusion to commit crimes, to the policeman who punishes him and maintains law and order despite the uncertainty of whether humanity itself will persist and lastly, the Black criminal Alim Nassor who (unsuccessfully) attempts to use the abandonment of white folks their homes to enrich and empower himself and his “brothers.” Some of these characters are simply bad people so that’s one reason why it’s difficult to connect with them or care about their survival. However, some of the characters are simply not that relatable to me (perhaps because I’m not in the expected target audience). And, frankly, some of the depictions of the characters (or more accurately, the characters' attitudes and beliefs) are borderline offensive.

However, in the end I would say that overall Lucifer’s Hammer is an effective, if flawed, entry in the genre of speculative fictional depiction of apocalyptic events. It would have been improved by providing a more diverse set of perspectives on the cataclysmic events by the inclusion of different characters.
Profile Image for MadameD.
452 reviews14 followers
January 12, 2023
Story 5/5
Narration 5/5

I always love disaster movies and with this book I felt like I was watching a captivating movie. It’s a captivating book!
Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is a well written science fiction story.
I recommend it!
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
October 23, 2014
Like Armegeddon, the earth is the target, this time by a comet & it hits the earth. Excellent look at our civilization; how fragile, yet resilient. A must read. Well written & researched.
Profile Image for Patrick Peterson.
473 reviews201 followers
July 7, 2020
2020-03-02 - I just saw a friend reference this book and realized I had not reviewed it, but really liked it. I read this about 20-24 years ago or so and found it totally gripping. I did not like the negative implications and authoritarian nature of the authors' dealing with the apocalyptic scenario they had drawn, but they still did a highly plausible job.

The set-up: What happens to some people in the LA area (including the one who actually discovered the upcoming disaster) when a meteor/asteroid hits earth? Several gruesome scenes and practical advice scenes. Some savage plot devices and predictions. Heroism and cowardice. Battle scenes. Fights for survival and giving up.

Very compelling book. Prediction: you may be forever changed after reading this. And you will look at the risks of meteors and asteroids hitting the earth as WAY more immediate and significant than AGW (Anthropomorphic Global Warming - ie. "climate change").
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
March 22, 2016
Towards the beginning of this book I knew I was going to give it five stars and I figured that one star would be for nostalgia. Then I realized that any book that keeps me going back over and over for nearly 25 years has damn well earned the full five stars. I just love this book. It's what made me fall in love with the post-apocalyptic sub-genre in the first place.

35% of the book takes place before the comet strike. One of the thing that always interests me is how very angry people get towards Hamner when they realize a strike is likely. They blame him for inventing the comet! It's absurd but at the same time I can see it happening. I feel like Niven and Pournelle cover just about every possible option for the types of communities and groups that spring up. They do a really great job showing people trying to survive the initial strikes, and all the horrors that go along with that. It does follow a pretty huge cast of characters but they all converge over the course of the book. I think it works well.

I listened to the audio this time and it was well done. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I did miss the paperback copy I used to have. I've read it too many times to just toss it aside in favor of the audio. But it was enjoyable and the narrator did a great job. I would recommend the book over the audio but it's mostly for nostalgic reasons.

25 hours of audio and I finally got to hear that last line: "You can fly, but we control the lightning!" I love this book :)
Profile Image for Wayne Barrett.
Author 3 books107 followers
November 27, 2016


What could possibly be worse than a full scale nuclear war? How about a century long ice age covering what is left of civilization after a massive comet strike.

I felt like the characters were a little weak... unrealistic in their mannerisms and dialogue, but the plot line was powerful. Of course the final events would take place around my home town of Bakersfield California. The scariest part about stories like this one is that it is something that could actually happen, and in our present state of technology there is not a damn thing we could do to stop it.

This was a long book, over 600 pages, but other than the introduction of all the major players which took place in the first part of the novel, the book was an attention grabber. Of course there were a couple of spots where some romantic interlude had to be tediously described, and if you're like me, you could do without it. For Christs sake, just say "on such and such night, so and so fucked" and get on with the story.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
381 reviews31 followers
April 13, 2017
Some books take you back to a time and place. I can tell you I was 17. It was spring break. My senior year of high school. I was in New Mexico. At an artists house. A dinner party. I sat in the corner reading this book.

This was a most enjoyable read. I liked the build up, the various vignettes of people. I loved the detailed description of the end of the world. I loved all the little (well, not literally little) things that went down with our characters, how they survived or didn't. I loved the end or the beginning, it depends upon how you look at it I suppose.

There were some strong female characters. Some may disagree, but I argue that one should look at history and the time the story was written and took place in. Go Eileen, you were a bad ass.

Honestly, I became nostalgic for those good ole days.

If you like end of the world drama this is it. Get past your current notions and revisit the past. I mean, it is just a story.
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