Lucifer’s Hammer. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Novel.
"The points to remember are these. First, the odds against any solid part of the Hamner-Brown hitting are literally astronomical. Over these distances, the Devil himself couldn't hit a target as small as Earth....”
Background of Lucifer’s Hammer
This is not an alien invasion novel, but instead a post-apocalyptic novel about a comet that devastates life on Earth. It takes the idea of kinetic bombardment – which is explained (and illustrated) in this post – and, without weaponization or alien invasions, describes a pretty grim future for the world. Science fiction novels about extinction via asteroid are fairly common – Arthur C. Clarke has multiple novels about different potential aftereffects, and Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle also used bombardment in their novel Footfall – but each one is slightly different. Lucifer’s Hammer not only emphasizes that asteroids can wipe us out without us even being able to do anything about it -- let alone necessarily know about our impending doom in advance -- but also categorized the movie Armageddon as stupid decades before Armageddon even existed: the Hammer-Brown doesn’t hit the Earth in one cataclysmic strike but breaks up into several pieces and demonstrates every awful result of an asteroid strike possible – simultaneously.
Lesson to learn? Blowing up the gigantic rock into several giant rocks means we'll all just die more slowly.
Because Lucifer’s Hammer is a book detailing the potential aftereffects of a natural catastrophe instead of an extraterrestrial attack, it drops many typical alien invasion novel themes and has a different perspective on other shared themes. The book, despite being written in 1977, isn’t filled with Cold War, anti-communist propaganda; in fact, it kind of pokes fun at American commercialism. However, Niven and Pournelle use religion (a huge, controversial theme in many alien-related conversations) and plausibly create roving bands of zealous, religious cannibals.
|People are eaten, it sparkles, and it's kind of the end of the world as we know it.|
Oh my god, Lucifer's Hammer is like Twilight -- except awesome, and with an actual point.
Premise of Lucifer's Hammer
Surprisingly, the end of life as we know it isn’t the premise of Lucifer’s Hammer. This is instead relegated to the position of ‘setting the scene,’ and the real issues develop as the shell-shocked and desperate survivors try to eke out a living on our decimated planet. What kind of scene does it set? There are volcanic eruptions and earthquakes everywhere – millions immediately die in southern
Tsunamis are everywhere – Los Angeles
is gone – and the vaporized sea water leads to rain (you guessed) everywhere,
not to mention an encroaching ice age.
The scene completely sucks. Everywhere. But mostly in
California, where most
of the novel is set.
The premise itself is about how hollow shells of country struggle to survive and how people themselves try to survive. Survival happens, but not well. Aside from the total collapse of social order and famines that you can expect, China starts a nuclear war with Russia and religious cannibals in America start destroying many of the pockets of civilization that do manage to regroup.
Interestingly, Niven and Pournelle put a huge focus on professions. While farmers, doctors, and trained security forces are valued as necessary to short-term survival (compared to say lawyers or bank tellers), they emphasize the need for scientists and the continued presence of scientific thought to any real, meaningful survival.
Who Should Read This Story?
Again, Lucifer’s Hammer isn’t an alien invasion novel, so it’s not as vital as, say, The War of the Worlds. Or as Footfall, which is a combination asteroid strike/alien invasion maelstrom. But it’s a good source if you’re looking for the effects of cataclysmic kinetic bombardment on the environment, as well as how far religious mania can go when humans are confronted by events they can’t deal really win against.
It’s also a really good novel in general – the characters are awesome, even the kind of evil ones.
This book is long but incredibly worth it. Not only is it a good book in its own right, but it’s also a good reference guide for asteroid strikes, post-apocalyptic civilizations, and pro-technology philosophy. Lucifer’s Hammer is kind of like those superhero-based philosophy guides (maybe not, but work with me) – it’s both entertaining and useful, and mostly just awesome. So I didn’t feel at all bad about reading it in class, blatantly and with occasional muttered exclamations. I’m sure the professor understood.
Lucifer’s Hammer is surprisingly inexpensive through Amazon (isn’t everything that isn’t a textbook?); it’s about $6 for the ebook, $3 for the paperback – not bad for one of the most emphatic warnings against unexpected asteroid apocalypses and eating people.
If you've read the book and have something you want to add, or you know of another post-apocalyptic novel that can relate to alien invasions, be sure to leave a comment!
Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.