Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Review: "Lucifer's Hammer" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

After enjoying "Oath of Fealty" recently, I went ahead and worked my way through "Lucifer's Hammer". The book is an epic and apocalyptic work that manages to establish a whole raft of key characters going about their normal lives, and then follow them as they make their way through the remains of modern society.

I've read quite a few postapocalyptic works, "Farnham's Freehold" by Robert Heinlein is a recent example. "Cat's Cradle" and "Galapagos" are excellent examples from the works of Kurt Vonnegut.

["The Stand" is also a close cousin of "Lucifer's Hammer", and apparently came out at roughly the same time, something I hadn't realized when writing the original post.]

Where "Farnham's Freehold" deals with the end of our society in a more abstract way (looking back through the distance of centuries), "Lucifer's Hammer" is a more intimate apocalypse, in which we are made well aware of just how much humanity is in the process of losing, and how much farther they can fall.

Where "Galapagos" and "Cat's Cradle" are farcical and (especially with "Cat's Cradle") philosophical, "Hammer" is a more serious exploration of how modern values could immediately become a lot less modern and a lot more pragmatic and/or savage in the wake of a global disaster.

I was trying to convince my friend Antranig to pick up the graphic novel "Watchmen" the other day, that's a good example of a work in which one phase of the world ends and another begins. "Hammer" is another work in which our society ends, and another society comes into being, similar to what we have now, but with newfound focus and a lot of the trivia of our materialistic society stripped away.

If the book lacks anything, it's perhaps the sadness and nostalgia in works like Ballard's "The Drowned World" or the films "On the Beach" or "The Quiet Earth". The survivor's of Hammerfall (as they call it) are pragmatic, resigned to the new reality, determined to hold on to whatever meager life they can preserve for themselves.

It's a great work, very thought provoking, well worth a read, particularly if you enjoy apocalyptic novels.

No comments: