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TEotWaWKI Book Review: Lucifer’s Hammer

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Think back to long before the zombie outbreak and war. How would you have reacted if someone told you there was a one in a million chance that zombies would over run the planet in 6 months? You would have laughed, wouldn't you? What if that someone was an authoritative source and she then said it's a one in a thousand chance that it will happen in one month? Even if you had listened and taken steps to prepare, given what you knew then, what could you have done? It is a dilemma similar to this that the authors document in Lucifer's Hammer.

This is another of the old school TEotWaWKI books I told you about about, this one written in the late Seventies. The end of the world mechanism in this case, though, is a comet. Despite that, the lessons the authors impart are perfectly applicable to any real world case. The differences lay in how that catastrophe played itself out. The amount of time between the start and SHTF was measured in minutes for many, hours at the most. And the catastrophe came in three waves: the initial blast, earthquake and tsunami; then the torrential rain that lasted for weeks; and, finally, the complete breakdown of civilized society.

First, there is the issue of how to prepare. In the book, as in real life, people chose a variety of paths: do nothing, flailing about or actually thinking this through. Given that the window for reaction was extremely short, it shouldn't be surprising that most didn't prepare or did so in a panicky manner. I loved the lady would bought a bunch of frozen food. But even for the ones who approached this rationally, what would have been the right thing to do? Most died in the cataclysm that no preparation could have prevented. Those who survived the initial calamity were presented with a completely different world: seas where none existed before, no law enforcement to prevent others from taking your stuff (or your life), transportation network in shambles. There was no way to truly ride this out because you could not predict where parts of the comet would land. Even if you could, preparation would have required a large group of united people on a large piece of productive and protected land with a large amount of supplies stashed away. Again, the chances of TEotWaWKI in this case were quite miniscule, but the preparation required to survive massive and unreliable.

The second relevant issue that the book discusses is how the human mind coped with the disaster. The lessons Lawrence Gonzales chronicled in Deep Survival play out in this story. A good proportion of those who lived through the comet's impact lacked the mental faculty to continue living or at least operating within the new environment. This event required you to radically alter your mental map of the world. Starvation became a real threat, both short and long term. You could not rely on the kindness of strangers. Truly, when you yourself could very easily go hungry in a month, how willing would you be to give a portion of your food stash to someone who cannot reciprocate? It's a sad fact, but a harsh reality. Most starved, especially the elderly and the very young, those who couldn't contribute. Others turned to cannibalism, which itself, though staving off immediate hunger, led to other issues such as the spread of disease and the horror it inspires in others.

The final issue is, as this story clearly demonstrates, that politics abhors a power vacuum. If you do not take steps to fill the leadership void, someone will and you may not like the results. Just ask Cesar Millan. You cannot just hope that things will work out. If you are not willing to step up, then you should find someone to whom you are willing to submit and work your ass off to ensure that you both prevail.

I will discuss further how this story plays out in the TEotWaWKI life cycle after the jump, but there will be SPOILERS.

State of the World in Lucifer's Hammer
State of the World in Lucifer\'s Hammer


Eons ago, Saturn's gravity alters a comet's trajectory, bringing it within the inner solar system

Outbreak, Crisis and Catastrophe

Events happen too fast for anyone to react to them. A series of strikes from the Pacific, through North America, the Atlantic, Europe and far northern Asia each emit a blast wave which triggers earthquakes along any fault lines they pass. The strikes in the ocean cause tsunamis that tower up to a mile high and travel far inland. Those ocean strikes throw so much sea water and bottom mud into the atmosphere that hardened pellets and sea water rain down for several days.

Knowledge and Struggle

You need to address your short term needs food and protection. However, it's best to keep an eye on the long run. The cloud cover and constant rain mean this year's crops are a bust, maybe even next year's. How are you going to survive the winter? It's best to integrate with a larger group that can provide security, but you'll need to prove to them that you bring something to the table. As these groups coalesce, they will come into conflict over the limited availability of food and shelter.

In Lucifer's Hammer, there is a group of good guys, but they may not be recognized as such in pre-SHTF terms. They turn away those who would reduce the chances of the group's survival through winter. The elderly, sick and those without useable skills are sent on down the road. As bad as that seems, another group with which they come into conflict is even worse: The New Brotherhood Army seeks to destroy all vestiges of civilization and all who come into their custody become either food or cannibal soldiers. Despite knowing what needs to be done to make it through the winter, this group may well be what finally brings about the extinction of humanity.


War! Stability cannot be achieved while the New Brotherhood Army exists. They must be brought to battle. Thankfully, the good guys win with ingenuity and great sacrifice. The old world may have ended, but a new one is in the making.

3 thoughts on “TEotWaWKI Book Review: Lucifer’s Hammer

  1. alison

    Well, after reading (quickly) through your last several posts I feel confident in my ability to survive IF I am not at an epicenter. This is mostly because I am childless and childish, both of which are huge advantages. I also have held so many different jobs that I am slightly capable in almost any situation.
    Liquor stores are great home bases because: liquor, duh. Lighters and liquor =molotov cocktails. Other weapons can be made. Deadly corkscrews. Snacks abound. excellent for trade/negotiation.

    As per zombies, my only question would be "Is it so bad to be a Zombie? " The Zombies don't seem to mind being Zombies. I might just get really wasted and run to the Zombies rather than "survive". Just saying.

  2. Bill Drinkmore

    You raise some very good points. Liquor stores, at least in the beginning, were the foci of many a battle. Nothing like alcohol and fire arms to make for a fun party. Thankfully, most people are too stupid to recognize the good stuff.

    Would it be so bad to be zombie? Why, yes, most definitely. They make you work 9-5, Monday through Friday; saddle you with a mortgage you can just barely pay, as long as you don't do anything fun; and make it so your kids are grown up and in college before you can do anything about it. No thanks!

  3. Pingback: Book & Movie Review: The Mist (4 ½ Stars) « TEotWaWKI Diary: End of the World Survival, with or without Zombies

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