PDA

View Full Version : Why is Lucifer's Hammer considered such a great book? (possible spoilers)


The Asbestos Mango
03-23-2005, 07:29 PM
I've hacked my way through to page 461 so far. I can be a very stubborn Mango, especially when I'm confronted with a book that is supposed to be so awesomely great.

I slogged my way through two hundred seven pages of character development (one of the characters is actually interesting), talking about a newly discovered comet, talking about making a documentary about the comet, making a documentary about the comet (featuring interviews with astronomers who apparently don't know much about astronomy or comets), all of which was written in such fashion as to make me put the book down and read The Princess Bride just to reconvince myself that reading can be fun, interesting, and a worthwhile endeavor.

Finally, on page 208, after a lot of boring lead-up, the comet hits the earth. A mildly interesting chapter or two about people's initial reactions to the comet hitting, then a couple of hundred pages of people driving around in the rain. Occasionally someone gets shot, or shot at, or laid, but it's mostly driving around in the rain, walking around in the rain, standing around talking in the rain, and driving around in the rain some more.

Finally, somewhere after page four hundred or so, the book is starting to go into the societal breakdowns, how the more settled survivors are coping with, or failing to cope with refugees and nomadic bands of raiders and looters. There is cannabilism going on, and I don't mean eating the corpses of the dead, but actual shooting and killing people for food. I think that was just thrown in for shock value,(Um, Larry? Yeah, Jerry? We're writing an awfully boring book here, think maybe we should do something to spice it up? Sure, how 'bout a roving band of ex-military guys turning cannibal? Yeah, I think that would work) since there still seems to be enough meat on the hoof to be caught and killed that people wouldn't be desparate enough to resort to it, and the people engaging in it have the weapons and ammo necessary to shoot a deer or stray cow or pig or hell, some rabbits.

I had really hoped that by this stage in the book, we'd be examining how the remains of civilization, the majority of whom had no real survival skills (farming, ranching, hell, hunting or fishing) would be coping with the fact that all of the stored food had been eaten, what few crops they've managed to plant have either died or are months away from being ready for harvest, and, hey, what's that big-ass glacier doing where most of the country's arable land used to be? Instead, they're still talking about, what are we going to do when the food runs out. And getting rained on.

So, why do so many people seem to think that this is such an awesomely great novel about the Apocalypse?

Or am I just spoiled because I read A Canticle For Liebowitz first?

pinkfreud
03-23-2005, 07:38 PM
I circulate in SF fan circles, and I've never heard anyone say that Lucifer's Hammer was "a great book." It's one of Larry & Jerry's weakest, IMHO.

Anne Neville
03-23-2005, 07:57 PM
The only part of that book I really liked was the cubic mile of hot fudge sundae near the beginning.

The Asbestos Mango
03-23-2005, 08:03 PM
...which falls on a Teusdae this week. Yeah, that was kind of cool, but it got overused pretty fast.

Personally, I think the best part was when Sen. Jellison says "I will be dipped in shit." Twice. I cracked up laughing, and tried to read the passage to my mother.

Her reaction?

"Haven't you ever heard that saying before?"

He says it again much later in the book, but by then the newness has worn off.

Stranger On A Train
03-23-2005, 08:36 PM
I circulate in SF fan circles, and I've never heard anyone say that Lucifer's Hammer was "a great book." It's one of Larry & Jerry's weakest, IMHO.
I've heard several people opin this (that it was "a great book"). I can't figure it out; the scope is quasi-epic, but the characterization is weak, and the political bent is...well, Pournelle, i.e. quasi-libertarian/fascist. (I think Pournelle sits at home at night and fanticizes about Ayn Rand.) Not a classic; heck, not even a good collaboration between the two. (Their best was, IMHO, The Mote In God's Eye, despite Niven's rather superficial grasp of applied evolutionary theory.)


Or am I just spoiled because I read A Canticle For Liebowitz first?
Yes. :)

If you didn't like this, don't even consider The Legacy of Heorot or its sequels.

Niven's strength (on his own) is in short stories and novellas like Protector. He seems to lose his way with a plot that takes place over anything more than a couple of days or a couple hundred pages. I've never been a fan of Pournelle, either alone or in conjunction with Niven. YMNV, but obviously Mango's doesn't.

Stranger

silenus
03-23-2005, 09:03 PM
Footfall is a much better book by L & J. I know both authors, and like both of them, but they do have glaring weaknesses. Stranger noted Larry's collapse at lengthy plotting. Destiny's Road was a total waste of wood pulp. Of course, being of generally the same political bent as Jerry, I don't find his books at all off-putting. His books of Falkenberg's Legion are some of my favorites. :D

asterion
03-23-2005, 09:43 PM
Niven's strength (on his own) is in short stories and novellas like Protector. He seems to lose his way with a plot that takes place over anything more than a couple of days or a couple hundred pages. I've never been a fan of Pournelle, either alone or in conjunction with Niven. YMNV, but obviously Mango's doesn't.

Stranger

I agree. And with Niven, it seems like the shorter the better. His "Tales From the Draco Tavern" for example. I mean, I read Ringworld. I didn't really care for it, but apparently I'm a masochist, because then I read Ringworld Engineers, then the other two books. I haven't found myself wondering why I wasted so much of my time since I the time I read 2001, 2010, 2061, and 3001. I also think that while Known Space isn't a bad universe, it's better when other authors are doing it (look at any of the Man-Kzin Wars books, for example.)

Little Nemo
03-23-2005, 10:02 PM
The thing is that Niven generally has one idea per work. This can make for some great short stories. But that lone idea usually can't bear the weight of a 800 page book.

The Asbestos Mango
03-23-2005, 10:04 PM
So, basically, I should pretty much avoid any Niven that's longer than a hundred or so pages, most Pournelle, and all of their collaberative efforts except for The Mote in God's Eye, which should be read with a salt cellar handy, in case I find a passage that I need to take with a grain...

Oh, well. I guess I should go get my machete and see about getting through the rest of Lucifer's Hammer. I'm too close to the end to abandon the project now.

Sage Rat
03-23-2005, 10:24 PM
I recall vaguely that I read it once. "An Instant Classic" would only occur to me if I was paid to advertise it--but it was probably better than all of the various natural disaster films that Hollywood put out (except maybe Armaggedon, which is just enjoyable.)

But personally I consider getting through The Glass Bead Game to have been my greatest testament to stubborness in reading. Not to say it's a bad book nor not "An Instant Classic"--just that it truly is a whole lot of pages of nothing happening (though that's the point.)

silenus
03-23-2005, 10:27 PM
So, basically, I should pretty much avoid any Niven that's longer than a hundred or so pages, most Pournelle, and all of their collaberative efforts except for The Mote in God's Eye, which should be read with a salt cellar handy, in case I find a passage that I need to take with a grain...


It's not that bad. Footfall is good. Mote and sequel are also good. Oath of Fealty is excellent. For a different feel, try the RPG-flavored novels Larry wrote with Steven Barnes (DreamPark).

:D

The Long Road
03-23-2005, 10:34 PM
The Cannibal army was really the books downfall for me. They go from a small group of beaten troops worried about being shot to an efficient army taking over most of California and on the verge of unstopable. The transition would be fine if there was any clue in the book about how it happened. Hooker is walking down the road having a mental breakdown and worried about being shot. Next time he is mentioned, he's riding in a limo planning how to take over more territory.

Add to that how every line a black person mentions in the line slaughters the English language and the books problems keep building.

Zjestika
03-24-2005, 12:02 AM
Add to that how every line a black person mentions in the line slaughters the English language and the books problems keep building.

The what now?

Anyway, I liked it, in the way I liked Dean Koonz when I was in jr. high. It seemed like a bunch of grownups doing grownup stuff, like being sexy and making documentaries, then living through the end of the world, all improbable and exciting to boring ol' me. But I love end of the world stories. I watched The Postman. All the way through.

ZJ

Gulo gulo
03-24-2005, 12:13 AM
Thank you SO much for reminding me of this book. Ugh. I had successfully blocked it from my memory. I slogged through it then gave it away, something I rarely do.

Now let us never speak of this book again.

Tamerlane
03-24-2005, 01:01 AM
and all of their collaberative efforts except for The Mote in God's Eye, which should be read with a salt cellar handy, in case I find a passage that I need to take with a grain...

I think Inferno is worth trying as well.

The others...meh. Not awful, but not great, with LH probably being the weakest. IMHO.

- Tamerlane

OtakuLoki
03-24-2005, 01:01 AM
I liked the book, and I agree - the best parts are things dealing with the diabetic doctor. (I can't recall his name, but I'm sure you know who I am talking about.) The cubic mile of Hot Fudge Sundae, and the storing of the books in the latrine.

It does have a number of weaknesses and on rereading it recently, the number of things in it I find archaic are mind boggling.

I think it made such a big impression because it was the first book to come out that size, and did a lot to 'legitmize' SF in the book-buying public's eyes. After all, a lot of people who put it on the best seller lists would have never heard of Mote or Ringworld. IIRC it was, at the time, the longest book to have published in a single volume - something that worried the publisher to no end - Niven wrote in one of his short story collections that the publisher had nightmares about his decision to raise the cover price to $2.95 (God, I miss books that cheap, don't you?) and still feared he'd have a best-seller on his hands, and lose a nickel on each copy. :D

I didn't find the book as torturous as you seem to have, but unless it's a frigging class that you're going to be tested upon, my general rule is that I read for pleasure, and if the book doesn't give me pleasure, I'm not going to finish it in hopes it gets better. (And it took me damn near 20 years to get where I'd be willing to say that - I wish I'd had that attitude in fourth grade when I picked up Moby Dick.)

Just my $0.02, worth what you paid for it.

OtakuLoki
03-24-2005, 01:07 AM
Just saw Tamerlane's post. Yes, I really liked their Inferno, too. But LH isn't the weakest, I don't think. Oath of Fealty (Which had only one small giggle in it - the diving board on the arcology for suicides.), or Saturn's Race both seemed even less enjoyable.

Stranger On A Train
03-24-2005, 02:19 AM
Destiny's Road was a total waste of wood pulp.
Destiny's what? Never heard of it.

*sigh*

Okay, I read it. What in the heck was the point of it, anyway? Except for the tangential relationship to the Heorot books (same universe) and the revelation that a lack of potassium in the diet will cause you to become a complete idiot, I couldn't make heads or tails of the whole thing. It made less sense than The Ringworld Throne!


I agree. And with Niven, it seems like the shorter the better. His "Tales From the Draco Tavern" for example. I mean, I read Ringworld. I didn't really care for it, but apparently I'm a masochist, because then I read Ringworld Engineers, then the other two books.
The Draco Tavern tales are actually quite fantastic; they're some of his best work, IMHO. I like the worldbuilding exercise of Ringworld but the plot made virtually no sense. The Ringworld Engineers was much better plotted, but the characterizations were as bad as ever. I agree with Little Nemo that Niven basically has one idea per story/novel, which is enough for a 20 page short but completely insufficient for a 300+ page novel. My other gripe with Niven is how his main characters all talk the same ("Yah! Tanj damnit.") and how they all feel the need to exposit on every plot device.

His series (if you can call it that) that I enjoyed the most were the Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring. While his characters were still kind of flat, they were better developed than usual and the "world" (a freefall environment set in a gas torus about a neutron star) was great. One of my favorite "unknown" books of his, apparently set in the same "The State" universe is A World Out Of Time, based on an earlier short story of his (which basically comprises the first two chapters).

Niven is better than 90% of the spec fic writers out there...but a lot of his output, especially the recent stuff, is just crap. Ditto times two for Pournelle. Walter Miller Jr., where art thou?

Stranger

Taran
03-24-2005, 09:36 AM
Okay, I read it. What in the heck was the point of it, anyway? Except for the tangential relationship to the Heorot books (same universe) and the revelation that a lack of potassium in the diet will cause you to become a complete idiot, I couldn't make heads or tails of the whole thing. It made less sense than The Ringworld Throne!Thank heavens, I thought it was just me. Say what you like about Niven, his plots are always easy to follow, so when I couldn't make head or tail of Destiny's Road I thought I'd woken up stupid that particular morning.

Oh, and if you didn't like Lucifer's Hammer, stay the hell away from Fallen Angels. All of LH's flaws, with only a few of its virtues.

Catamount
03-24-2005, 09:54 AM
Read the section where the surfer catches the ultimate wave and gets slammed into a tall building.

Put the book down and walk away. You've just read the best part.

Sean Factotum
03-24-2005, 09:57 AM
I didn't particularly like LH, nor did I hate it. I didn't remember that it was the biggest SF novel released until Otaku brought it up, but now I recall thinking when I bought it (when it was first released in paperback) that it was the size of something Stephen King would write. I did enjoy Footfall and Mote better, though.

One thing about LH that I remember to this day: a woman (who's name I cannot recall) gets killed in a particularly grusome way, and then has a speaking line about a hundred pages later. Brought me right out of the story, and I don't think I ever got back into it again after that. I was looking for more glaring errors throughout the rest of the book.

FriarTed
03-24-2005, 10:39 AM
Pournelle, i.e. quasi-libertarian/fascist.


Hijack- how does THAT work?

Stranger On A Train
03-24-2005, 11:29 AM
Hijack- how does THAT work?
Think Objectivism: on one hand, you're supposed to be accountable only to yourself, without idolizing or following anyone else. On the other hand, you are supposed to worship at the feet of Ayn Rand and her coterie (as evidenced by her apologists.) If you don't agree with her philosophy, you are automatically one of those mouth-breathing degenerates who couldn't be trusted to tie your shoe laces...not that anyone else should be responsible for tying anyone's shoelaces but their own, of course. :dubious:

What I get from Pournelle is a deep distrust of social government (yeah!) combined with a dogmatic instistence of living by some set of inviolate principles defined by the author(huh?). More specifically, Pournelle (and Heinlein, and Rand) like to present strawmen that are everything they object to, and then insist in applying a dichotomy; either you are in agreement with the author or with the obviously incorrect position of the strawman. A classic example is the oft-repeated Heinlein quote, "An armed society is a polite society," as an argument for a personal right to possess weapons. I'm comfortable around firearms and an advocate of the US 2nd Amemdment (and most of the rest of the Constitution) but even I have to acknowledge that the free presence of weapons in society doesn't guarantee any such politeness. An yet, it is generally taken that disagreeing with logic of the statement is an argument against gun ownership. :rolleyes:

Or maybe I'm just resentful that I once spent the time and effort to slog through 1400+ pages of Atlas Shrugged only to get to the end and realize it was just one long, pedantic pitch for Objectivism. She and L. Ron Hubbard must share the same orthogonal extra-aeonic dimension and enjoy discussing how gullible people can be. "They may be pink, but their money is green."

Mmmm...that's pretty harsh, I guess, and if Objectivism (or Scientology) works for you, more power to you; but please, don't hit me over the head with your philosophy and insist that it is the only way to interpret the world and define ethics and morals. That reminds me of a line from Donnie Darko:

"On the Life Line there is only Love and Fear."

Stranger

"I'll tell you what he said. He asked me to forcibly insert the Life Line exercise card into my anus."

tremorviolet
03-24-2005, 11:43 AM
I thought Lucifer's Hammer was in the genre of "bestseller" type book, rather than straight sci-fi. It's got the format of a disaster movie like "The Towering Inferno" or "Airport" where you meet a wide strata of characters all involved in different aspects of the disaster to add the "human element". I saw it more as a movie script than a novel...

The Asbestos Mango
03-24-2005, 11:44 AM
Another thing about LH- toward the end, it becomes more overtly racist. We have the token black astronaut, but all the other black characters in the book are basically criminals who want little more out of life than to get over on the honkies and to get their fair share of the limited supply of pussy. Either that, or they're entheusiastic cannibals.

I'm almost to the point that I'm reading it for the same reason I've read 11/12 of the Left Behind Saga- if a SF-loving friend ever mentions it, I can give a brief summary, and spare them the agony of having to read it themself (I have arrived at the conclusion that they/them is acceptable as a gender-neutral singular pronoun).

Greywolf73
03-24-2005, 12:21 PM
One thing about LH that I remember to this day: a woman (who's name I cannot recall) gets killed in a particularly grusome way, and then has a speaking line about a hundred pages later. Brought me right out of the story, and I don't think I ever got back into it again after that. I was looking for more glaring errors throughout the rest of the book.

Which character was that? I'm curious now to see who it was. That would have jolted me out of the book too if I'd noticed it. I enjoyed Lucifer's Hammer in the same way I enjoy movies like Deep Impact or Independence Day--I'm a huge fan of end-of-the-world books/movies. "Suspend your disbelief at the door "kind of stories are okay as long as they are entertaining in the process, which I found LH to be.

Stranger On A Train
03-24-2005, 12:54 PM
I saw it more as a movie script than a novel...
Bingo! Even moreso true of The Legacy of Heorot; it was a pastiche of action movie/space opera cliches (and for interstellar colonists, man were those guys armed for bear.)

The thing about most movie scripts is that they are terrible reads (scripts by Charlie Kaufman or Douglas Adams are rare exceptions), even in the initial draft or script treatment. Trying to write a novel like a movie script gets you something like Lucifer's Hammer or the lesser of Steven King's output. Together, Niven and Pournelle would make a decent team of hack screenwriters for the Sci-Fi channel.

Stranger

silenus
03-24-2005, 01:00 PM
Bingo! Even moreso true of The Legacy of Heorot; it was a pastiche of action movie/space opera cliches (and for interstellar colonists, man were those guys armed for bear.)

Why wouldn't they be? It's not like they could whistle up the Marines to bail their sorry butts out of a jam. I found them kinda underarmed myself. If I was moving to a new planet across the stars, I'd be packing nukes for sidearms! :D

Sean Factotum
03-24-2005, 04:37 PM
Which character was that? I'm curious now to see who it was. That would have jolted me out of the book too if I'd noticed it. I honestly can't remember her name (like I said, I read this when it first came out in paperback, shortly after the earth cooled and just prior to the dinosaurs crawling out of the sea.) But she was the wife of one of the burly good guys, and she was decapitated in an accident when something went askew on the treadle. "Susan", for some reason, comes to mind (but that is probably wrong.) I wouldn't be surprised if it was caught and corrected in later printings.

The Asbestos Mango
03-24-2005, 05:59 PM
Well, I've finished it. There was actually some exciting stuff near the end, with, like, battle scenes 'n' stuff, and of course, the obligatory epilogue where a big ol' honkin' asteroid gets slung into the inner solar system with a couple dozen comets in tow, just in case these two decide to write a sequel.

Generally, I feel the same way about this book as I did a lot of Stephen King's stuff from about the mid '80's to the mid-to-late '90's (I call it his auto-pilot word processor phase, I guess he was doing a lot of really heavy drugs). It was three hundred pages of story in a six hundred forty-odd page book. And, hell, at least King is a good enough writer that even his most overly-long stuff is more than passably readable.

I was actually fighting off an urge to take a black Sharpie marker and go through the book and blot out the excessive adjectives, use some Liquid Paper to turn unnecessary exclamation points into periods. Or better yet, mail a copy of the book to my English Composition instructor at CCSN and let him have a go at it. He's a rabid SF fan, but more than that, a lover of good writing, and a harsh grader.

Finagle
03-24-2005, 06:24 PM
I've been fairly aggravated at Niven ever since I pissed away twenty odd dollars and a few evenings on Ringworld's Children. Compared to that, LH is coherent and well-plotted. And don't get me started on Destiny's Road -- what an incoherent waste of time that was.

Of course, if you want to read a SF book that has even less meat/volume than LH, you can always read David Weber's last Honor Harrington book (whose name I've blocked from memory). 700 pages of stilted dialog, tedious politics of non-existent star systems, and embarassing attempts at humor, and the payoff was about 50 pages of decent space battles which are the only things he writes well.

Stranger On A Train
03-24-2005, 06:43 PM
I've been fairly aggravated at Niven ever since I pissed away twenty odd dollars and a few evenings on Ringworld's Children.
Well, after Ringworld Throne that was your own fault. :p


And don't get me started on Destiny's Road -- what an incoherent waste of time that was.
Like Taran, it's gratifying to know that I'm not the only one that feels this way.

Stranger

CalMeacham
03-24-2005, 07:27 PM
I wouldn't call Lucifer's Hammer a great book -- and I'm a Niven fan. I read this book in one day (I had a lot of time on my hands then), and haven't felt the need to pick it up since.

Thi was, I suspect, Niven and Pournelle's try for a broader, non-genre audiece. The paperback was published by Fawcett, not one of their SF houses like Ballantine/DelRey. When it first came out there were full-page ads in The New York Times book section, something I have't seen before or since with any of their books. I get the distinct impression that the were trying to come up with someything to counter Stephen King's The Stand, too. Niven and Pournelle are technophiles to King's technphobe (compare the relevant section of the two books on nuclear power).


But having read it the once, I don't fee like I have to go back to revisit, unlike others of their works. This realy isn't much like anything else of theirs, so if you don;t like this I think you might like The Legacy of Heorot or its sequel Beowulf's Children (both of which hooked my non-hard-sf-reading wife Pepper Mill) or The Mote in God's Eye, or Inferno.

Eonwe
03-24-2005, 07:50 PM
Just another endorsement of The Mote in God's Eye. Also, A Canticle for Leibowitz is the best post-apocalyptic novel out there. YMMV, of course, but then, you'd be wrong. ;)

lizardling
03-24-2005, 08:23 PM
Thank heavens, I thought it was just me. Say what you like about Niven, his plots are always easy to follow, so when I couldn't make head or tail of Destiny's Road I thought I'd woken up stupid that particular morning.

Really?? I read that one, and it seemed to make sense to me. The rise and fall of technology on a world as you get further and further out from where the rockets landed. All tied together by the rocket trail and the sprinkles that everybody had to eat. Interesting premise in theory. In practice, that clean a gradient from Dark Ages to near-spacefaring tech came across as too allegorical for me to really want to go back and reread it.

For wood-pulp-wasting abominations that I've mercifully blocked from my memory, there was a cookie cutter fantasy I picked up from the used bookstore on grounds that the outside reminded me of the Thieves' World books... unfortunately, it earnestly, earnestly screwed every fantasy cliche that you can think of clean over without benefit of lube. And didn't even crack a snicker.

I'm just surprised that someone thought it'd be good enough to spend the money to publish it.

[...]

...I can't believe 10 people liked it enough to write an Amazon review. Let alone say the author's name in the same breath with Tolkien and Cherryh. :eek: This is the one book that I literally threw across the room, and I'm generally a stubborn enough reader that I'll wade through almost anything.

OtakuLoki
03-24-2005, 08:26 PM
Umm.. Can you please tell us, at least, the author's name?

elfkin477
03-24-2005, 08:38 PM
But I love end of the world stories. I watched The Postman. All the way through.


Ha, that's funny. I finally rented that movie last week (50 cent rental) and gave up about 2/3rds of the way through. Finishing it before it was due back would have meant staying up late on a weeknight and it wasn't that interesting. It wasn't as bad as people said, either, though. Maybe if it's on cable...

lizardling
03-24-2005, 08:59 PM
Claudia J. Edwards. And it was Eldrie the Healer. I was about fourteen at the time I read it, which isn't much of an excuse, I'm afraid -- I was already elbow-deep in the great SF classics by that point, including other authors who wrote strong female characters much, much better.

Like the aforementioned Cherryh.

Best Topics: menopause clothing inherently funny reflash bios frasier in cheers how to rollerblade plagiarize yourself bats belfry grecian people swirl symbol men vpl dave pelzer mom personal check size definition of hoopty major dickasons coffee pheromone cologne reddit mexican polka warm bruise sodium pentothal buy what is intercollegiate passe partout meaning multi colored beard stub up pipe keurig symbols woodworking puns esurance cancellation fee animals in microwave forthnight definition tarajee maynor temporary fabric tape plexiglass soundproof donkey start diesel male xy is playdough a solid or liquid how many floaters is too many can police sit on private property i ain't your friend guy how to think off male how much are laker courtside tickets rice milk sugar recipe what is behind the belly button what does fold mean in math masters degrees that don't require specific bachelors why old film speed does snuff have fiberglass in it how to spot clean a suit can you pass echeck with engine light on let me ride dre heaviest object in the world how to make sildenafil citrate how long will dry ice last in a freezer usb port on direct tv box do temp agencies drug test why is skirt steak so expensive how long to wait for him to call before moving on eyes dilation side effect ir extender for comcast cable box when does my bj's membership expire can't live if living is without you song songs like forever and always ruth chris steakhouse dress code uses for chili sauce was alexander hamilton a us citizen 2004 silverado gauges not working how long does a caterpillar stay in a cocoon vasectomy and testosterone level my ear is clogged and ringing