There are two books that I consider to be absolute classics in terms of ‘survival fiction’. The first is ‘Alas babylon’, the other is ‘Lucifers Hammer’. (LH)
LH is a very polished story, which is a change from most survivalist fiction where you can tell the writer really didn’t have much experience in writing (and editing). It’s reminiscent of ‘The Stand’ in terms of setting up layers of backstory before finally getting to the actual end-of-the-world. The cast of characters is fairly broad at the beginning of the book but, much like real life, the list narrows down as attrition takes it’s toll…and some characters just face into the background never to be heard from again.
The premise is one that you don’t see to often in this genre: a comet passes close to the earth and fragments strike the planet. Enormous tsunamis wipe out coastal regions, redraw continental maps, kick huge amounts of debris into the atmosphere, and generally turn the entire planet into a sodden, dark, cold mess.
The story follows the paths of people from a wide disparate group of lifestyles… a cop, secretary, senator, scientist, playboy, rancher, astronaut, criminal, etc, etc. Are the usual survivalist tropes present? Absolutely…but pretty much because this is the book that started those tropes. The cannibal armies, plucky survivors banding together, huge ‘final battle’, etc, etc….all there. LH is the source that is referred to when later survivalist fiction gets described as ‘derivative of’. (For example, the end of ‘One Second After’ and the end of LH are very, very similar.
People who are used to the fast-moving pace of some of the shorter survivalist-books may lose interest in the character development that takes up the first third of this rather lengthy book. If you can stick with it, the backstories enhance the rest of the book.
Are there things in the book that would make the average survivalist sit up and say “Hmm…I hadn’t thought of that?” I believe so. I would say that its as realistic a story as you can have on a topic that many people say would be very unrealistic.
LH is a book I recommend to people who enjoy the genre, but are not new to it. It’s a bit intimidating in terms of length, and a tad slow paced at the beginning, but I think if a person sticks to it and gets through to the actual disaster part of the book it becomes a wonderful read.
You can usually find a used copy in most used book stores. It’s an enjoyable read for people who want a more in-depth and well-rounded story than many of the ‘shallower’ stories that are out there. Nothing wrong with the ‘light reading’ survivalist fiction (cough*Ahern*cough) but sometimes you want something a little more than just shoot-em-ups and gear porn.
LH came out in 1977, which was right around the era of high inflation, expensive gas, and Soviet expansionism…and it shows in the book. But even if it is a little dated it is still a good read if you’re after a book that has a bit more substance.