Thursday, January 18, 2007

If the Big One Hits--A Book Review

What did we do before the Internet? For one thing, it has led me to books I wouldn’t have discovered without it. I read about a book in comments to a post from Kim du Toit. Kim’s post included a reader's e-mail who wrote about conversations with liberal friends. He wrote that he had made some TEOTAWAKI preparations including putting aside some food and guns. His now ex-friends called him a hoarder and other interesting names.

Commenters mentioned Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle inspiring me to read it. I read science fiction occasionally, but this book is not typical science fiction in the sense of advanced technology and/or BEMS. It's speculative fiction.

It was quite good. Written in 1977, it’s set in California, and is about TEOTAWAKI . I want to avoid spoilers, but doubt I will so read on at your own risk. An amateur astronomer, Tim Hamner, finds an hitherto unknown comet entering our solar system. He and another amateur who found it about the same time announce it and the comet is named Hamner-Brown. Hamner is interviewed on the Johnny Carson show and Carson mistakenly calls it the Hammer comet. The name sticks.

Professional astronomers tell people the comet won’t hit the Earth, but as the comet comes nearer to Earth, their odds keep changing for the worse. People become worried and camping gear, freeze-dried food, guns, ammunition, and other items disappear from store shelves. People are using credit cards like there is no tomorrow and stores are accepting them in the hope that there will be a tomorrow.

A major character decides to get ready days before the comet’s final approach. He buys large beef roasts and cleverly turns them into beef jerky. He also buys many bottles of liquor believing that they would become trade goods should the comet strike. Having trade goods is an interesting concept and something to consider if one is preparing for anything more than a three or four day disaster.

Parts of the comet strike the Earth (the strike is called Hammerfall). Everything changes. Tsunamis wipe out coastal cities, low areas are flooded, emergency services are wiped away, people die in the millions. Man’s civilization is at risk.

Once nature’s fury is abated, survivors have to, well, survive. Those with a little foresight realize that crops will fail due to darkness and cold caused by steam, dust, and ash temporarily blocking the sun. People who carefully prepared become victims of roving bands of thieves. Even the man who made the beef jerky loses his stash.

One group of survivors live in a valley protected by high ridges. They band together and try to save civilization while surviving beyond the coming winter. They do something that raised at least one of my eyebrows. The people in the valley, now called Stronghold, collectivize food, ammunition, weapons and other necessary items.

People who laid aside such stuff have to give it up or be thrown out of the valley and be at the mercy of roving bands of criminals and even cannibals. Those bands, now a small army, are coming closer to Stronghold and its inhabitants must beat them back.

This theme fits into something I’ve thought about for awhile; the balance of societal and individual needs. We are all individuals, but we all have to be part of society. That’s a hard balance to achieve sometimes.

If TEOTAWAKI occurs, it may be necessary for a small community to collectivize certain things. It doesn’t make sense for one person to own fifteen rifles while potential defenders are armed with rocks. On the other hand, there would have to be guarantees that all would share equally and not have elite members of the nascent society keep the best for themselves.

For a good look at how life might be after a world-shattering disaster, Lucifer’s Hammer is an excellently thought out and researched book. It’s a compelling story that will cause many people to wonder how they could survive such an experience or if they would even want to given the conditions that would exist after a Hammerfall.

No comments: