Arthur C. Clarke Reading Challenge 2013 – June: The Hammer of God

The Hammer of God by Arthur C ClarkeThe June Arthur C. Clarke 2013 Reading Challenge book is The Hammer of God, published in 1993 and now available from Gollancz.

‘The Hammer of God is vintage Clarke: superb storytelling, authentic science, and wonderful vignettes of life in the twenty-second century on Earth, the Moon, Mars – and in space. ‘The Hammer of God’, the short story on which this novel is based, first appeared in Time magazine in the autumn of 1992. It was only the second piece of fiction ever to appear in the magazine – the first having been Alexander Solzhenitsyn.’

Kali, a most appropriately named asteroid, is on a collision course with Earth and only the crew of the Goliath stands between the planet and devastation. The impact is projected to be no less catastrophic than that which wiped out the dinosaurs. Now, though, or at least in the 22nd century when this novel is set, man has set a foot into space and has the opportunity to save himself. Eyes on Earth are turned upwards to the Goliath, a science vessel that normally surveys Jupiter whose captain Robert Singh has spent so long in space, he is now unable to survive in the gravity of Earth.

If any of this sounds familiar, then you won’t be surprised to hear that Stephen Spielberg optioned The Hammer of God, resulting in the movie Deep Impact. The differences, though, are many. This being an Arthur C. Clarke novel, much of the time is spent developing the background and history, not just to the asteroid Kali but also to the character of Robert Singh and the religious conflict on Earth that places the mission to save it in jeopardy.

Robert Singh’s character brings such life to the novel. Aged about 70 when Goliath approaches the asteroid, we learn about the captain’s early career, his first love, his children, his life on Earth and even his athletic career as a runner on the Moon (of all places). Likewise, we learn a little about the peculiar Chrislam, a fusion of Christianity and Islam, which has become so popular on Earth, although relatively ignored on the Moon and on Mars. But these are just glimpses, never more than that, and it’s quite possible that, like me, you’ll be left wanting much, much more.

The Hammer of God began life as a short story and this final version is still little more than that. Easily read in a day, we’re not able to spend half as much time as we might like on potentially intriguing personalities, relationships and social and religious developments on Earth. Lots of questions are raised about technologies, beliefs and fears but few are answered. The cameo of Nobel winner Carlos Mendoza is fascinating and I would have loved more. Nevertheless, The Hammer of God is a fast and fun read, charting the mission to deflect the asteroid Kali from its course which is hellbent on Earth.

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