Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Arthur C. Clarke's "The Hammer of God" (short story): An asteroid on impact course with earth

Note that there is also a novel by Clarke with the same title. This article is about the short story.

This is very similar to Hollywood movie "Armageddon" - heroic effort to save earth from impact of an asteroid - only far more people die here, including all of crew. Both movie & this story seem to be inspired by H G Wells' "The Star".

My main gripe with this story is the tangents. Main story is good enough, but there are just too many tangents: Chrislamist fundamentalists & their female messiah; machines recognized as "Legal Person (Nonhuman)"; Braincaps (we will see them again in "3001 The Final Odyssey"); a device that lets someone from a lower-gravity planet survive earth's gravity - somewhat less drastic machine than Heinlein's "We Also Walk Dogs"; Washington politics & a Nobel laureate's testimony to US lawmakers; terrafarming of Mars; ... There are a lot of them.

I prefer clean short stories - focussed on one subject, & handling it well.

Story summary.
Kali is the asteroid that will hit earth - "detected in late 2212 as it fell sunward past the orbit of Jupiter". Detected by a US Spaceguard program that is also found in many other stories of Clarke.

Captain Robert Singh is commandeering Goliath, spaceship with a crew of 100 & carrying Atlas - a bunch of rockets - that will be fitted to Kali to deflect it from earth impact course.

Only, terrorists had sabotaged Atlas, & it refuses to work when deployed. So Goliath crew will valiantly use their own ship to push the asteroid! Only the soft rock gives away, tangling the ship - so the crew will not live, even if they save earth - which they eventually do.

Kali passes through earth's atmosphere - closest approach at a height of 60 km - back to space. The passage kills the entire crew, a 1,00,000 people on earth, plus "$1 trillion worth of damage".

See also.

  1. Robert Heinlein's "Misfit": An asteroid is moved from asteroid belt to a location between earth & Mars, but fitting rockets on it.
  2. Issac Asimov's "The Martian Way": An iceberg is moved from a Saturn ring to Mars by fitting rockets to it.
  3. Roger MacBride Allen's "Isaac Asimov's Utopia": An asteroid is split into multiple pieces, then each piece is directed to specific locations on a planet (not earth) as a physical hammer - as part of a terrafarming project to dig a sea!
Fact sheet.
The Hammer of God, short story, review
First published: Time magazine, 28 September 1992
Rating: B