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The Hammer of God
By Arthur C. Clarke

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The Hammer of God

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The Hammer of God
By Arthur C. Clarke
G. K. Hall - Large Print, (2000)
ISBN: 0-7838-8979-8
Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - November 18, 2001

When scientist first theorized that the extinction of the dinosaurs was a result of an asteroid striking Earth, many discounted this theory. After all, there was little evidence that asteroids had ever struck the earth. But they were wrong. Thanks to the advent of new scientific discoveries and our ability to observe the earth from space, we now have clear evidence that the earth has been hit repeatedly by asteroids. Some of these asteroids have been large enough to cause the mass extinction of life on Earth. Many of these impact craters are clearly visible from space. Fortunately for humans, since our ascendency to domination over the Earth, the Earth has not been hit by a large asteroid. However, there have been several well documented smaller strikes and numerous near misses.

In The Hammer of God, Arthur C. Clarke ponders what might happen if humans learned that a death dealing asteroid was on a collision course with the Earth. He looks at both the scientific problems it would create, as well as the moral and social issues that would develop on a world staring doom straight in the eye. This story is set in the year 2110, a time when the Earth's population is down to a mere three billion people, in part because colonies have been established on Mars and on the Moon. The story focuses on Robert Singh, Captain of the star-ship Goliath. Technically the Goliath is a research vessel. However, besides mapping the heavens, the Goliath, and her sister ship Hercules, also serve as sentries guarding the Earth. Should an enemy approach, it is their job to intercept and destroy it. The enemy they guard against - asteroids on a collision course with the earth. By the time this story takes place, many people have forgotten the purpose behind the construction of the twin ships. They are quickly reacquainted with the function of the ships when a large rouge asteroid is discovered - headed for earth. Named Kali after the Indian goddess of destruction, the asteroid has the potential of destroying all life on earth. The Goliath and her crew are dispatched to intercept Kali and push it into a new orbit using their mass drive engines.

The Hammer of God provides the reader with a glimpse at one of our possible futures. Told partially in flash backs, as Singh looks back over his life, this tale is interwoven with information about previous asteroid collisions with Earth. Clarke chronicles the collision that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the scientific endeavors that have proved that an asteroid could, and did, cause this mass extinction. He also discusses the Tunguska collision that took place in Tunguska, Siberia in 1908 when a cometary fragment flattened an entire forest. Also mentioned is the 1972 event that occurred in Oregon when a small fragment weighing a mere nine thousand tons streaked across the Oregonian sky before heading back out into space.

Clarke also describes the work of The Spaceguard Survey, which was begun by NASA in 1998. The purpose of the survey is to map all the asteroids, comets and other Near-Earth-Objects (NEOs) that might pose a danger to the Earth. The short term goal of NASA's Spaceguard program is to complete a census of all, large Earth-crossing asteroids (ECAs) within the next 25 years. It may be decades, if it is ever done, before smaller objects, such as the one that hit Tunguska, are mapped. There are many groups and observatories running their own Spaceguard programs, such as the European Spaceguard Foundation. Clarke clearly illustrates the need the for a complete census of the heavens, and the need for all the Spaceguard programs to work in unison. The title of their program, Spaceguard is borrowed from one of Clarke's own books, Rendezvous with Rama, in which he conducted a similar project.

In The Hammer of God, Earth learns of Kali's approach 241 days before it is predicted that the asteroid will collide with the Earth. These future Earthlings have a chance for survival because they already have a means of defense on hand - the star-ship Goliath. Should we discover, tomorrow, that a large, planet killing asteroid is on a collision with Earth, there is almost nothing that we can do except pray. Clarke is a phenomenal storyteller. In this short novel he not only clearly delineates the threat posed by asteroids and other NEOs, but he also outlines the history of earth's previous encounters with NEOs and the steps that are now being taken to minimize the threat that they pose. He does all this, while at the same time weaving a riveting tale of the Goliath's race against time to save Earth, and the difficulties that the crew encounters while attempting to carry out their mission. This is a fabulous book, it may not make you loose any sleep at night, but it will definitely make you look at the heavens in a new light.

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