Review: The Hammer of God by Arthur C. Clarke (Spoilers)
What's it about: Set in the year 2110, The Hammer of God revolves around the discovery by an amateur astronomer of an asteroid headed straight for Earth. Dubbed "Kali" after the Hindi goddess of death and destruction, the big space rock has the potential to wipe out life on Earth. The book follows the attempt by SPACEGUARD to prevent this by attaching a mass driver to Kali and slowly - very, very slowly - nudging it so that it'll miss Earth.
What I liked: One of the things I liked about THoG is that it didn't focus solely on the efforts of Robert Singh, captain of the spaceship Goliath and its crew to save the day. Instead, Clarke devoted a large chunk of the book to worldbuilding 22nd century human civilization and while it might at times have seemed like he was going off on wild tangents that immediately didn't seem to have any relation to the main plot, Clarke deftly tied all of these side trips together. For example, he focuses several chapters on "Chrislam", a fusion of Christianity and Islam created in the early 21st century that by the 22nd, has become the fourth largest religion on Earth. He doesn't explain any of the tenants or doctrine of the religion and you're left wondering at first as to why he devoted the two or three chapters to the religion, until near the end of the book when a fanatical faction called The Reborn sabotage efforts to divert Kali and almost wipe out mankind on Earth.
Another thing I liked is some of the worldbuilding. In the 22nd century of the book, humanity has successfully colonized the Moon and Mars. The Earth is united under a technocratic World Council and all or almost of all of society's ills have been conquered. Virtual reality technology exists in the form of a device called The Brainman, which as a humorous side effect has led to human-wide baldness (the skullcap that allows VR access needs direct contact to the scalp to work) and has led to wig making becoming a major industry. Human civilization seems to follow some sort of socialism, as its explicitly mentioned that both communism and capitalism no longer exist. Money still does, though.
Finally, I liked Robert Singh, our hero. He was straight forward, determined, and courageous in a way that was realistic.
What I didn't like about it: Some aspects of the worldbuilding were a bit over the top. Earth lives under a one-child policy in order to keep the population at around three billion. Martian colonists are allowed two children. I can't see the entire population agreeing to throttle their procreation like that. Two kids, sure, but just one? Eeeeeh. I also wish that The Reborn had gotten more attention since they were the closest thing to an antagonist in the novel.
Conclusion: I really enjoyed The Hammer of God. It was sort of like Rendezvous with Rama in that it didn't have a whole lot of conflict or action compared to what other authors might have gone with if they had written it instead, but it was still a fun, exciting adventure. I was on the edge of my seat with the last dozen or so pages in anticipation over how the book was going to end and I was thoroughly satisfied with how it did.
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4 out of 5 stars.