Thursday, July 17, 2008

"The Hammer of God" by Arthur C. Clarke

Source: The Time Traveler Show, Episode 26 (mp3)
Length: 1 hour, 17 min
Reader: Scott Brick with Gabrielle de Cuir

Note: This is a review of the 1992 story "The Hammer of God", not the 1993 novel of the same name.

The story: In the far reaches of the solar system, Captain Robert Singh begins a perilous mission to save Earth -- not from an invading alien fleet, but from a threat that has nearly wiped out terrestrial life before. The government agency Space Guard has determined that an asteroid, which they name Kali after the Hindu goddess of destruction, is on a collision course with Earth. If Kali hits, the only human settlements left would be those on the Moon and Mars. Singh's ship Goliath was designed to protect humankind from such a threat. Now, the Goliath's crew must attach their Atlas rockets to the giant rock to push her off course.

I find it interesting to contrast this story with the 1998 asteroid-disaster film Armageddon. Besides presenting an error-filled view of physics in space, the movie stresses a macho, aggressive response to the asteroid danger. The notion of heroism in the movie is a very Hollywood action-adventure concept that involves muscles, last second escapes and stuff gettin' blowed up.

The heroes in this story are not only the captain and crew of the Goliath, but also a scientist who advocates for the project Space Guard and a politician who puts his own priorities on hold to fund it. Heroism in Clarke's story is intellectual and begins long before the event, which is a very different view of heroism than Hollywood's. Just as Armageddon's science is laughable and Clarke's much more likely, I think Clarke's view of heroism is not only more realistic, but also more valuable.

Rating: 9/10

The reader: This episode of the Time Traveler is a full-on Arthur C. Clarke extravaganza. The story itself is read by Scott Brick, an Audie Award and Golden Voice Award winner, so I don't need to go into how good his reading is (it's REALLY good). The recording is from The Complete Short Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, podcast with permission of the publisher, AudioLiterature. If you're interested in just the story, it starts a little over 26 minutes into the program. I would highly recommend, however, listening to the entire episode, since surrounding the story is a collection of fascinating interviews and extras. I found the reflections of the producer and reader of this story's recording to be particularly interesting. Best of all is a real treat for any science fiction and film fan: a speech by Clarke himself entitled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Stanley Kubrick."

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