An updated take on Lucifer’s Hammer, Claire Holroyde’s The Effort speculates that it (still) wouldn’t take much for civilization as we know it to collapse and our world to descend into chaos. In the case of The Effort, it’s a large comet that is on a collision course with our planet. Holroyde bounces between multiple characters in the story, from members of a team, tasked with finding a way to save the planet from destruction to those dealing with civilization as we know it falling into chaos as some of humanity’s more base tendencies toward self-preservation kick in.
Like Lucifer’s Hammer, I found myself slowly starting to root for the cosmic calamity to befall the planet and start getting rid of certain characters, chief among them the head scientist Ben. Ben’s worst tendencies include not allowing members of his team to manifest any physical appearance that time is passing and his lack of consideration for those he doesn’t consider of immediate benefit or impact to the group trying to find a last-second way to save us all from destruction.
I’m also torn a bit on whether or not a deus ex machina actually counts as one if the author introduces the concept and has characters point out how absurd it is. In this case, Holroyde has characters discuss us (Ben’s HR girlfriend Amy, who is a cosplaying genre fan explains it for the audience) just before one comes on-stage. I’ve waffled back and forth since finishing the book as to whether or not it works or not.
As for the rest of the characters, they’re hit or miss. Holroyde offers us equal measures of fear, sadness at the downfall of civilization, and hope that maybe something better will survive. The novel doesn’t spend nearly as much time after the cosmic event as Lucifer’s Hammer did, investigating the impact of the huge asteroid (literally and figuratively) on our planet. But it does spend some time fleshing out the characters’ lives before the news that a giant comet is about to destroy the world is coming — with varying degrees of success.
It may seem odd for a novel about the end of civilization to come out while we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Or maybe I’m just odd for picking it up and reading (or in this case listening) to it. But I can’t help but feel that a novel with a bit of hope that we can and will survive is something that a lot of us need to read now. I just find myself wishing that there weren’t a few glaring things detracting from my overall enjoyment of this one.