Cover image for Hammerfall
Cherryh, C. J.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Eos, 2001.
Physical Description:
390 pages ; 25 cm
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One of the most renowned figures in science fiction, C. J. Cherryh has been enthralling audiences for nearly thirty years with rich and complex novels. Now at the peak of her career, this three-time Hugo Award Winner launches her most ambitious work in decades, Hammerfall, part of a far-ranging series, The Gene Wars, set in an entirely new universe scarred by the most vicious of future weaponry, nanotechnology. In this brilliant novel -- possibly Cherryh's masterwork -- the fate of billions has come down to a confrontation between two profoundly alien cultures on a single desert planet.

"The mad shall be searched out and given to the Ila's
messengers. No man shall conceal madness in his wife,
or his son, or his daughter, or his father.
Every one must be delivered up."

-- The Book of the Ila's Au'it

Marak has suffered the madness his entire life. He is a prince and warrior, strong and shrewd and expert in the ways of the desert covering his planet. In the service of his father, he has dedicated his life to overthrowing the Ila, the mysterious eternal dictator of his world. For years he has successfully hidden the visions that plague him -- voices pulling him eastward, calling Marak, Marak, Marak, amid mind-twisting visions of a silver tower. But when his secret is discovered, Marak is betrayed by his own father and forced to march in an endless caravan with the rest of his world's madmen to the Ila's city of Oburan.

Instead of death, Marak finds in Oburan his destiny, and the promise of life -- if he can survive what is surely a suicidal mission. The Ila wants him to discover the source of the voices and visions that afflict the mad. Despite the dangers of the hostile desert, tensions within the caravan, and his own excruciating doubts, Marak miraculously reaches his goal -- only to be given another, even more impossible mission by the strange people in the towers.

According to these beings who look like him yet act differently than anyone he has ever known, Marak has a slim chance to save his world's people from the wrath of the Ilas enemies. But to do so, he must convince them all -- warring tribes, villagers, priests, young and old, as well as the Ila herself -- to follow him on an epic trek across the burning desert before the hammer of the Ila's foes falls from the heavens above.

Written with deceptive simplicity and lyricism, this riveting, fast-paced epic of war, love, and survival in a brave new world marks a major achievement from the masterful C.J. Cherryh.

Author Notes

A multiple award-winning author of more than thirty novels, C. J. Cherryh received her B.A. in Latin from the University of Oklahoma, and then went on to earn a M.A. in Classics from Johns Hopkins University. Cherryh's novels, including Tripoint, Cyteen, and The Pride of Chanur, are famous for their knife-edge suspense and complex, realistic characters.

Cherryh won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1977. She was also awarded the Hugo Award for her short story Cassandra in 1979, and the novels Downbelow Station in 1982 and Cyteen in 1989.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

From childhood, Marak has been steeped in the ways of war and hatred for the Ila, the mysterious woman who rules Marak's world with an iron fist. But when the shameful "madness" that has plagued Marak his entire life is exposed, he is involuntarily drawn into the service of the Ila, for she doesn't believe he is insane. She urges him to surrender to the clamoring voices and visions that incessantly urge him to go east--now! hurry!--toward an envisioned silver tower in the desert. So in exchange for his life and the lives of fellow "madmen," he agrees to penetrate deep into unknown terrain. Against all odds, he is successful and discovers the secret that the tower holds for him. He is the pawn in an ancient and continuing war between two great galactic races, and the only one who can lead his people to safety before the Ila's enemies strike a cataclysmic blow. Cherryh introduces the first wholly new world in her fiction in 30 years and makes it memorable with spare, clean, and elegant prose that lends a haunting quality to the story as it intriguingly conjures the desert setting and the close-to-the-bone way of life that it entails. --Paula Leudtke

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this well-done novel by the prolific, award-winning author of Precursor and Fortress of Dragons, two women with superhuman powers wage psychic and genetic war for control of a civilization. The common people remember the original colonization of their desert world in purely mythological terms as the First Descent. They're unaware that their seemingly immortal ruler, the Ila, has used nanotechnology to control their lives and modify their bodies for survival on their harsh planet. Marak Trin Tain, the outcast son of a desert bandit who unsuccessfully contested the Ila's rule, suffers from a terrifying form of madness. Like many others in this world, he sees visions and feels an almost overwhelming desire to walk out into the desert, heading blindly toward the east. When the Ila captures Marak, instead of executing him, she decides to send him (and a company of other madmen and women) on a desperate mission to discover the source of the obsession that draws them across their world. Unbeknownst to him, however, his civilization, indeed all life on his planet, is on the brink of destruction. Although this book may take place in a different universe from that of Cherryh's much praised Alliance-Union novels, it features her usual blend of gorgeous, slightly knotty prose, deeply conflicted heroes, desperate action and nicely observed cultural details. The first volume in her Gene Wars series, it leaves a number of loose threads to be tied up in later volumes, but is, in and of itself, an entirely satisfying novel. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Brought before the powerful ruler known as the Ila, the madman known as Marak receives a command to seek out the silver tower of his mad dreams and return with the knowledge of what the tower holds. Marak discovers, however, that reaching his destination is only the beginning of a greater and more dangerous journey. Cherryh's latest novel introduces a new universe of fallen technologies and warring interstellar empires, divine madness and world-shattering weaponry. The author of Fortress in the Eye of Time begins a new series with a powerful story that features a hero marked by his visions to save or destroy his world. A good choice for most sf collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Hammerfall Chapter One Imagine first a web of stars. Imagine it spread wide and wider. Ships shuttle across it. Information flows. A star lies at the heart of this web, its center, heart, and mind. This is the Commonwealth. Imagine then a single strand of stars in a vast darkness, a beckoning pathway away from the web, a path down which ships can travel. Beyond lies a treasure, a small lake of G5 suns, a near circle of perfect stars all in reach of one another. This way, that strand says. After so hard a voyage, reward. Wealth. Resources. But a whisper comes back down that thread of stars, a ghost of a whisper, an illusion of a whisper. The web of stars has heard the like before. Others are out there, very far, very faint, irrelevant to our affairs. Should we have listened? -- The Book of the Landing. Distance deceived the eye in the Lakht, that wide, red land of the First Descended, where legend said the ships had come down. At high noon, with the sun reflecting off the plateau, the chimera of a city floated in the haze, appearing as a line of light just below the red, saw-toothed ridge of the Qarain, that upthrust that divided the Lakht from the Anlakht, the true land of death. The city was both mirage and truth; it appeared always a day before its true self. Marak knew it, walking, walking endlessly beside the beshti, the beasts on which their guards rode. The long-legged beasts were not deceived. They moved no faster. The guards likewise made no haste. "The holy city," some of the damned shouted, some in relief, some in fear, knowing it was both the end of their torment and the end of their lives. "Oburan and the Ila's court!" "Walk faster, walk faster," the guards taunted them lazily, sitting supreme over the column. The lank, curve-necked beasts that carried them plodded at an unchangeable rate. They were patient creatures, splay-footed, towering above most predators of the Lakht, enduring the long trek between wells with scant food and no water. A long, long line of them stretched behind, bringing the tents, the other appurtenances of their journey. "Oburan!" the fools still cried. "The tower, the tower!" "Run to it! Run!" the junior guards encouraged their prisoners. "You'll be there before the night, drinking and eating before us." It was a lie, and some knew better, and warned the rest. The wife of a down-country farmer, walking among them, set up a wail when the word went out that the vision was only the shadow of a city, and that an end was a day and more away. "It can't be!" she cried. "It's there! I see it! Don't the rest of you see it?" But the rest had given up both hope and fear of an end to this journey, and walked in the rising sun at the same pace as they had walked all this journey. Marak was different than the rest. He bore across his heart the tattoo of the abjori, the fighters from rocks and hills. His garments, the long shirt, the trousers, the aifad wrapped about his head against the hellish glare, were all the dye and the weave of Kais Tain, of his own mother's hand. Those patterns alone would have damned him in the days of the war. The tattoos on the backs of his fingers, six, were the number of the Ila's guards he had personally sent down to the shadows. The Ila's men knew it, and watched with special care for any look of rebellion. He had a reputation in the lowlands and on the Lakht itself, a fighter as elusive as the mirage and as fast-moving as the sunrise wind. He had ridden with his father to this very plain, and for three years had seen the walls of the holy city as a prize for the taking. He and his father had laid their grandiose plans to end the Ila's reign: they had fought. They had had their victories. Now he stumbled in the ruin of boots made for riding. His life was thirty summers on this earth and not likely to be longer. His own father had delivered him up to the Ila's men. "I see the city!" the woman cried to the rest. She was a wife, an honorable woman, among the last to join the march. "Can't you see it? See it rise up and up? We're at the end of this!" Her name was Norit, and she was soft-skinned and veiled herself against the sun, but she was as mad as the rest of them that walked in this shuffling chain. Like most of them, she had concealed her madness, hidden it successfully all her years, until the visions came thick and fast. Perhaps she had turned to priests, and priests had frightened her into admission. Perhaps guilt had slowly poisoned her spirit. Or perhaps the visions had become too strong and made concealment impossible. She had confessed in tears when the Ila's men came asking for the mad, and her husband had tried to kill her; but the Ila's men said no. She was from the village of Tarsa, at the edge of the Lakht in the west. Now increasingly the visions overwhelmed her, and she rocked and mourned her former life and poured out her story in her interludes of sanity. Over and over she told the story of her husband, who was the richest man in Tarsa, who had married her when she was thirteen. She wasted her strength crying, when the desert ate up all strength for grief and all water for tears. Her husband might have been relieved to cast her out. The old man next in line, crookbacked from old injury, had left an aged wife in Modi... Hammerfall . Copyright © by C. J. Cherryh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Hammerfall by C. J. Cherryh All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.