C. J. Cherryh
Somewhat disorienting and flat worldbuilding, wrapped in a decent and intriguingly twisty plot. The weakness of the setting was a major issue for me, though, partly because of where I thought the book would be entering onto, particularly because of some pivotal background stuff that isn’t very well situated. For instance we have the future human barbarians on an alien planet ruled by a technological immortal, with how that got established not being really explained. We also have other humans making contact with the world in an even more shadowy way, along with aliens that want to depopulate the planet but show a kind of strangely hesitant timeline in doing such. Given Cherryh’s usual dexterity in crafting complex, plausible future, this made the book rather underwhelming.
The book does have strong elements, however. While I wasn’t overly fond of the protagonist or main supporting cast--largely because, linked to the above, they seemed rather stock--but the things they do in the course of the novel are interesting. The protagonist sets off to destroy the immortal dictator Ila andliberate his people, but soon feels compelled to be her direct servant to work against a larger doom threatened against the planet. Given this isn’t stock epic fantasy they don’t succeed, and indeed it’s shown that the threat (aliens sling rocks on the planet, everyone dies--the titular Hammerfall) was never something that could be opposed. Rather the characters work to understand the danger and then preserve what little they can against the impending apocalypse. It makes for a fairly well laid out structure, and some strong creepy moments of high technology intruding on the lives of people with no context to understand it. In this vein appears both the planetary bombardment and a point where a nanotech-backed personality seizes control of an indigenous human. While there’s drama here and much that works precisely because of the juxtaposition of elements, the core of the invented future is a rather weak element in the book. Cherryh has certainly done a lot better.
Better than: Matter by Iain M. Banks
Worse than: Incandesence by Greg Egan