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Not to be confused with the Samuel Beckett play Footfalls.
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Larry Niven &
Jerry Pournelle
Cover artist Michael Whelan
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Del Rey Books
Publication date
May 12, 1985
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 495 pages (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN 0-345-32347-5 (first edition, hardcover)
OCLC 11316829
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3564.I9 F6 1985

Footfall is a 1985 science fiction novel written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1986,[1] and was a No. 1 New York Times Bestseller.[2] The book depicts the arrival of members of an alien species called the Fithp that have traveled to our solar system from Alpha Centauri in a large spacecraft driven by a Bussard ramjet. Their intent is conquest of the planet Earth.


The alien Fithp resemble man-sized elephants with multiple prehensile trunks. They possess more advanced technology than humans, but have developed none of it on their own. In the distant past on their planet, another species was dominant. This predecessor species badly damaged the environment, rendering themselves and many other species extinct, but left behind their knowledge inscribed on large stone cubes, from which the Fithp have gained their technology. Facing possible extinction due to the long-term effects of biological weapons, a group of high-ranking Fithp were selected to escape to the stars. The Chtaptisk Fithp ('Traveling Herd') are divided between 'Sleepers' and 'Spaceborn', as the ship is both a generation ship and a sleeper ship. The original leaders are subordinate to the Spaceborn, who are prepared to start a space based civilization, but are still dedicated to the generations-old ideal of conquest.

The Fithp are herd creatures, and fight wars differently from humans. When two herds meet, they fight until it is evident which is dominant; fighting then ceases and the losers are incorporated into the winning herd. The Fithp are confused by human attempts at peaceful contact. Upon arrival, they attack the Russian space station (in the novel, the U.S.S.R. is still a major world superpower) where Russians and Americans wait to greet them. They proceed to destroy military sites and important infrastructure on Earth. United States Congressman Wes Dawson and several Russian cosmonauts are captured from the ruins of the space station.

The human characters fall into two major groups, those on Earth and those who are taken aboard the Fithp spaceship as captives. Civilians are used to show the effects of the war on day-to-day life in the United States, while military and government personnel convey a more strategic overview of events. Science fiction writers are employed as technical advisers on alien technology and behavior; the characters are based on real writers, including Niven ("Nat Reynolds"), Pournelle ("Wade Curtis"), and Robert Anson Heinlein ("Bob Anson").

After their initial assault, the Fithp land ground forces in the center of North America, primarily in and around Kansas. They initially repel attacks with orbital lasers and kinetic energy weapons, but a combined Russian and American nuclear attack wipes out their beachhead. The Fithp, who are familiar with nuclear weapons but prefer to use cleaner ones, are shocked by what they consider the barbarity of humans' willingness to "foul their own garden" with radioactivity. The Fithp respond to the defeat of their invasion by dropping a large asteroid whose impact results in environmental damage on a global scale, in particular the almost total destruction of India.

The United States secretly builds a large, heavily armed spacecraft propelled by nuclear bombs (a real concept known as Project Orion). The ship is named after the Biblical Archangel Michael, who cast Lucifer out of Heaven. The Michael launches and battles through small enemy "digit" ships in orbit. Though seriously damaged, she pursues the alien mothership. One of the space shuttles carried aboard Michael rams the Fithp ship, seriously damaging it.

On Earth, American President David Coffey receives an offer of conditional surrender from the Fithp. Coffey is willing to let the Fithp withdraw into space, and is reluctant to destroy their technology and cargo of females and children. He is opposed by his advisors, who feel that by allowing the Fithp to escape and regroup, he risks the whole of humanity. When Coffey seemingly folds under the pressure, National Security Adviser Admiral Carrell stages a bloodless coup d'etat, circumventing the President and communicating the rejection of the aliens' terms. An act of sabotage by the humans aboard the alien vessel disables the Fithp engines, allowing the Michael to inflict heavy damage, which forces the Fithp to accept humanity as the stronger species and surrender themselves to become part of the human "herd". In the final scene, the Fithp leader lies down on his back in a submissive gesture, and allows former captive Congressman Wes Dawson to place his foot on his chest, this being the formal Fithp gesture of surrender.

Footfall timeline[edit]

  • ~1915 – The Chtaptisk Fithp ("Traveler Herd") leave Alpha Centauri for Earth on their spacecraft, the Thuktun Flishithy ("Message Bearer").
  • ~1919 – The sleepers go into their death-sleep.
  • September, 1976Thuktun Flishithy swings around the Sun, maneuvering towards Saturn.
  • November, 1976Thuktun Flishithy reaches Saturn.
  • June, 1980Thuktun Flishithy has been resupplied.
  • June, 1981 – The Fithp have established themselves on the Foot, an asteroid colony.
  • April, 1995 – The Thuktun Flishithy begins its journey towards the Earth.
  • May, 1995 – Human astronomers in Hawaii realize that there is an alien ship on a trajectory towards the Earth.
  • June, 1995 – The initial attack of the Fithp. Kinetic weapons wreak havoc on the Earth, satellites are shot down, the Soviet space station Kosmograd is destroyed, its passengers captured.
  • July, 1995 – The Fithp launch an invasion of Kansas. Shortly thereafter the Jayhawk Wars begin, a conventional attack against Fithp forces which is rapidly destroyed using space support. About two weeks later, the Americans and Soviets cooperate in a combined nuclear retaliation that defeats the Fithp forces and wrecks much of Kansas in the process.
  • August, 1995 – Footfall. The Fithp drop the Foot into the Indian Ocean; tsunamis devastate surrounding landmasses, while the entire globe is enveloped in an endless salty rainstorm. India is practically destroyed, while the Fithp successfully invade much of Africa.
  • July, 1996 – The flight of the Michael; ends with the formal surrender of the Chtaptisk Fithp to US Congressman Wes Dawson.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1986 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  2. ^ Book Review Desk (May 18, 1986). "Paperback Best Sellers". New York Times. pp. Section 7, Page 42, Column 2. 

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