Supervolcano: All Fall Down Hardcover – 4 Dec 2012
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"Turtledove is a master of operating on a grand scale, using interconnected stories of individuals to tell a much larger tale....He treats this massive disaster in a realistic fashion, creating a world that tries to limp along in the aftermath of the greatest blow nature has ever struck against modern man."--"The Maine Edge"
"A classic Turtledove view of the world through the eyes of the little people story....I am looking forward to seeing how the Fergusons survive the coming action.""--"SFRevu --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
About the Author
Harry Turtledove--the "New York Times "bestselling author of numerous alternate history novels, including "The Guns of the South," "How Few Remain," and the Worldwar quartet--has a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. Nominated numerous times for the Nebula Award, he has won the Hugo, Sidewise, and John Esthen Cook Awards. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
There were a few twists which maintained my interest, but revealing them would be a spoiler.
Vanessa, Colin's daughter buys a used Toyota to get home to California and manages to have it's tank filled for about $100.
That works out to some $10 or $12 per gallon in devalued currency, which I would not consider prohibitively expensive.
L.A is suffering brownouts and gasoline shortages, but given Alaskan and California's own oil production and the fact that most of the West Coast's electricity is from H.E.P and nuclear I feel that improbable. Gas, oil and coal would still be available from Canada. The following book suggests greater disruption-we shall see.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I found myself flipping through the pages, skipping entire scenes, because this just couldn't grab me. It really felt like a poorly written soap opera that happened to have a 'disaster' setting - except that the setting wasn't the only thing that was a disaster.
A perfect example is the dichotomy in government. Apparently somewhere there's a U.S. government struggling to get along, and California still apparently has a functioning state government of some kind. So when you have a load of oil coming in, it's going to a couple of town police forces - and the LAPD is going to attempt to hijack it, so the other police forces come out with greater firepower. So where exactly was the California National Guard? Or for that matter, the U.S. Military?
If it's perfectly okay for them to act in this manner, why exactly do you have another of the characters out scavenging in parts of the disaster area, with government troops ready to take out civilians who simply want to protect what they've acquired? And while she's not willing to suck up her pride and call home for help (amazing how cell phone towers are still up and working), she's willing to suck ... other things.
In my review of the first novel, I briefly touched upon some of the geological issues that were missed or ignored. How about some of the human ones? Do you live in the Dakotas? Kansas, Nebraska, any of the four corners states? Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, northern Texas? Those are all areas that have in the past been covered by significant ashfall from PREVIOUS real-world Yellowstone supervolcanic eruptions. As in, holy crap, the ground is covered, ALL of the crops in those states are now dead, and if you can't get out, you will be as well. 75 million people in this country alone - and oh, yeah - think about if Maine is covered in snow, how deep will it be in Britain? When Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, the ash cloud affected most of northern Europe and Asia - throw 200 cubic miles (!) of ash from Yellowstone into the atmosphere and bad things happen around the world.
So all of these people are going to have to evacuate - somewhere. And be fed - somehow. This literally would be a post-apocalyptic world - can you imagine the chaos in cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, or Detroit if the food trucks don't roll in like they do every day now? Yet this completely dysfunctional family is wandering around like, oh, this bad thing happened suddenly and there's really no other aftereffects nationally or globally.
I could go on but ... no point, really. Based upon the quality of the other books he's written, this entire series should simply be shelved or thrown into the back corner. It's poor soap opera at best, and the science truly is fictional here. The only thing that has fallen down is the standing of the author with me. (And I'm a reader - I have most of his novels and works, and normally I love what he writes. I liked 'The Man with the Iron Heart' immensely. I have no idea what happened with this series.)
This story picks up right where part one left off. Colin Ferguson and his family are dealing with the literal and metaphorical fallout of a volcanic eruption that killed about 2 to 3 million people, ejected something like 600 cubic miles of debris into the air and buried a huge part of America's agricultural belt under several feet of ash. It's a global crisis presented on a local scale and that's really just part of the problem.
See, at no point do I get a real sense of desperation. Life is basically going on as normal for almost everyone in the book. Ferguson is being a cop and tracking down a serial killer (whose identity I got almost correct), his new wide wants to have a baby, his ex-wife is raising a new baby, their youngest son is helping when he isn't acting like a jerk, their older son is stuck in rural Maine dealing with ten months of winter a year, and their daughter is stuck at a refugee camp where she does unpleasant things to make her life slightly better.
Now you'd think that, for example, the son in Maine would be living in desperate times indeed. This does not appear to be the case. We follow him through his second and third winter there (because he's decided not to leave, even though he could at almost any point), and he makes mention, from time to time, about how the moose herds and second-growth forest are thinning out. But despite that, no one seems to be starving or freezing yet. It's a specter that might come later, but isn't here at this point. This removes some of the tension.
There's a similar problem with the daughter at the camp. She could, at any point, leave. All she needs to do is contact her father and have him send her money so that she can go home. But, no, her pride won't let her do that. Ok, I suppose I can kind of understand that, but apparently her pride doesn't stop her from performing certain services for various men in order to make her own way along in the world. That the only men she ever meets are apparently the sort who would abuse their power in this way is a given, though I'm not clear why, since I think most men are better than that.
Mind you, the problems these two characters face are real, but they aren't that big, and they can escape from them whenever they chose and go back to Southern California where the rest of the family are. Things aren't perfect there, with gas shortages and frequent brown-outs, but they're not that bad. People ride bikes in weather that now resembles Seattle, but that's really it for the problems they have to deal with. We're told, however, that more problems are on the horizon.
That's the real problem with this book. We never actually see any really, major, huge problems. Life is basically just going on like normal, and we're told all the time that problems will be coming along down the line, but they never do, or if they do, they don't in such a way as to cause real disruptions for the main characters.
It's worth noting that this book suffers from some other problems, too. First off, Turtledove's strength as an author has always centered on him being able to come up with interesting worlds and/or interesting stories and go from there. His strength has never been in his characters. Here has what is basically the real world with a lot more ash, and the result is that his characters problems show through big time. Vanessa and Marshall are characters we spend a lot of time with, and neither are particularly interesting and are also not very likeable. Everyone else are basically just archetypes in search of characterization, and none of them are especially compelling.
Second, Turtledove continues his habit of telling us the same thing over and over again. This was excusable when there'd be a year between books and he'd remind us, once, of something he told us in the previous one. That's awkward when you read them one right after another, but not a problem when there's a break. Here, however, we're given certain bits of information repeatedly, throughout the same book, often using the same phrases. That's annoying, distracting and unnecessary.
The third minor problem is minor indeed, and that's that Turtledove's personal politics seem to be showing. It's implied that this happens around our current time, and that would imply in turn that the president and vice-president are the current ones. The former we hear nothing from and the latter is presented as rather feckless and foolish. We also hear almost every single character complain at least once about how the government isn't doing anything to help them, which gets annoying, and the only politician we actually see is a noble, hard-working New England Republican. Turtledove also takes every chance to bash on the media, including presenting a CNN reporter as being a vapid idiot. Now I watch CNN daily, and while I have many complaints about the way they cover the news, I don't ever feel that the various reporters are morons.
I didn't hate this book. I just felt that not enough happened. We basically end with everyone in slightly different places geographically and the world turning along like it was at the end of the last book. Nothing major happened. Nothing major changed. The volcano is an annoyance, but little more. I sincerely hope that the next book in the series changes all those things, but right now, I'm not hopeful.
One flaw in the plotting is that the climax (such as it is-- this series is obviously intended to continue) is based on a plotline that has nothing directly to do with the volcano and could have come out of a standard mystery/police procedural novel. Another problem is that though we get occasional comments by the characters about how the Federal government in Washington, DC is failing to cope with the crisis, we get little idea of what is really happening in Washington and what government leaders are doing and thinking. Perhaps placing one viewpoint character in Washington would have helped. (Another of Turtledove's currently ongoing series, "The War That Came Early," has a similar problem. It's somewhat hard to follow the progress of his alternate World War II starting in 1938, because the story is strictly a "grunt's eye view," with little indication of what high leaders such as Hitler or Roosevelt are doing.)
The story is focuses on the family of Colin Ferguson, a cop in an LA suburb. The various experiences of Colin, his ex-wife, his current wife, his two sons, daughter and her former boyfriend all provide slightly different points of view about the event - standard disaster epic fare. And therein lies part of the problem. This is a great premise, one that could well become a truly memorable story but unfortunately it is instead only a very typical disaster epic of the made for TV quality.
Turtledove has not taken his usual pains with this novel, the scientific research on this one is slipshod at best, resulting in some frustrating holes in the plot. For example, we are told that the ash cloud had obliterated much of the crop lands but it was not made clear just how far the devastation went. We are told that there food shortages (understandably enough) but then it seems as though masses of healthy people are trapped in refuge camps or unable to find work when food is in such short supply. No one is moving excess unused labor to areas were crops could be grown? Much is made about how much cooler and wetter the climate is, and how much crop land is taken out of production but nothing is said about the changes in the areas that had been too hot and/or too dry to be arable before. Food shortages are occurring and are predicted to continue and worsen in the foreseeable future but no one is planting crops in these newly available areas? The government is keeping people trapped in camps that necessitate moving food and supplies in to them rather than moving people out to areas where they could work or at least be closer to food supplies? Electricity is supposedly sporadic but internet providers and cell phone services continue? Credit cards are continuing to be honored but one character lost all her assets because her bank failed, so banking continues but FDIC insurance doesn't?
We are also told the same bits of information repeatedly, many times by different characters and concerning things that are really not very important. The story seems to have been padded, drawn out to fill up space. It is too bad because there is an excellent story to be told here, one that could easily fill out multiple volumes if the research had been done and the story focus had remained on the eruption and the aftermath rather than wasting pages on changing diapers. As it is if both volumes of this series had been combined into one at four hundred pages or less it would have been a better story.
It is an interesting read for the premise alone. The characters have their merits, and could possibly have something interesting to say. It is too bad that there was not enough background work done to let them do it.
Other reviewers have already mentioned the involuntary gearing down of the US. What I found lacking was more mention of how other countries were faring. Perhaps this is unfair to Turtledove as he has his hands full just covering the American experience. Yet I hark back to his seminal World War series In the Balance: An Alternate History of the Second World War (Worldwar, Volume 1), where he indeed did just that.
Alas the current series does plod at times. Actually at most times. But the science behind this is solid and the extrapolations made do unfold quite logically. So the book is not gripping. Still a worthy read. But I did find that the interactions between the characters, especially in the main family, shows some effort went into it. The travails of the stranded indie rock band in Maine were amusing. Yet the question raised by other reviewers remains: Why did these blokes and the daughter who stayed in the work camp in the midwest not hoff it right back to Los Angeles during the summer? While travel was much harder than pre-eruption, the book does not seem to mention any outright blockages that would have prevented this.