The few Turtledove books that I’ve read up to this point were all concerned with alternate history. As a result, I was pretty interested to see how he’d extrapolate the effects of an event that could happen in the present world: the Yellowstone supervolcano erupting. While he brings up some interesting scenarios, his overall narrative lacks punch.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“A supervolcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park sends lava and mud flowing toward populated areas, and clouds of ash drifting across the country. The fallout destroys crops and livestock, clogs machinery, and makes cities uninhabitable. Those who survive find themselves caught in an apocalyptic catastrophe in which humanity has no choice but to rise from the ashes and recreate the world…”
I’ll admit up front that I wasn’t all that impressed with this novel. I think a lot of the problems that I had were due to poor pacing. There is a long lead-up to the actual eruption—although those pages contain some fascinating information on volcanic activity—and once it erupts, there are relatively few pages that deal with the event. I almost feel like the author didn’t want to take the risk of trying to describe an event that is so difficult to visualize, and so he avoided the issue.
After the eruption, rather than dealing up close with the effects of four states being effectively wiped off the map, he chooses to mostly focus on areas that are far removed from the blast zone and therefore are not as heavily affected. The one character closest to the eruption evacuates almost immediately, and even when she ends up in a refugee shelter, she does little there but sit around. Most of the characters barely seem affected by this event, which should have had major impacts on our economy and way of life, regardless of where we live.
It’s possible that Turtledove is extrapolating a realistic scenario of what would happen in the event that the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts. It’s entirely plausible that most people not in the immediate area wouldn’t see any changes in our lives for several months. However, that does not make for good, compelling fiction. This novel follows a Los Angeles cop who is (in an odd, random side plot) tracking a serial killer, and his life is constricted by gas prices rising to six dollars a gallon and the newspapers going online-only due to a paper shortage. Others endure the horrors of intermittent electricity or having to give up a favorite food. Aside from one character, no one really goes through any privation or turmoil.
I found the characters to be strangely one dimensional as well. We have the Cop, the Scientist, the Stoner, the Bitch, the Cynic, and several others. In a disaster of this magnitude, if you’re not going to focus on the actual disaster, it’s the human interest stories that should keep the reader engaged, and frankly, most of these characters just aren’t people that I care much about. It’s especially hard to care about them when none of them are in any real danger. A couple of instances of peril end up coming out perfectly fine, robbing the reader of even those tiny moments of drama.
In the afterword, Turtledove says that he hopes this novel will become a summer blockbuster. If it does, I wouldn’t go to see it. There’s just not enough action and drama to hold a theater audience, much less a readership. There are two more books to come, so perhaps this is merely the build-up to bigger and better things, but the execution could have been much better. Supervolcano: Eruption has some good point, but in general it fails to excite.
Also by this author: Gunpowder Empire
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on December 15, 2011.
Page Count: 417
Publication Date: December 6, 2011
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-galley through NetGalley
Read an excerpt