by Harry Turtledove, 420 pages
I am something of a geology and natural disaster buff, so when I saw this title by Turtledove it caught my interest. The premise is based on geological facts: Yellowstone Park sits in the vast caldera of a supervolcano. That's why it has the largest collection of geysers and hot springs in the world. It has a pattern of erupting every 640,000 years or so, and some geologists think it's overdue. When it does erupt, it covers a good portion of the country in heavy layers of ash. Surrounding states would be toast, and the whole world would feel the effects of massive amounts of ash in the atmosphere. It could trigger an ice age.
The book opens with Colin Ferguson, a jaded, recently divorced L.A. cop, visiting Yellowstone. A sizable earthquake jolts the shore of Yellowstone Lake, and he strikes up a conversation with a visiting geologist from northern California. She's something of an expert on the geology of the park, and they are soon exchanging emails. There are increasing warnings that Yellowstone has just been clearing its throat and an eruption is imminent.
But then the author steps back and introduces us to Colin's dysfunctional family,: his ex-wife, his daughter and two sons. Much of the book is devoted to the family and how they cope with the effects of the eruption. Turtledove places some of his characters in more jeopardy than others. Daughter Vanessa flees Denver, which is being smothered with ash. Son Rob is with his band in New England, where an early winter soon falls. The weather in L.A. changes a bit, and there are shortages of goods as transport lines are cut. Food and fuel become sought after commodities.
Then the book just ends. What? Obviously this is a set-up for a trilogy, a scenario in which large parts of the U.S. are uninhabitable. I am assuming we will continue to follow the travails of the Ferguson family and friends in the next book. However, with a few exceptions, many of the characters are either unlikeable, or quite stupid. Would you travel to the wilds of northern Maine after the supervolcano erupts, knowing that the country will soon plunge into the deep freeze? Even if you didn't know it, the major news channels would be warning you 24/7 about the danger.
The best parts of the book deal with the lead-up to the eruption, especially when the geologists find themselves looking down the throat of an angry supervolcano about to blow. There is another gripping scene when a pilot struggles to keep his jet in the air after the volcano erupts. We needed more scenes like that and less about the characters' self-generated problems. Yet I will probably pick up the next book just to find out what happens next. In the meantime, I can go watch John Cusack's struggle to keep his family alive when he faces the Yellowstone supervolcano eruption himself. With a crazed Woody Harrelson as a bonus.