Ever read a novel that you had high hopes for and were summarily let down when you realized that the events of the book does not seem to affect the characters within?
I had this feeling about midway through Harry Turtledove’s latest offering, Supervolcano: Eruption. The story begins with police detective Colin Ferguson waking up from a hangover near Yosemite National Park. Ferguson’s wife had just left him and he decided to simply drive somewhere to be away from it all (i.e., Southern California) before he stopped at Yosemite. While there, he meets an attractive scientist named Kelly Birnbaum who is studying the increased earthquakes and “dome activity” (lava pushing through the Earth’s crust) of the park. They get to talking, exchange numbers and promise to meet up again.
Meanwhile, Ferguson’s oldest son is traveling with his band across the U.S. Life is good for the struggling musician, and the band seems to be doing well enough for what they want to do. Ferguson’s youngest son is in college still, and his daughter is in the process of moving from to L.A. area to Denver to follow her older lover. His ex-wife currently lives with her younger boyfriend/yoga instructor.
Character view points established, Turtledove then erupts the biggest active volcano in the world. And…
…nothing happens. A shock wave, refugees moving out to Kansas and beyond, some ash falling. Mostly all these characters seem to be struggling with is their cars and such. I literally pulled a Ned Stark and muttered “Winter is coming” as I was reading this. Minor characters get some screen time, surviving a plane crash (water landing with nobody hurt) and getting back to Los Angeles. Most of the story seems to revolve around the Ferguson family, who are separated and scattered across the US, doing absolutely nothing and carrying on as if nothing really happened.
I’m sorry, but what part of “volcano big enough to cause shock wave to stretch across the US” did we not grasp here? For the book being called “Supervolcano”, I’ve seen more reasonable (and feasible) society reaction on made-for-TV movies about the same thing. The title is misleading, but it is not the only part. No, that is just the beginning. The promo blurb, for example, must have been written when the author sold the rights to the trilogy (and it’s going to be a trilogy, just wait and see) because nowhere in the book is Ferguson “racing against time” to reunite his family. No, Ferguson is too busy marrying his scientist and chasing a serial killer (who it is becomes painfully obvious midway through the book… and the killer isn’t identified by the author in this book) instead of trying to get his daughter and eldest son home. His daughter is in a refugee camp somewhere in Kansas (or Oklahoma, not sure), which, if Yellowstone erupted, would be no safer than Colorado. Why refugee camps aren’t set up in New Mexico (outside of the wind stream effect that would carry all the soot and corrosive ash that kills people) are beyond me. Not my book. His eldest son is currently in Maine, preparing for one hell of a winter without fuel or much food with his band at a very strange hotel. But there’s not so much going on except for the possibility of the feeling of impending doom. In no way is there any looting, Army/National Guard involvement seems to be nil, and somehow Ferguson’s daughter manages to smuggle a loaded revolver into a refugee camp. They took security more seriously on Hogan’s Heroes than these troops seem to.
Seriously. Nothing feels urgent despite the fact that the last major volcanic eruption of this magnitude bottle-necked the human population. Look up the Toba theory.
Part of Turtledove’s style in previous books is to let the characters drive the story. Unfortunately for this one, because such a huge premise is the entire basis for the plot, it needed more than characters going about their every day lives while dealing with subtle aftereffects of a massive volcanic eruption. It needed drama, action, passion. Hell, it needed more Bruce Willis and less of people sitting around waiting for their Lord Darcy to magically appear.
I wouldn’t recommend this book. It’s not very good and, in the end, it leaves the reader unfulfilled and wondering why they plunked down that much money for so little.
–Reviewed by Jason