By Harry Turtledove
Unabridged edition published by Recorded Books
Read by Jim Frangione
I nearly turned this one off two minutes in and deleted it from my mpeg player. It starts out with far more gratuitous “F-bombs” than any non-pornographic novel has any right to contain and still be called good writing. If I was going to have to deal with Harry Turtledove’s answer to J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy then I wanted no part of it. The writer in me wanted to throw the mpeg player out the car window, but the more rational part of me stifled that urge and I continued to give it a fair shot. After the initial scene, however, the profanity peters off most of the time and while it remains gratuitous when it does appear, it is not used as the glue that holds the story together.
I admit I used the “F-word” in one or two of my earlier stories too, but since then I have decided that swearing is rarely necessary in a work of fiction, even if the people might normally swear every other word. Many authors have found ways around treating unpleasant language as though applied from a pepper shaker all over the page, and I have endeavored to do likewise. Perhaps that’s just me and some readers prefer the profanity, but I find that rather than enhance, it gets in the way of a good story.
Fortunately, the F-explosions are only foreshocks of what is to come and after that opening scene, the story slides back into Mister Turtledove’s usual style. That usual style is to use a host of characters and their points of view to tell a story and thereby give a broader view of the situation than following a single protagonist might. I do not really appreciate that mechanism because it tends to have you bouncing back and forth from one place to another so that just as you are getting used to following one character, you have to mentally shift gears to follow another, remembering what that one was doing fifty to one hundred pages earlier.
In this case, all the main characters know each other starting with Police Lieutenant Colin Ferguson, his ex-wife and children, along with his new girlfriend and his daughter’s ex. If this were the first time I had seen this story-telling technique used, I might have found it interesting, but it really has been over-used in the last two decades or so. Still, I admit there are those who like it, so perhaps I am in the minority? Could be.
It should not be surprising given the name, that the main event of the story is the eruption of the supervolcano beneath what is now Yellowstone National Park. Mister Turtledove develops the story well, but I found it rather disingenuous that almost nobody in the story has ever even heard the term “Supervolcano.” The implication is that you either need to be a geologist (or in Ferguson’s case, dating a geologist) to have any notion there might be something beneath Yellowstone besides hot water. After several documentaries, movies and miniseries over the last decade, it is hard to believe that only a geologist might have heard the term as is the case in this book. I suppose one could argue that the Fergusons are only a few people so it is not unusual for them to have missed all the hype, but then one or two secondary characters should have been saying something like, “You mean like that show I saw on TV last month?”
Otherwise, the story flows well, but it turns out this is the first book of a four volume series, so the story does not really go anywhere by the end of the first book. The big bang has happened and the nation is just starting to suffer for it. Stay tuned for further developments.
Jim Frangione’s reading of this book is smooth and easy to listen to, but it also fails to stand out as exceptional. That is both good and bad, of course, it is certainly not exceptionally bad, but I did not feel there were any real high points to his reading either. Still, I must give him the credit he is due and report that the story is in no way marred by his reading nor does he seem to attempt to force his own interpretations on to the story. So it is a good solid reading, just not something that I would want to tell someone “Hey! Want to hear a really good reader?”
On the other hand, I also would not try to avoid other books he has read. And frankly I’d have to admit he’s a lot better at it than I would be.
So, if you like other stories by Harry Turtledove, I suspect you will like this one too and if you want to listen to it as an audiobook, well, they certainly could have chosen a worse reader. Mister Frangione puts in a good performance, just not an excellent one.