Supervolcano: All Fall Down
By Harry Turtledove
Published by Recorded Books
Read by Jim Frangione
I decided to listen to this one with no small amount of hesitation. I was not entirely entranced with the first book of Turtledove’s Supervolcano Series: Eruption. I had hoped that Mister Turtledove’s take on what is really a rather worn out concept, a super-eruption of the Yellowstone volcano, would be something more than a soap opera. Worse, it was an amazingly bland soap opera that literally started with a bang and just whimpered on throughout the rest of the volume.
I like quite a few of Mister Turtledove’s earlier works. One of my favorite stories was his The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump. Then he stopped telling single novel-length stories and, instead, started weaving broad tapestries concerning a dozen or more different individuals whose paths might or might not cross of the course of a long series. I suppose it can be a powerful way to show the many aspects of a grand event and tell a far larger story than one can by merely following a single main character. The weakness of the method, however, is that you never get to spend very much time with one character when suddenly it is time to hop off to visit another and if there are too many characters it can frequently be over one hundred pages before you get back to the first one.
However, Mister Turtledove has mastered that technique and most of the time he produces a massively exciting story that spans whole countries or even worlds. This time, however, it did not work out quite so well. In Eruption, we meet Colin Fergusson, a cop from a small city near Los Angeles. When Yellowstone blows up, we follow not only Fergusson, but his fiancée, a geologist who had been at Yellowstone, researching and got out with only moments to spare. We also follow his three children, none of whom seem to have a talent for making the right life choices, his ex-wife who is even worse than their children, his daughter’s ex who, aside from still being in love with his ex, might actually be the most intelligent of the lot and probably a few who have slipped my mind.
By the time All Fall Down begins; Colin is still a cop, his fiancée is still a geologist, his rocker son is stuck in Maine, his other son, the perennial student looks like he might just have to graduate, but there is hope, because by accident he managed to sell a short story, his ex-wife is still working for a Japanese ramen factory and his daughter is still stuck selling her body for only marginal living conditions in a refugee camp… delightful.
I got though over 80 percent of the story before anything happened at all and when it did you could sum up what happened to each character in a single short sentence each… Well Fergusson and his new wife can be summed up in a single sentence for the two of them; they get married. Similar short sentences can be used for all the characters. There are a few times the word “and” might connect something else that happened, but by and large the whole book can be summarized in a single paragraph. That is a heck of a lot of verbiage for a story that barely ever goes anywhere.
I can only hope that the third part of this story will be a bit more interesting, but I am in no hurry to get to it.
The story might be going nowhere at an embarrassingly slow clip, but Jim Frangione read it very well. Mister Frangione’s reading, in fact may have been the one big redeeming feature of this whole publication. He reads this whole slogging story in a lively and interesting manner, so while the story is a real snooze, Mister Frangione kept me listening and if I do actually go back for book three it will be because he read it, not because Mister Turtledove wrote it.
This book has all the worst features of a middle novel in a trilogy. Nothing really happens and it has nothing to say that wasn’t already said in the first book. I would go so far as to guess you could probably skip past this one and got directly to Things Fall Apart and you might not even notice you missed a whole volume. However, while the story is lacking, Jim Frangione’s reading is not. So if you have a copy of this and are wondering if it is worth a listen, I say that it is, but don’t waste your time actually reading it.