Supervolcano: Things Fall Apart
By Harry Turtledove
Published by Recorded Books
Read by Jim Frangione
Yeesh! Has Harry Turtledove forgotten how to push a plot? I’m not sure this series deserved to be labeled as science fiction. That might be what Mister Turtledove was aiming at, since mainstream fiction tends to be more lucrative than SF, but it was marketed as SF, possibly because it could be considered an alternative history even though it is happening in an alternative present in which the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park has erupted spectacularly. Regardless of who wrote it, the story is essentially a soap opera of a sort we have seen on television far too often in the last few decades. It doesn’t matter if the Moon explodes, a single city exists inside an isolated dome, or aliens land on Earth and start taking over, somehow life goes on in the most normal and mundane manner, even for the freedom fighters sneaking into (or out of) the secret base, assuming there is a secret base and the whole series is not just another failed attempt to grab an audience using a thin façade of science fiction to make it seem fresh.
The possible eruption of Yellowstone is both plausible and has been depicted in stories and the visual media several times before. However, experts on the subject tell us that while it is almost definite that Yellowstone has erupted explosively in the past and will again one day, there are no indications that it will happen anytime soon. It could easily be ten thousand years or more from now and while I suppose the situation might change at any time (after all, we have never actually seen a supervolcano eruption take place) they do not believe there is any evidence whatsoever that an eruption is in the process of building. There is also a lot of debate over how long the climatological effects of such a blast might last.
However, for the sake of the story, I can put the unlikelihood aside. After all, the point is that this is supposed to be a what-if story. This time the question is “What if the Yellowstone volcano were to erupt in a record caldera collapse?”
Well, as this third book of the series opens, all that happened nearly ten years earlier. In many ways, that is the only thing of major importance that has happened. The rest of the story follows Police Captain Colin Ferguson, his family and the people they interact with in the wake of this major natural disaster. Most of the family is in Southern California, which now has the climate of Seattle. It’s major change for residents of SoCal, but considering what is happening in the rest of the country, this is still a paradise. Why do the Californians whine about the weather, then? Probably because they have not been to Nebraska or Maine. However, Colin’s former son-in-law is teaching at Wayne State College in Nebraska and his son has decided, inexplicably, decided to settle down in the boonies of north-western Maine where he makes a sort of living singing with his band, sawing down trees and hunting the now dwindling supply of Moose.
So what happens in this book when “Things Fall Apart?” Nothing that deserves that title to be certain. We get a few sentences here and there describing how tough things are in Europe (not as bad as in the US and certainly not as frozen over as in Canada. Actually, I think I would have expected chilling relations with Canada (pun seriously unintentional) and might have expected the book to feature an invasion from the Great White North (eh?), but that is not what happens. There’s some fighting in Europe where Russia is attempting to reunite the old empire (much the same as it is doing now anyway), and Hawaii is doing everything it can to keep anyone from moving in (which property values do anyway), but that is about it.
Also power stations in Quebec shut down due to excessive cold, so the power grid east of the Mississippi shuts down with them. I’m not sure how realistic that is. Yes, the USA does import some power from Canada and also Canada does import some power from the USA and a sudden shut down would have consequences, but in the story the experts see it coming, so power rationing, already in progress in many places, as well as proper preparation for taking those contributors offline should have handled the shortages, but not in this story apparently. Still I would hardly call that “Things Fall Apart.” Indeed, there is very little new happening since the last book save that Colin gets shot near the end of the book and is forced to retire.
Meanwhile, his ex-wife who got herself pregnant two books ago may have finally found a good man. I expect that in the next book she’ll ruin that relationship good and proper and the least likable character in a series full of dislikable characters, Colin’s daughter, is shocked to discover that her boyfriend, a former Serbian terrorist had hacked her bank account and gone to Alabama with the money to open a restaurant… Does it really only take ten thousand dollars to open a restaurant? If so a lot has changed since I was in the coffee business, selling to restaurants. Well, I think he merely bought a share in a restaurant, but even so he must have had a lot of partners if all they each put in was a mere $10K.
Sadly, this is another book where I waited for something to really happen only to have a few small events near the abrupt end of what is a badly disjointed story. This is a series that literally began with a bang and has been whimpering along ever since.
The story was slow and depressing, but Jim Frangione’s reading of it was smooth and professional. He may, in fact, have been the only worthwhile part of this audiobook which is a shame. If you are a fan of Mister Frangione, I suggest seeking out another of his readings. With a really good book, I am sure he would make it a memorable and sparkling performance, but this drab material just does not suit anyone, no matter how well they read.
So, this is a book only fanatic Turtledove fans can appreciate, but Jim Frangione reads it exceptionally well.