Review: Supervolcano Trilogy, by Harry Turtledove-Read Up, Gals

Time for a book review! (And the title of the post will make sense…)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review of the first book in Harry Turtledove’s near-future Supervolcano disaster trilogy. Since I have now finished all three books, I wanted to revisit it briefly.

ABOUT SUPERVOLCANO-ERUPTION (#1): A supervolcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park sends lava and mud flowing toward populated areas, and clouds of ash drifting across the country. The fallout destroys crops and livestock, clogs machinery, and makes cities uninhabitable. Those who survive find themselves caught in an apocalyptic catastrophe in which humanity has no choice but to rise from the ashes and recreate the world…

ABOUT SUPERVOLCANO-ALL FALL DOWN (#2): In the aftermath of the supervolcano’s eruption in Yellowstone Park, North America is covered in ash. Farmlands cannot produce food. Machinery has been rendered useless. Cities are no longer habitable. And the climate across the globe grows colder every day….Former police officer Colin Ferguson’s family is spread across the United States, separated by the catastrophe, and struggling to survive as the nation attempts to recover and reestablish some measure of civilization…

ABOUT SUPERVOLCANO-THINGS FALL APART (#3): An explosion of incalculable magnitude in Yellowstone Park propelled lava and ash across the landscape and into the atmosphere, forever altering the climate of the entire continent. Nothing grows from the tainted soil. Stalled and stilled machines function only as statuary. …People have been scraping by on the excess food and goods produced before the eruption. But supplies are running low. Natural resources are dwindling. And former police officer Colin Ferguson knows that time is running out for his family—and for humanity…

WHAT I LIKED: I admitted last time to being a disaster-film junkie, and these books have that sort of vibe. They follow the story of police lieutenant Colin Ferguson, who lives in an L.A. suburb going to seed, and his grown kids and ex-wife and new family and extended family. Like classic disaster films, there are domestic and dramatic events going on in the characters’ lives that play out against the eruption of the supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park that has rendered a big swath of the country uninhabitable.

In our current political and military climate, it’s easy to substitute “nuclear strike” for “supervolcano” as the people on the fringes of the disaster cope with the ongoing fallout. While the first book dealt with the immediate impact of the supervolcano eruption, the second and third books do a great job of weaving in the ongoing impact. With the U.S. focused on its own survival, the Middle East and Russia don’t play nice with their enemies. The American “bread basket” is a wasteland, so in the second book the country lives off its stores—until, in book three, those stores run out. The climate changes wrought by the supervolcano kill the Gulf Stream, which puts Northern and Western Europe into a deep freeze along with much of the U.S. (Canada? Yikes.)

Having gone through Hurricane Katrina, I felt the impacts as described were believable and not overwrought. Back in 2005, it was shocking to me how quickly things fell apart until I saw mountains of trash grow to the size of a three-story building because I lived in a city that no longer had such niceties as trash pickup…or potable water…or mail service. Only instead of a Katrina, where one city was driven to chaos instantaneously, this trilogy shows a slow trickle of chaos that, by the end of book three, still isn’t at its nadir, ten years after the supervolcano. Which leads to…

WHAT I LIKED LESS: The trilogy feels unfinished in some ways. All the story lines are wrapped up so none of the characters are left hanging….except in the sense that humankind, especially the U.S., is left hanging. I can’t slam the trilogy too much for that, however, because it’s hard to know exactly when, or if, conditions might tilt back in favor of survival. There’s no recorded precedent of an event this size. The characters do prove admirably adaptable, though. And perhaps the title, taken from WB Yeats’ The Apocalypse, tells us what we need to know.

And, okay, I’ll admit this is kind of personal, but the books contain a word that drives me apeshit: gal. As in: He didn’t know a gal who’d dress that way voluntarily. Or Those gals sure were having fun. I mean, seriously? Who the heck uses the word gal anymore (particularly if one cares if one’s readers might include women)? I find the term dismissive and offensive. I don’t know why. I should confess here that I also find “female” offensive in many cases…and “ladies.” (Don’t even get me started on “ladies.”)

At first I thought it was only the middle-age protagonist of the story using the word, and I gave him that—it’s an older guy kind of word. Then his ex-wife used it. Then his college-aged son used it and a college professor…and I was lost. I began highlighting the word whenever it appeared. It appeared quite frequently.

Buffalo gals, won’t you come out tonight? NO!

CONCLUSION: I stick with my original opinion of the first book and apply it to the series: this is kind of a throw-back series for me, but is a fast, fun read…it’s like disaster crack. I’d give the overall series 3.75 gators. It would have gotten a 4 if so many GALS hadn’t appeared.

So….does “gal” annoy anyone else, or am I just weird?

Review: Supervolcano: Eruption, by Harry Turtledove

Review: Supervolcano: Eruption, by Harry Turtledove

First, a quick note that there’s a new review up for ILLUMINATION scheduled today at Butterfly-o-Meter Books. Check it out if you get a chance, and enter to win the tour giveaways!

Now…time for a book review of my own!

I bought a copy of ERUPTION, the first book in Harry Turtledove’s Supervolcano trilogy, several years ago and although it survived The Great Purge, when I donated the bulk of my print TBR mountain to a book event, I had never gotten around to reading it. Then a news flash last month reminded me of it. In June, geologists confirmed that more than 450 earthquakes of a smallish nature had hit the notorious “supervolcano” that lies below Yellowstone National Park in a span of a couple of weeks. If and when that volcano blows again, it will cause devastation on a global scale—possibly a winter as long as that on Game of Thrones.

Anyway, that reminded me of this book and being a longtime disaster-movie junkie (seriously, I have seen them ALL), I thought I’d give ERUPTION a shot. Harry Turtledove is the master of alternative history, which I don’t have a lot of interest in, but this promised to be more apocalyptic than military what-ifs.

ABOUT SUPERVOLCANO-ERUPTION: A supervolcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park sends lava and mud flowing toward populated areas, and clouds of ash drifting across the country. The fallout destroys crops and livestock, clogs machinery, and makes cities uninhabitable. Those who survive find themselves caught in an apocalyptic catastrophe in which humanity has no choice but to rise from the ashes and recreate the world…


WHAT I LIKED: Well, as a disaster-film junkie, I like that it follows “the formula.” The micro plots and subplots revolve around a police lieutenant from Southern California, his ex-wife, new lover, grown kids, and a serial killer. Playing behind all the micro drama is the Big One—the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Conveniently, the characters are spread out, with the new girlfriend being a geologist and Lt. Colin Ferguson’s grown kids scattered around the country. So we get to see the immediate fallout in Denver (about as close to Ground Zero as one could be and survive…for a little while), in Maine, on the eastern side of the Midwest, and California. Turtledove manages to keep the language spare but friendly—no overwrought descriptions, but plenty of food for thought. He referenced Hurricane Katrina a few times (which I’ll admit did sour me on disaster flicks for a few years), so I appreciated his realistic approach to even such small details as evacuating people being forced to part with their pets–or stay behind and die with them.

WHAT I LIKED LESS: The book has a bit of a dated feel because it does follow that classic disaster-film formula. It would have been interesting to see the volcano eruption from someone’s point of view closer to the halls of power—in government, in the military, in FEMA. Heck, in the USDA! But this is the first book in a trilogy, so there were plenty of threads left dangling to pick up in the next book, and those things might come into play. I could easily see Kelly, the geologist girlfriend of the cop, getting pulled into higher-level discussions on how to deal with the ramifications.

CONCLUSION: This is kind of a throwback series for me, but is a fast, fun read…especially if you don’t think too hard about what if the supervolcano DOES go off in our lifetimes (it’s kind of overdue)…or the New Madrid fault splits the country in half…or San Andreas…well, you know. I’d give Eruption 3.5 gators. 

Do we have any other disaster-flick fans out there? Do you have a favorite? Are you watching the new quasi-disaster TV show “Salvation” on CBS? Of course, I am.