Friday, April 12, 2013


Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano, so large that the caldera can only be seen by plane or satellite. And by some scientific measurements, it could be overdue for an eruption.

For Alex, being left alone for the weekend means having the freedom to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, plunging his hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek to seach for his family and finds help in Darla, a travel partner he meets along the way. Together they must find the strength and skills to survive and outlast an epic disaster. -
Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I love survival stories. There's something really fascinating about a protagonist being dropped into a seemingly impossible situation (a dystopian future with televised death matches, a plane crashing into a lake, a frozen wilderness populated only by wolves, an island surrounded by murderous dolphins- what? the dolphins weren't the problem?). Maybe it's that as readers we automatically look around our house, try to put ourselves in their shoes, and think "oh god, I don't have good enough canned food! Where did I put those hiking boots? Would it be ridiculous to take my replica Aragorn dagger as my main weapon?" I mean think about it, how well would you do if a disaster struck and you had to flee your house RIGHT NOW, with only a few short minutes to pack everything you need to survive? What do you take? What do you leave behind? Bet you wish you hadn't sold off that backpacking gear you only used twice!

But back to the book. Despite the 466 page count, I tore through it in a day. Even when Alex isn't in immediate physical danger from fire, ashfall, or random acts of violence, the story is still extremely compelling. Even if his journeys (his inner development is at least as interesting as all the survival stuff) weren't so captivating, Mullin has done a fantastic job with the secondary characters, showing a dizzying, realistic, and often sickening variety of reactions to this disaster. Looting? Yup. Thieving? Oh yeah. Worse? Um... yeah. Things get pretty dire. The scariest thing is that this takes place right in our own backyards, on the suburban and rural streets, in normal neighborhoods and on major highways the supervolcano under Yellowstone IS real and, according to geologists, IS overdue for a massive explosion. If you're a reader in the midwest, good luck sleeping after this one. 

Through it all, Alex is, for the most part, resourceful, collected, and mature beyond his years. Sometimes this veers close to unrealistic territory, especially when he uses words like "ersatz," but hey, some teens are more mature than others, and this situation grows people up quick. Luckily for the people Alex encounters, he is also empathetic and tries to do the best he can by others. Darla, who is The Best, is even more capable (this is a girl who fixes tractors, rigs up her own power generator, and knows how to tan rabbit hides. How can anyone not love her?), but she is also more wary of strangers and a bit ruthless. As a result, they make a perfect survival team. But will it be enough to save them?

I loved this book and heartily recommend it to fans of survival, adventure, and post-apocalyptic stories. If you need something to feel the gaping wound left by The Walking Dead, this might even keep you shuffling on for a while. 


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