I don’t normally do reviews. I used to do a little write-up of the games I played on my #BacklogSunday nights (which will be making their triumphant return, so stay tuned), and I’ve attempted reviews of things in the past. I don’t do it often, because I don’t think I’m a very good critic.
But that’s okay. So I give you: ‘Ashfall’ by Mike Mullin.
There’s a caldera under Yellowstone National Park. It’s basically a supervolcano in waiting. Some day it’s gonna blow, like it did 630,000 years ago. The effects of such an eruption are widespread and long-lasting. It will be a cataclysmic, world-changing event.
This is the premise behind Mike Mullin’s ‘Ashfall,’ a disaster epic aimed at young-adult readers. It was published in 2011, but I only just read it recently (I’m WAY behind on my reading). Since reading it, I’ve read three other novels, and while those books were also fantastic, the world and events of ‘Ashfall’ have stuck with me.
‘Ashfall’ begins in Iowa, where young Alex is left home alone when his parents and sister go to visit relatives in Illinois. Alex relishes his time alone, playing videogames and such. Which is certainly my idea of a vacation.
And then it happens. The volcano, 900 miles from his house, erupts, and Alex’s world is thrown into a terrible and terrifying chaos.
Alex decides the best thing he can do is make the trek into Illinois to find his family. He sets off, braving the heavy rains and ash and less-than-friendly survivors. Along the way he meets Darla, another survivor who joins him on the road. From there, things go from bad to worse to even worse, with the weather turning cold and the government – well, I won’t get into that.
What sets ‘Ashfall’ apart from other books, in and out of the genre, is the affinity I felt for the main characters. I actually cared about Alex and Darla deeply. I read a few chapters before work one day and spent the entire shift worrying about them. That isn’t something I feel very often. That’s also the reason I haven’t yet read the next book in the series. If I don’t read it, nothing bad can happen to Alex, right?
‘Ashfall’ also made me think about what I would do if that caldera erupted, or if any sort of cataclysmic event happened. See, there are things that happen in this book that are twisted and horrifying. It’s not quite as grim as Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road,’ but it’s still pretty grim. At first, it was hard to imagine people acting the way they did in ‘Ashfall’ in a real catastrophe, even for a die-hard cynic like me. But the more I thought about it, the more plausible it all seemed. Yes, I do believe people would do horrible things if faced with their own demise. So I ask myself: what would I do? And what would you do? What would you do to protect you family? How hard would you work to survive?
The end of the world is fascinating to me, and it’s a rich vein for authors to mine for science fiction stories. I’ve read a bunch, and I can say Mike Mullin’s ‘Ashfall’ is one of the best. Buy it, read it, and thank me later.