Ashfall by Mike Mullin is a post-apocalyptic novel that takes us into what it might be like if the Yellowstone Supervolcano were to actually explode.
I like in SE Idaho, which means that Yellowstone National Park is only about an hour and a half drive from my house. I spent many summers playing in the park, and I loved it. Seriously. If you've never been to Yellowstone, put it on your bucket list. Growing up so close to Yellowstone is what interested me in Ashfall in the first place. I knew the book wouldn't be about the park, because if the volcano erupts, I promise- there is going to be no park left. But I vividly remember the first time I went to the park after learning that it was one of the world's largest volcanoes. I was terrified and had these vivid mental images of my dad driving the car up the side of a giant mountain and straight down into the frothing, bubbling magma of the TV volcanoes.
Let me tell you- this book has made me insanely glad that I live where I do. Why? Because if the Yellowstone Volcano does explode? I die. Living so close makes for a great summer vacation but my survival chances are like 1 in 100gazillion million, if every single condition is absolutely 100% perfectly perfect. And even then, it's most likely that I'll live for an hour, getting to watch the massive, roiling cloud of dark death coming for me, and then I die.
Death isn't something I welcome, but I tell you what- after reading about the likely future for survivors?! I'm okay with it. The apocalyptic world that Mullin describes here in this book is freaky. And, not in the way that zombies are scary, because as much as we like to plan for 'when zombies attack' it's never actually going to happen. But this, this could definitely happen. If Yellowstone explodes, it would be absolutely devastating. We are talking thick blankets of ash coating most, if not all of the United States and worldwide weather changes from the ash in the sky. Everyone will suffer. Global chaos man. Ash coating a majority of the midwest or hanging out in the sky, obscuring the sun means that nothing will grow. No growing things means that animals will die. And, since most people don't keep much more food in the house than will last them a week, food will be scarce, people will start to scavenge, and things are gonna get nasty.
I'm glad I'm just going to go out with a bang with the volcano, because the afterlife has got to be better than this. But Mullin's main character, Alex, does an admirable job of surviving on his own. (And, he does make me regret, yet again, that I never learned karate as a kid...) Alex is left alone for a weekend, while his parents and younger sister go to visit his uncle about 2 hours away. And then- disaster. Alex is terrified, but stays for a few days with some neighbors, long enough for the insanely loud and massive rumblings of the volcano to stop. When Alex is no longer comfortable staying where he is, he decides to set out and find his family. Grabbing a pair of skis and some food and supplies, Alex walks out into the ash.
But Alex doesn't really know what he's doing. He doesn't bring enough food or water and he drinks it way too fast, drinking whole bottles at a time with his meals. But, Alex is lucky, and somehow, always manages to find what he needs right before, or right as his situation becomes dire. To be honest, it happened a few too many times to be wholly believable. When the world is in as much turmoil and panic, the likelihood of finding just exactly what you need just exactly when you need it, is slim. Like, finding an abandoned car right when you feel as if you can go no farther, even though you haven't seen any cars all day. There were a few times in the story when I thought, How convenient (mild eye-roll). But, we can't have our main characters dying on us, so I accepted the luck as necessary to the progression of the story, and honestly, the resourcefulness of the characters was a big help.
The only major complaint that I had with this story was the narrative style, but that is something that is more my problem than a problem with the writing. I find that I personally have a hard time feeling the proper urgency of a story when the main character already knows how the tale ends. I don't know what the proper name for this tense it, but it's first person, past tense? or something like that. But there are comments like, if 'I knew then what I know now', or 'I didn't know at the time, but found out later' . I hope that makes sense... For me, the story loses a bit of its urgency when I know the main character already knows how the story will end. It's not a conscious thing initially but it's been there in every story I've read that uses this style of writing. There's nothing wrong with it, I just don't connect to it as well as I do to some other styles.
This is a book about a journey, and it's a hard one. Alex struggles to travel, struggles to find genuinely good places to find food and water or sleep and Mullin doesn't hide from that. In the beginning, after Alex sets out to find his family, he realizes that it took him 6 days of walking on the skis to travel the distance it takes 30 minutes in the car. And Alex learns hard lessons too, many of which make him grateful for what he had and rueful that he ever took it for granted. It's a struggle every day for Alex to survive, and even with the luck thing, I would never want to be in his position. He finds enough to sustain him, but it's not like it's easy, and there is definitely no luxury to be had.
I was also impressed with Mullin's capture of human nature. The reactions of various characters Alex meets along the way are so varied, but so believable. Some are cruel and vicious, looking to scavenge or rob anything they can. Other communities rally together to protect and preserve all they can, realizing their chances of survival are better in a team. Still others seize and take power where they can, abusing those beneath them. And even in the communities where people are working together, you have to barter and trade for items you need and they pull every grain of food from you they possibly can. When faced with death, we will do pretty much everything in our power to ensure we can stave it off as long as possible and I thought Mullin captured that perfectly.
This review is already long enough, so I'll end with that even though I'm sure I could talk for hours about Yellowstone (and the interesting vacation pictures of me in it) and what the effects of this supervolcano erupting. It would be an absolutely devastating event, the likes of which civilization has never seen. You think the natural disasters we've experienced are bad? Just you wait until that gargantuanly massive volcano hanging out underneath Wyoming decides the pressure is too much. The world will be doomed.
*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.