i really am not looking forward to writing this review. this was the worst book i have ever read, and even though david was kind enough to point out that most of the books i read are shitty, he is wrong. this one is the shittiest.
and it has nothing to do with the frequent disparaging of rhode island. not content simply to use it as a unit of measurement (although he does), he also says many unflattering things about the state itself. but considering how crappy this book is, i am pretty sure rhode island is glad his protagonist will be going nowhere near the fine state. roger williams is locking the gate.
greg brought this book to my attention, so i am going to blame him entirely. it had just come in, and he took it off the cart and said, “harry turtledove wrote a supervolcano book!” (connor later misheard this as “a retarded love,” which i think should be the subtitle of this book). having loved Ashfall, which is an awesome book about a supervolcano, i snatched it up and was really looking forward to borrowing it. i had never read harry turtledove before, but i knew he wrote alt-history novels, and is himself a historian, so i figured it would be a good companion to ashfall.
greg has read 10 harry turtledove books, and given 8 of them 4-stars. (except for this one) i figured i could trust that this would be a well-researched, realistic take on the effects of a supervolcano on the agriculture, topography, and population of the united states.
oh, god, it is not, and mike mullin has nothing to worry about because his book is so good and harrowing and well-written with character-depth and cause and effect and everything a book needs to be able to call itself a book. this book is truly appalling. i do not understand how someone who has written over fifty books manages to make such terrible characters, and use so many throwaway sentences and just make such amateur mistakes.
after an emergency landing of a plane into a body of water:
It didn’t feel too cold once he got used to it. He’d been in pools that were worse. What it would feel like come February was bound to be a different question, but it wasn’t February, thank god.
no. it is not february. there was zero chance of that character awaiting rescue until february. so why does that sentence exist? just to make me scream?
He muttered a stream of obscenities as he went. Maybe they were what made his breath smoke. More likely, it was just the cold.
“Those trees weren’t down two years ago,” Larry said in a voice that brooked no argument. “Five gets you ten one of the quakes knocked them over.”
No one did argue with him. Kelly wouldn’t have dreamed of it. Arguing with somebody who was obviously right was a loser’s game.
that sentence made me want to jump into a volcano.
She hurried to the front entrance. It had those glass doors that automatically slid sideways when anyone approached. Printed across them was the legend IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, PUSH OUTWARD. Vanessa had seen it a million times without ever paying much attention to it. But someone had pushed, and the doors had indeed opened outward.
that whole paragraph could be shortened to “the door worked.” why does this book want so badly to waste my time?
plus, it is sexist and racist and corny, which is as bad as being racist, because it hurts just as many people.
Here came Syracuse. A roadside sign proudly proclaimed you could get gas there. It also said you could get food. Chances were you could get gas from the food, too, even if the sign didn’t tell you that.
stop, you are killing me!
this book is like that great-uncle who says all the wrong things and makes you wince a little and still talks about sex at every opportunity even though – gross! stop being so horny and stop telling me about the wetbacks, and the “boobs” and the “tits,” please.
there are more technical problems with the character’s voices. there are seven different characters. third person, but with an overarching om. narr. and sometimes it gets muddy as to which voice belongs to the character and which to the om narr. in general, the characters pretty much all sound alike. the women are a little whinier, naturally, because that’s what women do when they are not getting laid upon, but they are all similar, even down to the grammatical hangups.
let’s talk about that for a second. oftentimes, characters will stop what they are doing to complain about word mis-usage or spelling. one of the characters corrects such errors for a living, so that is fine, but as for the other characters – why so much focus on this matter? no one stops in the middle of a plane crash to discuss the correct spelling of “flotation.” the supervolcano is supposed to be terrifying, but everyone seems to find it more important to get frustrated over the proper use of the word “impact.” could this language-sensitivity be a hangup of the author? hmmm – probably not, because an author with such strict emphasis on correct word-usage would never have written this sentence:
…slapping ash and random dirt off herself…
but it does let me talk about another huge problem with this book. there is no urgency. a supervolcano is nothing to sniff at. how is it you guys are just letting this happen in the background, while you spend way too much time bemoaning the fate the the print newspaper, secondhand bookstores, record stores, congress, quality of mexican food in wisconsin, etc?
why are you people unconcerned?
i mean – almost three years passes in the course of the book, and the supervolcano doesn’t get “good” until around the 250-page mark, and after that, there is a portion of the book devoted to how it has messed things up, but mostly the characters are concerned about getting stoned, getting laid, getting married, getting pregnant. the supervolcano seems to be an annoyance – spouting this damn ash in the air. excuse me, “crud.” that is a stupid word, by the way. but it makes its way into this book hundreds of times.
and usually in the most scientific of ways:
How many zillions of tons of crud were fouling the air right now? How much of that crud was tiny bits of iron? Some small fraction, no doubt. But a small fraction of a zillion was still a jillion; plenty to jam radio and phone signals.
please write less technical books – we are not all scientists, schooled in science-words…
back to character, and the clumsiness of the author. here is another paragraph that made me tear my hair out.
The helicopters flew like jinking halfbacks, using the peaks of the Rockies for blockers. But they were running from, not towards. And what they were running from would flatten them more mercilessly than any middle linebacker ever hatched. Kelly found a whole new reason to be glad she liked football; the comparison never would have occurred to her otherwise.
let’s put aside the notion of being “glad ” to “like” something, because it is just too foolish. this is the only mention of kelly liking football in the whole book, so obviously it is not kelly who is glad that she likes football, but harry turtledove himself who is glad that he can make her like football so she can make this observation. is just clumsy writing.
also, i hate his similes.
It was still black as the middle of an SS man’s heart.
later, everything would be black as the inside of a mortgage banker’s heart
god, i hated this book.
Some stuck around and kept partying till…what? Till their money ran out? Not likely – they weren’t the kind whose money ever seemed likely to run out. Till the cows came home, was the way it looked to Rob.
so, he rejects the idea of them partying until their money runs out, because that was never going to happen. but instead this fanciful notion of cows coming home satisfies him? everyone knows that cows come home around five o’clock. terrible analogy.
Colin filled her in in words of one syllable. “Power’s down in Denver, and the ash cloud is heading that way,” he finished.
if you are going to be specific enough to say “words of one syllable” when you really only mean that your character was brusque, just make sure those words really do only have one syllable each. there is no way you can say the word “volcano” in one syllable, and obviously the character wasn’t tailoring what he said to this one-syllable rule imposed upon him.
He could even yell through it and make himself heard; “Let’s haul ass while we can. The farther we go before ash starts falling on us, the better. I don’t know how the car’s air filter will like all that grit, and I don’t know how the engine will like the crud the filter lets through.”
Kelly had known him for a while now. He was low-key, unexcitable. She translated what he’d said into what would have come from most people. He figured the air filter wouldn’t like volcanic ash for hell, and the motor would go queep and die once it inhaled enough grit.
that did not need to be translated. that’s exactly what he said.(TWHS).if anything, it was clearer when he said it, because i have no idea what an engine going “queep” means. unless that’s just the cute way ladies talk about engines. awww, like they are baby chickies!
back to character again. these are terrible. i don’t know if i have made that clear.
back to plot. okay – so this is a book about a supervolcano. you know that from the title. but it is also a book about a protagonist who is a cop. and there is a serial rapist/killer on the loose who targets old ladies. in a book that was well-structured, this would come back as a plot point. maybe he would get caught. maybe he would get away. maybe he would attack a character known to the protagonist. maybe he would turn out to be one of the characters. maybe he would become involved in a tense situation with another character.
many pages are wasted going to crime scenes and covering the story on the news and reporters getting in the face of our cop, but nothing is resolved. it just pops up periodically. for no reason.well, i guess so the cop can go on at great length about how stupid reporters are and how much he hates them and blah and blah and social commentary and why do all the pretty people get the jobs and blah.
sigh, it really is unfair, isn’t it?? in a book where characters frequently assert what women are “for”, i am unsympathetic.
the sex in this book makes me feel icky, in case you couldn’t tell. but i do get grossed out by men considerably older than me talking about sex. unless it is leonard cohen, and then it is classy. but here we have a divorced couple with three “adult” children. both parents have found new partners considerably younger than themselves. gross. the daughter of the couple is with a man older than her own father. gross. one son is in a touring band, picking up disposable groupies after every show. gross. the other is picking up stoned co-eds after every class. gross. and then there is the ex of the daughter, who has found someone new. not too gross, i guess. it’s not even that the sex is so graphic or prolonged, but jesus christ, this is supposed to be about a supervolcano! and the supervolcano is backdrop at best. it makes pretty sunsets for the lovers to nudely admire. sex is what fuels this book – with leering favors-for-blowjobs situations, and this overlayer of desperation which has nothing to do with the supervolcano that should probably have killed you by now.
i wish more characters were concerned about the supervolcano, i really do. i wish they spent less time telling me why they don’t have a dishwasher. this is not germane to the story, it really isn’t.
reading all those crab books was one thing – they were hilarious and they knew they were terrible. i don’t think this book knows that. this is why i am telling it, so it knows, so it can improve.
so in brief, and to use “a retarded love’s” own words,
Newsies usually laid things on with a trowel, to say nothing of a shovel.
in which “newsies” is “this book,” and “things” is “horrible writing.”