by Harry Turtledove



405pp/$26.95/December 2012

Supervolcano: All Fall Down
Cover by Steve Stone

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Time has passed since the eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park in the first volume of Supervolcano, Eruption.  In the second volume, All Fall Down, Colin Fergusonís extended family, which includes not only his ex-wife and children, but at least one of his daughterís ex-boyfriends, must deal with the results of the eruption, which is breaking down supply lines and altering the weather throughout the country.  Turtledove has spread the family from Maine to the Midwest to California in order to demonstrate how different areas are coping.

Ferguson and his new wife, Kelly, are still building their own relationship and trying to figure out how to live with the rolling blackouts, internet service outages, and food and gas rationing, when Colin's younger son, Marshall, moves in with them while he figures out what it means to be a college graduate in a post-eruption world.  Colin's ex-wife, Louise, must deal with the difficulties of becoming a single mother and working at a food import company. Her story intersects with Colin's as their share a past and three children, two of whom are located across the country from their parents without any indication of when they might be able to get back.

All Fall Down often seems to be a bit rambling.  Most of the characters donít have any specific goals, although Vanessa does attempt to make it first out of the camps and then back to California , Marshall tries to sell his fiction, and Louise tries to deal with what life throws at her.  In fact, much of the book seems to take the idea that it is senseless to make plans because the universe is going to subvert them and run with it.  Even areas which could provide a sort of narrative structure, such as Colinís quest to find the South Bay Strangler, are downplayed, although that plotline, introduced in the first volume, does progress.

There is a sense that the infrastructure of the United States has managed to remain intact in spite of the massive devastation affecting so much of the country.  Rob and his band are pretty much secluded in Maine , however a CNN news team is able to make its way up there to cover the situation.  Vanessaís cross country trek demonstrates price gouging and scarcity, although she is always able to get the gasoline that she needs.  California is shown to be dealing with their own supply shortages, but much of what is shown seems to be as much the cause of unemployment and a worsening economy (exacerbated by the eruption).

Turtledove has made some interesting choices in his characters' professions.  While Vanessa spends much of the book as a refuge and her mother works for a ramen noodle company, Bryce Miller, Vanessa's ex-boyfriend, is a classics professor, who somehow manages to find work in his own field in the apocalyptic aftermath of the eruptions, just as Marshall manages to continue to sell fiction in a country which has seemingly fallen apart.  Colin's own job, as a policeman, could provide some interesting views into the way the police work with the National Guard to maintain order, or as a procedural as he attempts to capture the South Bay Strangler, but neither of those are where Turtledove wants to take the story.

Perhaps the most interesting sequences in the novel are those which take place furthest from the Ferguson enclave as Colin's older son, Rob, attempts to live in the frigid wilds of Maine, cut off from civilization and power in a twenty-first century Currier and Ives setting.  Although Rob and other members of his band are strangers in the area, the climatological conditions have stranded them in the small town of Guilford, where they have to figure out how to live without the modern conveniences which Colin still has, even if they are somewhat curtailed.

Although the world Turtledove depicts in Supervolcano is interesting, it suffers from a lack of a goal beyond survival for most of the characters.  Turtledove's decision to keep so many of his characters in the Los Angeles area, although he does show Vanessa's journey across the remnants of the United States, Rob's sojourn in Maine, and a brief glimpse into Nebraska, limits what he can do to show the varied results and responses to the eruption.  However, it will be interesting to see where Turtledove plans to take his story in the next volume, particularly given some of the personal revelations in All Fall Down.

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