Ashfall, by Mike Mullin
Some apocalyptic stories begin with human folly. Ashfall starts with a catastrophe that no human could ever prevent, the eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park. Some authorities think that these supervolcanic events have occurred several times in the course of human history. They may have caused ice ages and may have caused a bottleneck in human evolution. Perhaps humans can predict supervolcanic events in the short term if we notice a rise in seismic and volcanic activity but no human power can prevent them.
In Ashfall, Alex is an ordinary teenager living in a suburb in Iowa. He argues with his mother and likes playing World of Warcraft. He is thrilled when his parents go on a weekend visit to his uncle’s farm 3 hours’ drive away in Warren, Illinois and leave him home alone for the first time.
Nobody suspected that this routine Friday would be the last ordinary day that anyone in America, and maybe the whole world, would ever see. Alex’s house suddenly explodes into flames and all the phones, internet and even the radios don’t work. He goes to a neighbor’s house and for days the world is plunged into darkness as they are surrounded by a noise so loud that they have to stuff toilet paper in their ears and wear headphones to prevent pain. At first Alex has no idea what is going on, but his neighbor connects the crazy events to a short radio news bulletin about a volcanic eruption.
Even when they know what has happened, nobody knows what it means for them in the short term or humanity in the long term. All Alex knows is that he must find his family, so he sets off with cross country skis and a backpack of food. Conditions are terrible as every water source is poisoned and it becomes so cold that it starts snowing in September, but the behavior of people is far worse. Some are kind, together in towns to look after each other, but with civilization collapsing, criminals have no restraints. Alex meets good people like sharp-tongued Darla but also murderous criminals like Target.
Ashfall can be enjoyed as a tense action adventure with fascinating post-apocalyptic problems. Who would have considered that flat-roofed buildings are a terrible choice during a supervolcanic eruption because they may collapse under the weight of the ash? But Ashfall is more than a simple thriller. Author Mike Mullins movingly and realistically portrays Alex’s growth from a spoiled teenager to a strong and mature young man, capable of surviving in the new, harsh world.
Check the WRL catalog for Ashfall