Ashfall by Mike Mullin

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I just recently finished reading “Ashfall” by Mike Mullin. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale with a great premise: the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano in the present time. Oddly enough, I think my fondness with post-apocalyptic literature might stem from an early reading (likely of the “Classics Illustrated” version pictured below) of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe – probably the first time I was self-aware enough to ponder the question of “what would I do if there were no civilization to support me?”

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The first book of a trilogy, “Ashfall” follows the post-eruption survival struggles of sixteen-year-old Alex – a typical teenager in many ways – he likes video games, has an annoying “brat” sister, and two “nagging” or “interfering” parents. Or so he thinks of them before all hell breaks loose. Oh, he’s also a black belt in Tae Kwan Do (he started taking his lessons seriously after what he mentions in passing as “the year of the bully”). And yes, proficiency in a martial art can certainly come in handy in a post-apocalyptic world…

(below: the Yellowstone Supervolcano has had three major eruptions in the last 2.1 million years. If the timing remains consistent we’re due for another one soon (that’s “soon” in geologic time, thankfully). The map below shows the supposed ashfalls)

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Alex’s family lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, but as this story begins, his parents and sister have just left to visit his Uncle Paul in Warren, Illinois. This leaves Alex alone when the disaster occurs, and his house is the unlucky impact site for a huge chunk of rock ejected from the eruption almost a thousand miles away. After the initial carnage of the disaster’s fallout eases, Alex decides he must try to reach his family, hoping that, being further east, conditions will be better where they are. Armed with as much food and water that his backpack will hold, he sets off (on skis, to make traveling over the ash easier) and quickly learns how quickly civilization deteriorates in the face of a major disaster. Indeed, Chapter One is introduced with a great quotation from historian and philosopher Will Durant:

Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”

How true, as Alex finds out first hand, encountering the worst – but also sometimes the best – in humanity during his quest east. In one narrow escape from the villainous, tattooed “Target,” he is seriously injured, barely managing to stumble upon a farmhouse, where he is taken in and cared for by a mother and daughter. The daughter, Darla, though a couple years older becomes his companion and love interest as he continues his journey east.

This book was written for a younger audience than me, but I still liked it a lot. It’s a page turner, too, and – the best part – the second book of the trilogy comes out today. I’ve already purchased and downloaded it, and will likely be reading it soon as well. I should mention also that I appreciated the fact that the author gave some bibliographical information at the end of the book, with suggested future reading for those interested in the geologic side of things in the book.

I first learned of this book through my the blog of my young colleague, Jade. Her take on Ashfall maybe found here: http://www.chasingemptypavements.com/2011/09/its-monday-what-are-you-reading-5-and_19.html. She’s also already read the second book and blogged about it here:
http://www.chasingemptypavements.com/2012/09/ashen-winter-by-mike-mullin-review.html. (yeah, she got an ARC I guess – someday I must look into that. 🙂 ) I also recently learned that the author, Mike Mullin, is an Indiana writer. Since I’m trying to make reading local authors more of a focus for this blog, this book was a natural choice for me.

Have you read Ashfall – or Ashen Winter? What did you think of them?

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10 Comments

  1. Kathleen Angelone said,

    October 9, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Jay,

    Ashen Winter is also great. Mike Mullin will be appearing at Bookmamas, 9 S. Johnson Ave.,, Indianapolis on Thursday evening, November 8 at 6:30 p.m. He gives a great author talk and caps it with a Tae Kwan Doe demonstration (Mike is also a black belt.)

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 9, 2012 at 6:18 pm

      Hi Kathleen,
      Thanks for commenting and for the heads up about the author’s
      visit next month. I’m marking my calendar now! I did read in his afterward/epilogue that he was himself a Taekwando expert. Funny how his main character inherited that skill, huh? 🙂
      -Jay

      Like

  2. Jade said,

    October 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Ahh!! I’m SO glad you read this Jay! I read Ashfall before it came out last year and I had the pleasure of meeting with Mike and having dinner with him. I also enjoyed this book because I’m so familiar with the area he writes about since I’m a life long Iowa resident. I thought he did a really great job with the book and Kathleen is right…Ashen Winter was amazing! Hope you read that one and enjoy it as well.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm

      Hi Jade!
      Looks like next month I will get a chance to meet Mr. Mullin too. (I doubt I will be dining with him, though) 🙂 I remember thinking while reading why he set the book in Iowa instead of Indiana, but I figured Iowa would be closer to the fallout area, and it’s not that different a landscape from what he knows himself from living in Indiana. Lots of corn in either place…
      -Jay

      P.S. I also read Daughter of Smoke and Bone recently, largely on your recommendation. I liked it, but not as well as this one. Strangely, it led me to find another, better book with a similar title “Shadow and Bone,” which Laini Taylor (author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone) wrote a glowing review of in the NY Times. Shadow and Bone was really good. Have you read that one?

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      • Kathleen Angelone said,

        October 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm

        Mike originally planned to have the family live in Indianapolis and the relatives in Antioch, Ohio. However, the science didn’t work, so he moved them west so the novel would be more authentic.

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        • Jay said,

          October 10, 2012 at 9:36 am

          Thanks for the additional info, Kathleen. I always enjoy getting a peek at the genesis and development of a story’s ‘life before publication.’
          -Jay

          Like

      • Jade said,

        October 10, 2012 at 8:17 am

        Oh, I’m glad you read Daughter of Smoke and Bone! Yes, I thought overall, Ashfall was better but I enjoyed Taylor’s writing so much. I have not read Shadow and Bone though I’ve had it on my Kindle forever to review. I really should get to it, I’ve heard lots of good things about it!

        Like

        • Jay said,

          October 10, 2012 at 9:37 am

          I think you’ll really like Shadow and Bone. (& Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep those two titles straight?? lol)

          Like

  3. Tiffany M said,

    October 29, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Great review! I love all the extra that you put into it!! I am totally jealous you will get to meet Mike he seems really nice. I’m starting Ashen Winte soon ❤

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 29, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      Thanks, Tiffany. I’ll try to post something about my meeting with the author here in a couple weeks. Hope you enjoy Ashen Winter. I am looking forward to starting it soon too.
      -Jay

      Like


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