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 soon 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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