Thursday, January 3, 2013
Ashfall by Mike Mullin
If you like: survival * friendship * super volcanoes
Ashfall is the story of Alex -- a teen spending the weekend alone while his family visits relatives when a super volcano erupts. The world instantly descends into chaos. He quickly decides to leave his ruined house and try to reach his family at his uncle’s in the next state. Along the way he is meets Darla, another teen who has incredible mechanical savvy. The two journey together and discover that people are the worst danger.
Unlike many post-apocalyptic stories, based in more fantastical scenarios, a super volcano eruption at Yellowstone is entirely possible, if not inevitable. With disaster striking suddenly and powerfully, there is little that can be done to prepare. When large swaths of the country become isolated and desolate, there is little room for humanity. The juxtaposition between those who help Alex and those who intend harm provides a strong delineation in human character. Some know that in the long run, the more survivors the better. Others believe that with limited resources their own survival outweighs what anyone else can bring to the table. Unfortunately, the reprehensible actions of so many characters in Ashfall are all too believable, but it is also easy to understand how things could turn that way quickly when survival is the law of the land.
Ashfall continues to emphasize the idea that everything can change in an instant. When Alex says goodbye to his parents the thought that it could be the last time he sees them couldn’t be further from his mind. When looters come banging on his neighbor’s door, Alex’s relative safety is instantly destroyed. The kind instincts that had saved his life also jeopardized it. Darla and her mother represent both views. Darla is skeptical of all outsiders, knowing that it is especially important to protect the resources on their farm. Darla’s mother reaches out to Alex and welcomes him into their home. Her empathy saves his life, but could just have easily been disastrous if Alex intended harm. When they reach the FEMA camp, their world is instantly turned upside down again. Everything they have learned and acquired is instantly invalidated. The psychological stress of surviving from one moment to the next in an ever-changing world is nearly worse than the physical harms of the poisonous ash. At what point is survival no longer worth it? Many would rather choose a quick death than to slowly starve. Many lack the know-how to save themselves and survive on their own. When the governmental safety-net feels more like a noose, the world may never be the same. At times Ashfall can be difficult to read due to its realism. Things don’t just work out for Alex. Unlike many protagonists, he doesn’t have a series of fortuitous events. He is not entirely lost, but he lives in a world without hope. As the world devolves further and further, the promise of safety seems like a lie.
If you think you are prepared for anything, read Ashfall.
Mullin, Mike. Ashfall. Perseus Books Group, 2010. Kindle Edition.