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Turtledove continues Supervolcano' series

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Second book carries on story of disaster's aftermath

Science fiction and fantasy have a tendency toward the epic. That tendency means that many authors within those genres will create extended series of three or more books to tell their single story. Sometimes, these series focus on a single character or event. Other times, they are more exercises in world-building.

Few authors exhibit a mastery of the series quite like Harry Turtledove.

Turtledove specializes in the subgenre of alternative history, having written a number of different series that focus on divergences in our own history that create world's similar to but very distinct from our own.

His latest offering is 'Supervolcano: All Fall Down' (Roc, $26.95), the second installment of his 'Supervolcano' series. In these books a slight departure from his usual oeuvre Turtledove creates a story set in what is (more or less) the present day. In the first book, the dormant supervolcano beneath Yellowstone Park erupts, rendering much of the Midwestern United States uninhabitable and drastically altering the world's climate.

In this second book, we continue to see the effects of this unimaginable disaster through the lens of the Ferguson family. Colin Ferguson, a lieutenant in the police department of Los Angeles suburb of San Atanasio, serves as the fulcrum on which the story balances. He and his family are the lens through which Turtledove illustrates the horror and tragedy in the years following the Yellowstone eruption.

Ferguson has married geologist Kelly Birnbaum and is doing his best to continue his work with the SAPD. He and his partner Gabe Sanchez are policing as best they can, though their most elusive case a serial killer known as the South Bay Strangler continues to bedevil them. Kelly, as one of the last geologists to escape Yellowstone before the eruption, has become one of the leading experts on the long-term natural aftereffects of the supervolcano.

Marshall Ferguson, Colin's youngest son, has graduated from college and is living at home while trying to make inroads as a professional writer. Rob Ferguson, the eldest Ferguson child, was trapped along with his band in Guilford, Maine by the eruptions. The four young men find themselves becoming a part of the community as all are forced to band together in an attempt to overcome the newly harsh climate conditions. Vanessa, Ferguson's only daughter, is trapped in one of the many government-run refugee camps, trying desperately to escape the abhorrent conditions. We also get glimpses into the lives of Louise Ferguson (Colin's newly pregnant ex-wife) and Bryce Miller (Vanessa's ex-boyfriend).

Turtledove is a master of operating on a grand scale, using interconnected stories of individuals to tell a much larger tale. The Ferguson family makes for an engaging group of protagonists each of them carries his or her own imperfections. These flaws only serve to humanize them; the author clearly has no problem allowing his characters to make mistakes. In some cases, he even goes so far as to let them be unlikeable - understandable, relatable, but unlikeable nonetheless.

Much of Turtledove's work is marked by meticulously researched detail and the 'Supervolcano' series is no different. He treats this massive disaster in a realistic fashion, creating a world that tries to limp along in the aftermath of the greatest blow nature has ever struck against modern man. The events of the story feel possible, in terms of both science and society.

'Supervolcano: All Fall Down' has its flaws. The passage of time is sometimes murky, leading to occasional confusion. Characters outside the Ferguson family with a few exceptions don't see a lot of development. However, there's no denying the engrossing nature of the story.

(Additionally, many middle books in series like this one offer little on their own, serving only to advance the overall story arc. However, this book has its own solid payoff that is mostly separate from the series big picture.)

There's a lot to like here, but be warned: you're going to want to start this series from the beginning. Some series allow you to start wherever you like, but this is not one of them. 'Supervolcano: All Fall Down' is very much a second book; you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not starting with 'Eruption.' That said it's a series worth the investment.

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