The Rift

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9780061057946: The Rift

It starts with the dogs. They won't stop barking. . . .

And then the earth shrugs--8.9 on the Richter scale in the world's biggest earthquake since 1755. It hits New Madrid, Missouri, a sleepy town on the Mississippi. Seismologists had predicted the disaster . . . but no one listened. Within minutes, there is nothing but chaos and ruin as America's heartland falls into the nightmare known as the Rift--a fault line in the earth that wrenchingly exposes the fractures in American society itself. As a strange white mist smelling of sulfur rises from the crevassed ground, the real terror begins for the survivors, including a teenager separated from his mother, an African-American engineer searching for his daughter, a TV preacher whose visions of hell have become all too real, and a sheriff cum Ku Klux Klansman who seeks racial vengeance in the midst of disaster.

It can happen. And sooner or later, it will.

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Review:

Rock & roll takes on new meaning in The Rift, Walter Jon Williams's huge book about a magnitude 8.9 earthquake centered under the southeastern United States. This is a major departure from the intricate science fiction tales Williams usually writes ( City on Fire, Aristoi), but he applies the same thoroughness, complexity, and great character development to this disaster yarn. Some readers might balk at the book's size (it's a doorstopper), but consider the subject: the biggest earthquake in recorded history, a monstrous disaster that lays waste to entire cities from Chicago to New Orleans, flings one of the world's largest rivers out of its banks, and within 10 minutes obliterates countless lives. But the earthquake is only the beginning of this horror story--fire, flood, and chaos follow, and ordinary people are pushed to the limits of ability and sanity as they are transformed into survivors:

Marcy thought the tremor was just another aftershock, but then she saw the flash brighten the shining steel of the Gateway Arch, and turned south to watch in awestruck horror as the bright fireball rose over south St. Louis. Bright arching trails of flame shot out of the fireball, like Fourth of July rockets, as debris rose and fell.... It is the Bomb, Marcy thought. It is the End.... The bubble of fire rose into the heavens, and its reflection turned the Mississippi to the color of blood.

Williams follows the fates of nine people in the earthquake's aftermath. Among the most compelling, considering the racial and political tension characteristic of the American southeast, are the stories of sheriff Omar Paxton, a card-carrying KKK member from a small parish in Louisiana; the Reverend Noble Frankland, a fundamentalist preacher with well-stocked bunkers and fanatic followers; and General Jessica Frazetta of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the woman in charge of somehow repairing the damage. Each character's story would make a terrifying disaster novel on its own, and Williams handles them all deftly, weaving their threads through the apocalyptic postquake landscape. The Rift is a magnitude 9 novel--you'll walk gingerly on the quiet earth when you're done reading. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Walter J. Williams has taught martial arts, small-boat sailiing, and English grammar and composition. In order to research peoples and locales for The Rift, he drove the length of the Mississippi from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Hannibal, Missouri. He lives in rural New Mexico with his wife, Kathleen Hedges.

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