According to Clarke’s author’s note, this book started out as an 850-word outline for a movie script that was turned into a novel outline which was eventually fleshed out into a full manuscript by Mike McQuay shortly before his untimely death. If you’re looking for a good example of Clarke’s writing prowess, this ain’t it. But if you’re looking for the best/worst mid-90’s disaster movie that was never officially made (to my knowledge), this may be a winner.
Richter 10’s mid-90’s disaster movie origins are super obvious in every facet of the book. This filled me with unspeakable sadness because I freaking love a good disaster movie (and a bad disaster movie, let’s be honest), and this story would have played out much better in a visual medium. Well, it would if you cut the entire cringe-inducing “black and brown people are sequestered in communities called War Zones and have all converted to Islam and are violently trying to create their own autonomous Islamic State in the Deep South” subplot and rolled the credits after about the 60% mark and pretended the rest of the book didn’t exist, especially the epilogue (which is what I’m going to do because damn, this book did not know when to stop and just kept going and going way beyond what I felt was the natural conclusion).
You’ve got your main character, Protagonist McManpain, who lost his parents as a child in a deadly quake that nearly took his life as well. He came through with a magic injured arm that senses tectonic activity, and a burning desire to slay the Beast, which in his case means stopping earthquakes from killing people. And he’s gonna do it with science! And maybe nuclear weapons, if he can just convince everyone he’s not insane and survive all the betrayal by trusted allies and the sabotage from government/corporate entities. And if you’re thinking wait, I’ve seen this made-for-TV movie, it’s because this idea is about as unique as old white men in politics and has been riffed on ad nauseam. But I’d still watch the hell out of it. Again. As a book? Meh. I have to say, though, some of the slang Clarke/McQuay thought we might be using in 2024 is freaking hilarious. Hurry up, everybody! We’ve only got five years to make “juice” and “teev” popular in the vernacular!