First published back in December of 1998, US and predominately Science Fiction author, Walter J. Williams, released his epic disaster tale entitled ‘The Rift’.

DLS Synopsis:
When a massive earthquake hits Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana, the landscape is left in utter ruins. Chaos ensues as the nation's infrastructure collapses, leaving the surviving inhabitants as refugees within their own homeland.

Nuclear Power Stations are hit hard by the earthquakes, creating an even greater threat. The Mississippi pours across the landscape flooding the areas from the critically damaged levee system.  Aftershocks frequently pound the now thoroughly devastated landscape, sending the survivors into an almost never-ending state of panic. Where some take to rescuing their fellow man from out of the rubble, others see a new and deeply disturbing opportunity that can be grasped from the ensuing pandemonium.

A rebellious schoolboy named Jason Adams and his newly acquainted travelling partner, Nick Ruford, find strength in their companionship as they attempt to make their way through the devastation that is left.

A fanatical preacher who has spent years obsessing over this supposedly foretold apocalypse, sets up a massive camp for his newly acquired followers. As each day goes by, sheer survival becomes more and more of a desperate struggle.  And with the madness escalating by the hour, so the preacher’s sanity deteriorates until there is nothing left but a psychotic madman and his deluded cult. 

Meanwhile, a newly appointed sheriff (who is also controversially a member of the Ku Klux Klan), begins an unsympathetic program of genocide, killing off men, women and children with an unrelenting extreme prejudice.  Desperation, destruction, hate and murder seems to have spilled out from the cracks everywhere.  But amongst the mayhem that has ripped America apart, there still lingers a number of other human qualities.  Honesty, justice and a bear-faced determination to survive somehow remain.  And along with them, comes the slightest glimmer of hope for those that are literally fighting to survive...

DLS Review:
With each twist and turn in the tale, and when you’re beginning to think it’s finally safe for the characters to slowly begin to re-build their shattered lives, another wave of tragedy shakes the reader off their feet once again.  It quickly becomes apparent that merely surviving the earthquake is simply pure luck, however surviving the after-effects is where the real challenge lies.

At the heart of the tale is a natural disaster post-apocalyptic epic in a very similar vein to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s monumental comet-catastrophe ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ (1977).  The sheer scale of the devastation, along with the extreme changes witnessed in those that survived the initial horror, resonates so strongly between the two novels. Yes this is the stuff of post-apocalyptic (or in the case of ‘The Rift’ a vaguely post-apocalyptic) narrative.  However, it’s this emphasis on the human reaction and dramatic change in our morals that really makes these two closely linked novels hit the reader so powerfully.  And it has to be said that at times it can be a particularly hard pill to swallow.

Littered with detailed and beautifully involved subplots; each one telling their own uniquely individual stories; the tale constantly marches onwards at a breathtaking pace. And with these carefully laid out plotlines, Williams masterfully draws the individual characters' stories together, delivering a natural yet seamless tale.

With a deliberate play on words for the novel's title ‘The Rift', Williams spends a large proportion of his epic novel taking on the challenging (and important) issues of racial prejudices, whilst incorporating the theoretical idea that the New Madrid quake was the result of a failed rifting of North America. Multiple layers of elaborately constructed storylines produce a powerful and utterly compelling novel whereby ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (1960) meets
Ambush In Waco’ (1993)...only with earthquakes!

Williams tackles the issues of race and religion head-on, delivering a powerful (and incredibly emotive) message throughout. Williams skilfully incorporates actual historical elements into the novel, with clear parallels drawn to the likes of Huey Pierce Long (The Kingfish) as well as important true to life events such as the inspirational uprising in 1943 at the Sobibor concentration camp and the haunting events of the Jonestown Massacre in 1978.

The characterisation of each individual, no matter how involved their part is in the developing tale, is truly exceptional. The reader can build up a gradual and deeply-set love for a whole host of the characters, whilst a slow burning rage builds up towards the fascist and corrupt characters that become so focal to the storyline.

The tale, although somewhat epic in length, remains fast-paced and gripping throughout. Williams takes a while to get the tale in full swing, carefully detailing the characters’ individual lives before the inevitable earthquake rips their world apart.

The novel wraps up neatly, with a successful and truly satisfying ending. Williams avoids a clichéd over emotional conclusion, instead playing for a blunt yet altogether fitting grand finale.

The Rift’ is nothing short of a gripping and powerful, packed to the rafters with action and edge-of-the-seat tension, whilst dealing with difficult social aspects and the horrendous cruelty that is capable of our fellow man. Throughout its length Williams crams in as much as he can into this incredible and heart-wrenching tale.

The novel runs for a total of 932 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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