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

It starts with the dogs. They won't stop barking. And then the earth shrugs8.9 on the Richter scale. It's the world's biggest earthquake since Lisbon in 1755, and it doesn't hit California or Japan or Mexico, but New Madrid, Missouri, a sleepy town on the Mississippi River. Seismologists had predicted the scope of the disaster . . . but no one listened.

For hundreds of miles around, dams burst, engulfing entire counties in tidal waves of mud and debris. Cities collapse into piles of brick and shards of glass. Hospitals and schools crumble. Bridges twist and snap, spilling rush-hour traffic into rivers already swollen with bodies. Within minutes, there is nothing but chaos and ruin from St. Louis to Vicksburg, from Kansas City to Louisville. Every bridge down, every highway torn, every house gone.

America's heartland has fallen into the nightmare known as the Rifta 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, who will soon envy the dead, including:

Jason Adams, a teenager separated from his mother;

Nick Ruford, an African-American engineer searching for his estranged daughter;

Noble Frankland, the TV preacher whose visions of hell have become all too real;

Larry Hallock, a technician working frantically to prevent a nuclear meltdown at his power station;

and Omar Paxton, a sheriff and Ku Klux Klansman who seeks racial vengeance in the turmoil of disaster.

Walter J. Williams has created a modern American disaster saga, a story based on terrifying fact, filled with nonstop action, and peopled with characters who are heartbreakingly real. Witnessing authentic heroes surfacing in the unlikeliest places, you will share their horror, feel their despair, and triumph with them in their struggle to survive. One thing you will know for sure: It con happen here. And sooner or later, it will.

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

It was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who finally made the Swampeast habitable. Just south of Cape Girardeau the levee line began, to Continue 2,200 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The levees kept the floodwaters Out. During the decades of prosperity, the farmers had forgotten the conditions under which they had prospered were artificial. Southeastern Missouri was as artificial as the Washington Monument, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, or the space shuttle, and like these, existed as a monument to the ingenuity of humankind. The land there had been manufactured.

But that which is artificial occupies a precarious position in the world of nature. Its existence depends upon the maintenance of the conditions under which it was designed. The Mississippi River's levee system was built with the understanding that two things would remain constant: The flood waters would not rise much higher than they had in the past, and the land on which the levees were built would not move of its own accord. The first of these constants was violated regularly. The result was a greater commitment to reinforced levees. The second constant, the requirement that the earth not move, had not been tested.

Though such a test, as history showed, was inevitable.

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Used availability for Walter Jon Williams's The Rift

Hardback Editions

December 1998 : USA Hardback

Title: The Rift
Author(s): Walter Jon Williams
ISBN: 0-06-105294-9 / 978-0-06-105294-1 (USA edition)
Publisher: Eos
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   Amazon AU   

Paperback Editions

March 2000 : USA Mass Market Paperback

Title: The Rift
Author(s): Walter J Williams
ISBN: 0-06-105794-0 / 978-0-06-105794-6 (USA edition)
Publisher: Eos
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   Amazon AU   

Kindle Editions

October 2013 : USA, Canada, UK Kindle edition

Title: The Rift
Author(s): Walter Jon Williams
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA