From the author of Fieldwork (2014) comes a science thriller about trying to predict the next devastating earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.
Carl Strega is a retired geophysicist living in Birkett Valley, Oregon. After leaving a university post because of the politics that impeded his scientific work, he began researching on his own. While studying data collected by GPS stations throughout the Pacific Northwest regarding slow-slip events—which happen every 14 months, below “the part of the interface between the [tectonic] plates that is normally locked by friction”—he hypothesizes that the next SSE, due in 11 months, could trigger a major earthquake and a tsunami. Carl quickly assembles a team of professors and students to pore over the mounds of data that will allow them to create as accurate a prediction model as possible. They try to work secretly, to keep the public from unduly panicking; a leak nevertheless allows the Oregonian newspaper to break the story. A media frenzy soon follows. When plans to build a high-end golf resort become jeopardized, the local tourism association sics Herman Stackhouse, a character assassin, on Carl. Will rationality prevail—and lives be saved—in an environment engineered to trample science and help big business? Scholz, himself a professor of geophysics, confidently loads his novel with a bevy of details that will help lay readers navigate the fascinating realm of earthquake prediction. Occasionally, the science is dense, but when readers need clarification, Scholz offers bracing metaphors: “If you’re trying to push a heavy object...it often proceeds in jerks, accompanied by screeching….That jerky motion is stick-slip.” His direct, brisk narrative likewise adeptly portrays the various sides in each controversy. David, a science reporter, wants Carl’s work available to the public on ethical grounds, later saying about large companies (like oil and tobacco) and the far right: “Their greatest fear is of a world organized according to science-informed public policies.” Mentions of Fox News following Stackhouse’s slanderous blog are humorous though frightening.
An entertaining and informative top-to-bottom peek at the clash between science and politics.