Book: The Tsunami Countdown

The Tsunami Countdown

Gripping. So full of action and science that there’s no time for character development.
494 pages, ★★★★

Originally posted at Dark Matter Fanzine

Protagonist Kai Tanaka faces a once-in-a-lifetime dilemma when a mega-tsunami heads towards his home state of Hawaii. Kai is both the acting director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Honolulu, and also a father of two typically rebellious and hormonal teenage girls. The Tsunami Countdown tells the story of Kai’s struggle to save both the Hawaiian people and his own family from the wrath of the mega-tsunami.

The thriller is written in two parts: analysis and action. The first, ‘analytical’ part describes the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre’s investigation into some freak data that emerged from meteorological and seismological monitoring stations around the Pacific. Even though the reader knows the outcome (a mega-tsunami is going to hit), the author keeps us addicted to the chase. Suspense builds on every page as new evidence comes to light, culminating in the loss of all contact with nearby Christmas Island—as if the island had disappeared completely. For me, following the protagonist’s train of thought through the scientific and moral dilemma was the most exciting part of this book.

The book becomes a tense, gripping, slightly frustrating action thriller after the “mega-tsunami” alarm is sounded. Very quickly, the reader follows the separate adventures of Kai, Rachel and their children. Rachel is a hotel manager shouldered with the responsibility of evacuating the most difficult group of evacuees imaginable: a congregation of fearless, elderly veterans, many disabled, who speak almost no English at all. On top of that, the guests’ usual reaction to a tsunami (taking refuge above the third floor of a sixth-storey building) would be insufficient when this mega-tsunami hits—only by evacuating to higher elevation inland could they be safe. Rachel’s attempt at a group evacuation is laden with obstacles: many dismiss the mega-tsunami warning as a misjudgment or a ‘prank’, and of those who do take action, many risk their lives by not paying attention to the details. Kai, meanwhile, embarks on an equally-impossible mission to rescue his daughters from the beach, making the occasional ethical decision as he does so.

While this second ‘action-thriller’ half is probably the most gripping story I’ve ever read, it also neglects character development in favour of pure action to the point that I was completely unmoved when key characters die towards the end! The incoming mega-tsunami leaves little time for characterisation and subplots. In the face of the tsunami, most of the characters become similar with the exception of a few obvious clichés (Kai’s daughters and Chuck). Character development is noticeably missing from the ‘dragster-car’ storyline in the second half (fast, straight and narrow).

One thing I did learn from this book is that people don’t always listen to experts. When the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre asked people to evacuate the mega-tsunami on foot, many took to their cars, which slowed everyone’s evacuation. Others didn’t listen to the warning, accepted their fate, or, as in the case of Kai’s teenage daughters, blatantly defied it by going to the beach. For me, “why do people ignore expert advice?” is one of the most interesting questions raised in this book.

I particularly recommend this book for young men such as myself. I enjoyed reading The Tsunami Countdown, and I praise the author for making it not only scientifically plausible, but also crammed with real science.

As a secondary school teacher, I would be happy to teach this book in a geography or science class. I would draw on the following aspects:

  • Earthquakes: Why they occur, types of waves they create
  • Meteors: Origin, structure, impacts, investigate real meteors
  • Waves: How they move, the energy they carry
  • Ethics: Who would you save first? Why do people ignore expert advice?
  • Politics: To what extent should the government help?
  • Modern history: Investigate the Boxing Day tsunami

Finally, the compass on the book’s cover is somewhat misleading. The cover on the American edition (titled Rogue Wave) is much more appropriate for this story. ★★★★

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