|James Powlik: Meltdown|
Dell Publishing (Paperback), ISBN 0-440-23509-X
In Meltdown, James Powlik, a Ph.D. in biological oceanography, creates a technological thriller (or horror story) arising from a manmade plague -- radioactive waste, the by-product of nuclear weapons production beginning with the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The lethal radiation levels of such waste last forever in humanity's concept of time. For example, uranium 235 loses only half its radioactivity in 704,000,000 years.
Whale vocalization expert Dr. Carol Harmon and her crew aboard a research ship discover a radiation spill while studying blue whales in the Arctic's ice floes and frigid water north of Hudson Bay. This detection, however, occurs only after two divers suffer severe radiation poisoning. Tests reveal that the ice and water contain killer radiation levels.
Thus begins a struggle to find the radiation waste's source and contain the "cooked" ice and water. Dr. Harmon calls her ex-husband Brock Garner, oceanographer and former Naval officer, to join her fight against this modern day pestilence.
Meltdown projects a sense of reality by recalling actual radioactive disasters through two characters, Sergei Zubov (Brock's right-hand man) and Dr. Junko Kukora (a nuclear engineer and field physician studying radiation effects in humans). Zubov lost his family in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe. Kukora's parents conceived her after surviving Hiroshima. Zubov's and Kukora's pasts foreshadow their destinies.
In Meltdown science, in all its aspects, serves as the protagonist. Science moves the narration along. Science creates the plot. Science supplies the motives for the characters' decisions, actions and emotions.
By injecting action into his detailed descriptions and explanations of the scientific and technological, Powlik prevents this information from becoming dry and academic. His ingenious inventions and solutions, which include a radiation-eating organism, hold the reader's interest. The novel proves hard to put down, even for the scientifically-impaired.
One character stands out -- Victor, one of the Inuit people who live the Canadian Arctic. Their civilization mostly destroyed by the "white man," the Inuit of current generations succumb to leukemia from radiation poisoning. Victor's wife suffers from leukemia and Victor shows symptoms. He clings to the old ways, to the gods and hunting, although he faces an ever diminishing numbers of fish and animals. Victor's reflections on his people's fate underscore our civilization's mad creation of nuclear death.
Lynn I. Miller
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