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California is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a geologically active area of subduction zones, volcanoes, earthquakes and with the Pacific Ocean there: tsunamis. A tsunami is a huge wave of water created by a massive displacement of water by earth movement. California does get hit by tsunamis but so far not the massive three wave monster that Gordon Gumpertz sets upon southern California in his very entertaining natural disaster novel Tsunami.
The most recent tsunami to hit California was back on November 15, 2006. It reached from Santa Cruz up to Crescent City (a place that has been hit by a number of tsunamis). Destructive earthquakes and tsunamis are a risk of living in California. The USC Tsunami Research Center has a downloadable paper (PDF) on the risk of tsunamis both distant and local to California. It reads like the blue print for Gumpertz's book.
The California in Gumpertz's novel is simplified and altered in a number of ways for dramatic license. There is no mention of the Channel Islands (which traditionally get the worst hit for distant tsunamis in southern California) and Camp Pendelton has been scrapped to make way for a new massive housing development. There are other fictional towns up and down the coast where more of the drama of the tsunami plays out.
In ways reminiscent of Condominium, the developers' greed puts into play many of the things that ultimately lead to losses of life and property at the end of the novel. To make them even worse, they are also importing guns through their shipping company.
In the middle of all of this is Leilani Sanches a geologist who has been studying an usually and potentially violent volcano deep below the Pacific Ocean. If her scenario is correct, a devastating 100 to 200 foot tsunami (roughly ten times taller than the largest tsunami waves on record for hitting California) could hit "from Santa Barbara to San Diego" with Oceanside to Los Angeles getting the worst of it.
But that's the fun of a disaster novel. The human drama of a normal sized disaster gets pushed beyond the boundaries of the expected to entertain while slyly educating about the true risks. Tsunami reads like a made for TV movie miniseries back when disasters were such popular topics. I was reminded of Earthquake! (which also takes out Los Angeles) and of course the mini series version of Condominium that started Barbara Eden.
Tsunami rises above the typical natural disaster story by providing memorable and believable characters. The characters demonstrate their individuality with lots of showing and very little telling. They act in understandable ways (both rationally and irrationally) and come to their senses in a human timescale, rather than a dramatic one.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tsunami and would definitely stop to watch it if it ever was turned into a miniseries.