This Account of an Imaginary 9.0 Earthquake in Portland Is Beyond Terrifying

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Remember that New Yorker story about a potential earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone that scared the shit out of us? Well, Motherboard just published a series of heavily reported sci-fi stories about what might actually happen to Portland during such a disaster. And they’re way, way scarier.

After the Big One” by Adam Rothstein features five riveting stories (six including the introduction) that explain, via a first-person narrative, what happens during and after an hypothetical 9.0 magnitude earthquake epicentered 50 miles off the Oregon coast. As Rothstein explains in his introduction, using speculative fiction is a device to “engage the threat.”

I will seek to translate the host of official stories from mathematical possibility into narrative, by using speculative fiction. This is fiction because it has not happened. And it is speculative, because I am collapsing the mathematical probabilities in the official reports, to say something approaching definitive. This is, clearly, a narrow path to walk. This story must re-mold statistics and possibilities into speculative building blocks, to pave a road forward for us, towards a future that will ultimately, one way or the other, be very real.


And it feels pretty damn real. In the five different accounts, Rothstein’s narrator (very calmly) explains what is happening to the city, not only in a scientific sense, but also as he starts to see a total collapse of our familiar urban systems. Things get ugly.

I don’t want to give anything else away, because it is a captivating read that everyone who lives on the West Coast should spend some serious time with. All I will say is that it worked. Let’s also hope all major cities in seismic areas will undertake a similar scenario-writing exercise and perhaps even work with local sci-fi writers. This series certainly got me far more motivated to get prepared than any other piece about earthquakes that I’ve researched or read myself. Yes, even more than San Andreas.

Read the whole series at Motherboard



Follow the author at @awalkerinLA