Trying to make sense of days leading up to Hurricane Sandy

“Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy” by Kathryn Miles (Dutton, 368 pages, $27.95)

How do you make sense of a storm like Sandy, a “hurricane that wasn’t a hurricane” and was “so immense it caught the attention of scientists on the International Space Station”? Two years on, Kathryn Miles confronts this question in her ambitious new book, “Superstorm.”

The story focuses on the eight days leading up to Sandy’s destructive arrival in the most populous region of the United States. At the heart of this journey are America’s weather forecasters, the meteorologists who struggle to make sense of an unprecedented storm and to warn the public in time. Separate story lines follow the crew of the sailing ship “Bounty” and a family on a Disney cruise, as well as the pilots of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron as they fly into hurricanes to gather data.

Miles is a gifted writer who can find drama in the issuance of a storm briefing, which one meteorologist likens to “sounding the alarm to a potential five-alarm fire.” She skillfully weaves in the troubled history of weather forecasting and tales of sailors surviving storms, going back to Aristotle and Christopher Columbus. What becomes clear is that precedents meant little with a storm the likes of which “the world has simply never witnessed.” What was supposed to be the more “manageable” side of a hurricane for ships, according to nautical books, had with Sandy become the dangerous side, with fatal consequences.

The book begins and ends at landfall, a tragic frame that reminds us of “just how vulnerable we are” to storms. The National Weather Service did make changes to its warning system after Sandy, but issues with funding and decaying equipment remain.

If the cast is too large and the historical exposition bogs down the narrative at times, Miles can be forgiven. Sandy was no ordinary storm: “There was no precedent, no authoritative model or soothing data to help make sense of what was happening.” But Miles’ “Superstorm” comes pretty close.

Herman Y. Wong, Newsday

The Peripheral” by William Gibson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 486 pages, $28.95)

In a dead-end American town, a young woman named Flynne fills in for her brother, beta-testing an online game that seems to involve fending off paparazzi in some futuristic London skyscraper. When she witnesses a murder, she decides maybe it’s not a game after all – a fact confirmed when gunmen hired by forces from the 22nd century show up to kill her and her family.

Although it veers back and forth between near-future and further on, “The Peripheral,” science-fiction master William Gibson’s first novel in four years, is not really a time-travel story. It’s a story of people making choices, and how those choices can ripple through time, or spiral out of control.

Flynne’s principal connection to that future is Wilf Netherton, a publicist whose brief affair with a client is tangled up in what Flynne witnessed. They connect not by physically traveling through time, but through “peripherals”: drones inhabited virtual-reality-style that allow them to experience and communicate in the other reality without leaving their own.

To bring matters to a head, Flynne must “travel” to Wilf’s world and identify the murderer. But getting her there alive will require more than technical cunning on both sides of the looking glass.

More than in any of his past novels, the future in “The Peripheral” is a moving target – and, as he makes a good case, regular people can move it to a better destination.

Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel