One Second After – Book Review
One Second After. William R. Forstchen. Forge Books. $24.95.
Look around you right now and imagine if every single piece of electronics in your house suddenly shut off forever. Every computer, light bulb, television set. Now think about the city or town around you and everything shutting off there. Every car, every street light, every hospital surgical unit. Now think bigger, hundreds or even thousands of miles around you. Every train, every airplane, every nuclear plant. Everything. Now, in this imaginary scenario how long do you think you’d survive? Where would you get your food? How long would your stockpile of medicines last? How long would you trust your neighbors? What about a family walking in from the next town? What about 5,000 people walking in from the next town? So many questions of this nature are addressed in One Second After that it is difficult to convey the depth and breadth of the stunning and utterly realistic chain of events painted within.
The cause of this major collapse of technology is a singularly destructive weapon called an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) nuclear blast high above the continental United States. In a matter of seconds, the entire country is thrown back 150 years as all advantages of technology are removed from our equation of survival. In this book, the residents of Black Mountain, North Carolina, must face this new reality and things become terrifying almost from the instant the explosion happens. Every modern car is stopped on the Interstate and roadways. Planes fall from the sky. Society immediately begins to unravel from there.
Our hero is John Matherson, a military history professor at the nearby Montreat College, and an ex-military veteran of Desert Storm. We can immediately sympathize with John as a common man in a tight situation—he is a father of two young daughters, a widower who teaches military history. He is well-grounded in the community, giving us insights into the inner workings of a small town government during a crisis. This is important because much of the book swirls around the town council of Black Mountain and how the people work together and, sadly, die together, as the effects of the war grind on month after month. All the plagues of pre-modern times come back to a society that has no clean water, that is famished and starving and has no modern medicines to fight even the most routine infections. Most people in this situation are so ill-prepared that it is apt to consider this a societal shift back to the Middle Ages. An investment banker knows nothing of farming, cobbling, food gathering, etc. Much of our society is built on skills that would have no use whatsoever in the Middle Ages. Many would perish in the world of One Second After…
Most of the book has the reader (and townspeople) in the dark about the larger picture too, which keeps us on a razor’s edge. With no contact outside their immediate area, there is no way to know if help is ever going to come or if an enemy is going to come storming over the next hill. Is the US Government still working? Who caused the EMP? Much is revealed at the end of the book, though I can’t give anything away on that count other than to say it is very plausible. When you reach the finish line, you will have a firm appreciation of how many things have to go right each and every day to make our lifestyles as comfortable and easy as they are. Similarly, you will understand how big a threat this type of weapon is to our way of life. This book makes it very clear it is intended as a wake up call to our government to take measures to harden our electrical grid and transportation system to minimize at least some of the effects of an attack like this. It was written in 2009 and I have to wonder if anything has been done in the interim.
For now, perhaps you’ll look around and think that just maybe it might be worth it to buy a few extra cans of beans the next time you are the grocery store. That, and a pallet of bullets. It turns out that bullets become currency in a world where even a squirrel for dinner can seem like a king’s meal.
Well worth a read.