Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Prepare: One Second After Review

So this week, I finally sat down and read One Second After by William Forstchen. This is a work of fiction about an EMP (Electro Magenetic Pulse) attack on the United States. One Second After made it to the NYT Best Seller List earlier this year which shows Americans have an appetite for this type of work. Sort of like making a list before Christmas gets here.

The synopsis -

Small town, Black Mountain, North Carolina outside of Asheville, population about 6,000, is where the story takes place. The main character is John Matherson, a retired U.S. Army colonel turned professor at a small private college in the hills. The good professor is also a widowed father of two girls, one a teen, the other a twelve year old who has Type One diabetes.

On a normal afternoon, the U.S. is plunged into darkness when the EMP bust takes place. Suddenly, all modern electronics, cars, phones, power, water and everything related is shut off.

Within four days, Black Mountain is suffering. There are thousands of stranded motorists from the nearby interstate in the town straining the few resources they have. The hospital no longer has any functioning equipment. The nursing homes patients are dying for lack of air conditioning, water, medicine and trained staff. Without vehicles, the town's fire department, police and ambulance are unable to send help. There are no shipments of food or medicine coming into town and an unsuccessful trip to nearby Asheville lets the town's residents know not only are they on their own, they actually have to fear their larger neighboring cities.

Matherson, well respected in the community, steps up to a leadership role and describes events over the critical first year. It is not a pleasant picture. Without spoiling the story too much, there are a lot of hungry people, a lot of dying from basic illnesses and injury and a bunch of nasty events including a massive battle against a roving, brutal gang.

How did I like it?

I am a big fan of survival fiction. One Second After is sort of like a modernized version of Alas, Babylon, without all the conviniences. In Babylon, Randy and family pretty much get off unscathed. Sure, their clothing and cars are falling apart, but they still have a secure home, food, and organization.

Not the same in One Second. Things don't go so well for Black Mountain, North Carolina. There are no happy endings. Just one sad event after another. One Second After made me think I was reading a prequel - "What happened five years before the events in Cormac McCarthy's The Road take place".

The purpose of this is very clear from the author's standpoint; Forstchen wants to literally scare the pants off readers so that they will insist their elected representatives do something about this very real threat.

One Second After is also the complete polar opposite of the similar EMP attack story, Lights Out which can be found online. While the characters in Lights Out are dominated by local politics, rescue missions and vengeful neighbors, they never go hungry and even have time to take a daily shower and get medical attention. Forget about that in One Second After (at one point, many of the central characters go a number of months without a real bath. Think lice. Yuck).

OK, so what were my frustrations with One Second After?

First, when the lights go out, when the cell phone dies, when the car does not start, don't continue having a bar-b-que. Get to the darn store and buy everything! The main character allegedly wrote, while in the Army, a paper on the threat of an EMP attack and its affects on the U.S. He should have known better than everyone else. Yet after the attack, he is no better prepared than the town's insurance salesman.

Second, if your kid is sick, don't wait two days before going to the pharmacy! What was the main character thinking?

Third, why is it in books that the main characters can't wait to have a formal meeting with as many other characters to discuss what happened? Sure enough, Day One after the EMP attack, there's Professor Matherson having a meeting with the town mayor, police chief, etc. What's there to talk about? Get to the store!

Not me. Day One, Two and Three after the event are going to be spent getting my hands on as many resources as possible and securing my location. "Sorry, my calendar is full tomorrow Mister Mayor. I will be at the Food Lion buying all the rice and peanut butter before you folks figure out there won't be any more groceries coming in. I will be happy to pencil you in a week from Tuesday though".

Fourth, it takes the town about a month to realize they better start growing some Victory Gardens for food. Duh.

Fifth, chickens are for eggs. Get all the chickens together. Put them in one spot. Guard them and feed them. Let them lay eggs. Make many omlettes. Do not start killing the chickens to put them in a pot. Same with cows and milk.

Cigarettes are a good thing to stock up on now for trade and barter. So is a 50 lb. bag of rice and extra dog food.

There are some very poignant moments in One Second After. The scenes with his youngest daughter. The death of a couple of central characters. The sadness which becomes every day life.

Everyone should read One Second After. Everyone should start getting prepared today for this event. Unlike nuclear war from the 1980's, there won't be a build up of hostilities or even twenty minutes to take cover. Just the whole world different and backwards in time in the blink of an eye.

Note: One more thing that occurred to me since writing this review. i would love if someone like Jerry D Young or Gary Ott (online SHTF fiction writers) would take a swag at a story like One Second After. Often, both writers write much more optimistically than I think reality would be. I would be neat to see one of these writers take One Second After from the middle of the story and look at the ending from a different perspective. Worth a thought.


Deep Roots in Tough Times said...

I read Lights Outs first, then One Second After and Lights Out is by far more realistic. The social interation between the charactors and dealing civilize/morally with friend&foes was more believable. All relationships were covered, interfamily behavior, spouse respect, extended family,elderly respect&wisdom, kids/teens,cops&Law,etc... Leadership roles & workers,bartering&coin exchange, and charity & community strength plus self reliance is ALL better rendered and rationalized in Lights Out.

Deep Roots in Tough Times said...

Oh....and here's a quick link for your readers.

Lights Out

John said...

Deep Roots, Thanks for the comment. I have read Lights Out four or five times and have a copy around. The problem with Lights Out is it is too optimistic in my mind. Lights Out is far better than Patriots, however, and much more realistic than Deep Winter (and less obnoxious). Thanks for reading and leaving the link!

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