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Book Review: One Second After, by William R. Forstchen

inverarity
Prepper porn with a foreword by Newt Gingrich. o..O


One Second After

Forge Books, 2009, 352 pages



In a small North Carolina town, one man struggles to save his family after America loses a war that will send it back to the Dark Ages.

Already cited on the floor of Congress and discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a book all Americans should read, One Second After is the story of a war scenario that could become all too terrifyingly real. Based upon a real weapon - the Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) - which may already be in the hands of our enemies, it is a truly realistic look at the awesome power of a weapon that can destroy the entire United States, literally within one second.

This book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future and our end.




As much as I like post-apocalyptic novels, zombies, aliens, and supernatural horrors are entertaining but not scary, because we know those type of end-of-the-world scenarios are not going to happen.


Newt Gingrich

I'm Newt Gingrich, and I approve this novel.


One Second After manages to be scary because it sounds very plausible. In fact, William Fortschen supposedly wrote this book in part to warn Americans about a threat he believes has been overlooked and ignored — hence the foreword by Newt Gingrich and the afterword by a military officer, both warning that "HEY, THIS SHIT IS REAL, YO!"

The apocalyptic scenario is an Electromagnetic Pulse. In this book, there are actually three EMP weapons detonated — one takes out the U.S. and Canada, another takes out Japan and South Korea, and a third takes out Russia. They never do find out for sure who launched them, though the obvious suspects — China, North Korea, a jihadi network — are all suggested.

EMPs of course are well-known side effects of atomic bombs. Is it possible that one well-placed missile, launched from a container ship in the Atlantic to detonate high in the atmosphere over North America, could fry most electronics in the U.S. and thus cause a breakdown in civilization in a matter of weeks? I am not quite convinced on that score, but it's one of the TEOTWAWKI scenarios that keeps certain breeds of survivalists and politicians awake at night. Fortschen's concern is that the U.S. government has taken virtually no steps to harden critical electrical and electronic infrastructure. The reason is that like so many preventative measures, it would cost a lot of money to protect against what most see as a remote, hypothetical threat.

Well, everyone has their hobby horse. But ignore the EMP as the delivery mechanism. There are other scenarios that might cause a SHTF event. And if something happens to disrupt electricity, food, and water, for days, weeks, or months, it will get very, very ugly, and that's the more convincing message this book gets across.

The main character, John Matherson, is a history professor and former Army officer. Despite having almost been promoted to general, his military career was largely that of a desk jockey. He is a widower living in a small town in North Carolina with two daughters and two dogs.

Then the EMP goes off. Instantly, virtually every vehicle, generator, and electronic device is dead. It takes them a few hours to realize it's not just a power failure (despite the puzzling fact that cars stalled on the highway), a day to realize it's serious, and a few more days to realize that the S has indeed HTF.

The rest of the book is a survival story. Matherson becomes a leader in their small town. First they have to deal with routine problems, very inconvenient and occasionally life-threatening (such as the fact that his daughter is a Type 1 diabetic who's going to die when the insulin runs out). As the refugees start pouring in, and it becomes evident how very unprepared they are, things get progressively worse, and worse, and worse.

By the climax, in which Matherson has trained a bunch of high school and college kids into a militia which is the only thing standing against a barbarian horde known as "the Posse," they've already lost most of their population to starvation and disease. They've had to implement rationing, shoot looters and hoarders, eat their pets, perform surgery without anesthetics or antibiotics, and make hard decisions about who they're going to let starve to death.

I found this to be a compelling read because the author didn't take any dramatic artistic licenses. I don't think everything would play out exactly as described in this novel — it might be worse, it might be not quite as bad (I do think the U.S. population being reduced to 30 million in one year is unlikely) — but other than the EMP scenario described as the precipitating event, nothing that followed seemed implausible.

One Second After is a book to get you thinking. There are a lot of things that can disrupt modern civilization for varying lengths of time. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showed just how bad things can get for people who are unprepared, and that was localized and everyone knew order and services would be restored eventually. What would you do if the power shut off right now and the trucks bringing food to the grocery store stopped running, and never resumed? If you are like most people, you'd be screwed in short order.

While not a "prepper" in any serious way, I have actually started taking this shit a little more seriously lately. You know, just in case. There are different levels of events you can prepare yourself for. Three days without power. A week without being able to leave your house. A month without electricity, running water, or food. The complete collapse of civilization. Most people cannot do much to prepare for the latter, and I live too close to what would be ground zero of any TEOTWAWKI scenario to think I'd have a chance of escaping to some rural redoubt. However, I do have enough food, water, and emergency supplies to "shelter in place" for a while. And I'm an NRA member. You know... in case of zombies.

Even if you are not seized with an impulse to go out and buy guns and 10# cans of beans, though, One Second After is a realistic novel that might inspire you to start thinking realistically. Just in case.



Verdict: A realistic, zombie-free apocalyptic novel that will make preppers happy and non-preppers nervous. While not a great work of literature by any means, I found One Second After to be quite a page-turner, and the sort of book that might do what the author wants and make people think. Of course the author wants you to think about electromagnetic pulse bombs taking down the grid forever, but if you think about stocking an emergency kit instead, I say mission accomplished.




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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
indigo_mouse
Dec. 7th, 2013 05:26 am (UTC)
I just read "Alas Babylon", which of course covered many of the same themes during the pre-cell phone era (which is, like, forever ago...)

I have heard "One Second After" is a good read but hadn't picked it up yet. I probably will now.

I grew up on the Canadian Prairies, so its totally normal to me to have a months worth of food in the pantry and a side of beef in the freezer (blizzards are helpful with frozen food, even if the power is off you don't have to worry about spoilage). I can remember going cross country skiing after a particularly heavy storm and finding the neighbors digging out a snow plow that had gotten stuck in a drift (this is the kind used to clear streets, the size of a large tractor). The drift was almost as high as the two story house that had created it... No idea what the driver was thinking trying to clear that.

When I drive by the local high school on my way to work, I sometimes wonder how those kids would do in an TEOTWAWKI scenario. Most of them seem unable to walk three blocks to school judging from the steady stream of cars dropping them off.

Edited at 2013-12-07 05:30 am (UTC)
shortysc22
Dec. 7th, 2013 01:12 pm (UTC)
I read this book last summer and loved it, mostly because it got me thinking, especially since I was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Sandy. My house was fine, we were fine, but there was no power anywhere for a week. We were fortunate enough to have a generator, but I know a lot of people who weren't.

The hardest part of living through that is the lack of information. The cell phone networks were pretty much still running, but all local news was shut down because there was no way for any one to get around because we lost so many trees. There was one grocery store open and one gas station. My one friend lost a massive tree and so my dad ended up helping him chop it up and to keep ourselves entertained, we had a bonfire every night.

We had the generator, which allowed us to take showers and flush toilets like normal and we invited our friends to come over and take showers and charge their cell phones.

Either way I loved this book and I think I'd recommend Patriots by James Wesley Rawles and Dies the Fire by SM Stirling. Rawles's book was apparently published and then rereleased recently. He also has a ton of recommendations at the end of the book. SM Stirling's goes fantasy as the book series goes on, but the first book no one knows what's happening.
inverarity
Dec. 7th, 2013 02:49 pm (UTC)
I've got Alas, Bablylon and Dies the Fire queued up on my reading list. I'm thinking about reading Patriots too, though from reading reviews, it seems Rawles is a bit more soapboxy (and not as good a writer).
shortysc22
Dec. 7th, 2013 06:27 pm (UTC)
Of Dies the Fire, One Second After, and Patriots, Patriots was the hardest to get through. I just liked it because it was a different concept to the collapse of the US.
asulon_bellanca
Dec. 8th, 2013 05:08 am (UTC)
I made an attempt at Dies the Fire but I really chocked on the writing. The story is supposed to be worth getting through, I might try again. I really liked One Second After, I've mentioned it to a couple people as a "makes you think" book. I might take that recommendation on Patriots too.
asulon_bellanca
Dec. 8th, 2013 05:13 am (UTC)
Forgive my spelling, Kindle stinks for internet.
zadok_allen
Dec. 7th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)

I enjoyed this book but one thing that turned me off is that, if you read the author-bio, you'll see that he cast *himself* as the main character/ dad of the year/ natural leader/ brilliant strategist/ irresistible chick magnet.  Came off as pretty egotistical.  I also thought there was some right wing fantasizing going on with how he treated some of the survivors, especially the group of hippies he came across on the road.  It sounded like he was crowing "this is what's gonna happen to you lefty goofballs!"  Not that it necessarily wouldn't happen, but he seemed to be taking some smug pleasure in making it happen.
 
I read the Rawles website regularly but I haven't read his book for the same reservations you've mentioned.  He's as far right as they come and very preachy, especially about religion.  I have no doubt that his book includes at least one chapter in which the godless masses cannibalize each other while the pious family escapes to the safety and security of their village chapel through the power of prayer.
 
If you've taken any steps towards emergency preparedness you'll be miles ahead of most of your neighbors.  I know first hand how difficult it is to get started; there are just so many aspects to be covered; food storage, water storage vs. filtration vs. treatment, waste disposal, making electricity vs. managing without, bug-in vs. bug-out, etc.  One of the things that really got me started was going through my pantry and counting up calories, then dividing the total for 2,000 calories per day, and seeing how long I'd last just on what I had on hand.  It was a good lesson for me!
inverarity
Dec. 7th, 2013 05:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it was pretty obvious that the author was Gary Stu-ing some with his main character.

I did pick up on a bit of lefty-bashing, but it was fairly mild — Forstchen is not entirely wrong about which groups will be in for the rudest awakening should SHTF for real.

The "Haha you hippies are gonna get what you deserve!" was much worse in Lucifer's Hammer.
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