Forge Books, 2015, 304 pages
Months before publication, One Second After was cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should have, a book discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a truly realistic look at the dangers of EMPs. An EMP is a weapon with the power to destroy the entire United States in a single act of terrorism in a single second; Indeed, it is a weapon that the Wall Street Journal warns could shatter America. One Second After was a dire warning of what might be our future... and our end.
One Year After returns to the small town of Black Mountain and the man who struggled to rebuild it in the wake of devastation: John Matherson. It is a thrilling follow-up and should delight fans in every way.
One Second After was one of the better survivalist novels I've read. In that book, an EMP attack destroys the North American electric grid and plunges the United States into lawless anarchy and mass starvation. It was a pretty gripping story about a small North Carolina town trying to survive amidst the chaos, even if the main character is a bit of an author stand-in.
The sequel picks up the story two years later (not one year, but I guess "Two Years After" wouldn't be as thematic a title). Black Mountain is beginning to pull itself together and attain enough self-sufficiency to fend of starvation and even restore a few vital services. There has been little word from the outside world, however, other than BBC broadcasts ending with cryptic code phrases. England was not directly attacked, but Europe is in chaos, and Chinese troops are supposedly occupying the West Coast. Meanwhile, Black Mountain is having to contend with "Reavers," bands of backwoods survivalists who are now becoming much like their namesakes, alternately trading with and raiding their townified neighbors.
After a particularly violent Reaver raid, John Matherson leads a retaliatory expedition and gets captured. He discovers that the so-called "Reavers" are led by a former US Army First Sergeant, who is in his own way trying to do what Matherson does - keep his community alive in hard and violent times. The two men come to a sort of understanding and negotiate a semi-truce, which is then promptly derailed by the arrival of government forces.
Yup, in this book, Forstchen brings in a James Wesley Rawles plot: the federal government is reforming (kind of), but of course it's run by power-hungry bureaucrats who are not much better than the warlords they are trying to suppress. When Matherson does not respond favorably either to the carrot or the stick offered to him, the militia he has trained at Black Mountain is forced to fight a battle against the feds.
It's possible the government, or the tattered remnants that would rise from the ashes of a civilization-ending event, would be as autocratic and brutal as Fortschen portrays it (in fairness, it's mostly a local satrap trying to defend his turf who does all the bad things, with the question of whether he really represents the new government or just a particularly malign representative of it being left an open question). However, the politics are certainly a bit Reaganish ("The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help"); as soon as the feds show up and say the U.S. government is back, you know it's not good news. The main character continues to be a straight arrow defender of the Constitution, even when it's questionable whether a Constitutional government still exists.
This was more of an adventure novel than a survivalist one. The battle scenes are tense and the plot made for a good post-collapse thriller, but the author goes out of his way to make the bad guys stupid and incompetent in order for his Wolverines to take down (literally) the government black helicopters (literally). One Year After leaves a lot of loose ends, making it obvious another book is planned. I'll read it, but I'm hoping Forstchen expands a bit beyond Black Mountain and the virtues of good ol' small town America even in a post-apocalypse.
Also by William R. Forstchen: My review of One Second After.
My complete list of book reviews.