06 December 2011

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

Quick review


Summary:  One Second After is not a "light" read; it has some difficult parts. Nevertheless, the novel is well worth reading, if for no other reason than it will make you realize just how fragile our modern, "just-in-time" civilization really is. If you're concerned about preparedness, I highly recommend you read this book!

Full review

One Second After is a novel by William R. Forstchen, which is set in the small town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. The story's time period is not really specified, but it clearly takes place in our modern, post-9/11 era.

The main character is John Matherson, who is a professor at a small, local college in Black Mountain. John is a former U.S. Army Colonel, who turned down being a one-star General so that he could retire to this sleepy little town and take care of his cancer-stricken wife.

As the story begins, John's wife passed away 4 years ago, leaving him to raise his two daughters (Jennifer, 13, and Elizabeth, 16) with the help of his mother-in-law, Jen. The first dozen pages introduce these characters, most of the supporting cast, and the community of Black Mountain.

At that point, a mysterious power outage blankets the entire community, leaving most cars and electrical devices nonfunctional. Oddly, a few older cars still work, however. John, with his military background, quickly deduces that there's probably been an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack, and that the power is not going to be restored any time soon.

Since Forstchen is a seasoned author, One Second After is more well-written than many post-apocalyptic novels. It's not "classical literature," of course. But, it is very readable, and you do care about the characters and their experiences. The author does a good job of explaining what an EMP is and its effects without much dry exposition. Generally, the technical details are interspersed across a few pages, making it easier to assimilate.

The narrative and dialogue flow well, making this novel a pretty quick and easy read. Of course, that's one of the few "easy" things about the book. The author intended his story to be a wake-up call to Americans, so its events are not pleasant. Instead, he depicts a painfully realistic picture of how the sudden loss of our modern technological infrastructure would have a devastating impact on society, including a massive loss of life.

In addition, Forstchen resides in western North Carolina and is a professor of history at Montreat College (which is featured in the novel), both of which lend a sense of realism and authenticity to his story. Some of these places seem very real, because they are (or are at least similar to the real location).

He also holds a Ph.D. in history from Purdue University, and has written books in the fields of history and historical fiction, as well as science fiction. With his history-focused background, it's no surprise that the main character (John) is also a history professor. As such, John proves to be a stabilizing factor in the community as it deteriorates, providing frequent reminders of what it means to be an American, even in the face of such disaster.

Moreover, I believe Forstchen is passionate about his message, about waking the rest of us up to the threat of EMP. On his website, he says this:
“...frankly I don’t care about the finances that come from a success [of One Second After] (and I know that might sound like a line). I urge you to read it because it is about US. You, me, my daughter, my friends, your friends... our country. EMP is a real threat, I believe the most underestimated threat in the history of our country. In the late 1930s we completely underestimated the Japanese and the potentials of a new technology... carrier based aviation. I’ve written two novels with Newt [Gingrich] on this subject. No one took the threat seriously and on December 7, 1941 close to three thousand Americans died. The war that ensued would claim close to half a million American lives. Pearl Harbor was a blow we could recover from and go on to eventual victory. An EMP strike? I believe it would be the death of America, the death of our children... it would be the end of the America we cherish and love... and plunge the few who survive into a new dark age."
With all that said, I would be remiss if I didn't point out a potential problem area, which was pointed out in the #PrepperTalk chats on Twitter. Apparently, some of the medical issues and depictions in the novel were questioned by some medical professionals on #PrepperTalk as not being totally accurate. I didn't notice anything incorrect, but I'm not a medical professional. Of course, One Second After is not a "how-to" manual. If you're interested in getting prepared for an EMP (or in general), then please use appropriate resources, not a fictional account of people who weren't prepared. (By the way, you can start with the EMP/CME posts on this blog!)

Nonetheless, One Second After succeeds admirably as a warning. Few people who read the book will not be shaken by the realization of just how dependent we are on our modern technology and infrastructure.

I've read the book twice now, once when it first came out, and another time just before writing this review. The book held up well on a second reading. I'm not sure saying I "enjoyed" the book would be correct, but it kept me engaged throughout, even on the second reading.

In conclusion, I strongly urge you to read this book, whether or not you feel you're a "prepper." If nothing else, you'll spend a few hours reading an engaging, decently written story. More likely, you'll come away with a new perspective on your lifestyle, and what you may need to do to maintain it.

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