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.
"[An] entertaining apocalyptic thriller....fans of such classics as Alas, Babylon and On the Beach will have a good time as Forstchen tackles the obvious and some not-so-obvious questions the apocalypse tends to raise." (Publishers Weekly)
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But I get it. This is meant to be a cautionary, worst case scenario tale against doing nothing to prepare against an EMP event. If that was the goal, then I think it could have been better handled as a satire, (A Modest Proposal) because Forstchen’s portraiture of America and Americans didn’t ring true for me.
In under a week the protagonist, John, is publicly executing looters. In less than 20 days this small town representation of America has turned into a “show me your papers, please,” East Germany, and in less than two months the author has us devolving into cannibalism. Not unlikely events, to be sure, but on that timeframe when all the buildings are still habitable, roads passable (with the dead cars out of the way), potable water and fertile land? Bear in mind, there’s been no direct nuclear devastation, no pandemic, no major natural disaster – no zombies or aliens. Power is out, communications are down and transportation is limited.
In trying to paint this bleak picture of America, Forstchen neglects one of the ingredients that makes America, America: imagination. If we lost the use of our cars, and cell phones, and computers, and drugs we would be annoyed and frustrated – and scared, but we wouldn’t become helpless to the point of cannibalism in less than 60 days! Not our DIY, “think globally, buy locally,” live off the grid, alternative fuel, ride your bike to work day society!
Throughout the story, too many times I caught myself thinking things like, “wait a second! You mean to tell me that a small community outside of progressive Asheville doesn’t have a co-op run organic farm or a community garden? It has horses but no mounted police? No farriers? No yuppie urbanites with $3000 dollar bicycles to form a courier system or bicycle brigade? Really?”
This is a town made up of chain smoking college professors and ex-military, Cold War military. There appear to be no artisans, blacksmiths or gunsmiths... or carpenters, electricians, or plumbers. The youth at the local college are particularly useless and only good for training as militia. Where are the nerds – the engineers, the techno and auto geeks who would view the lack of electricity and functioning circuitry as a challenge? There are Civil War re-enactors, but no Native American folk-life demonstrators, or traditional life-ways practitioners? There are “survivalist-types,” but none with a stockpile of MREs? Really? And no one, except for the campus security guard, demonstrates any real individual leadership, not even our protagonist. He gets placed into leadership positions through circumstance.
In the best post-apocalyptic, dystopian future novels (think Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Atwood’s A Handmaiden’s Tale, Orwell’s 1984 or King’s The Stand) the “bad thing” happens before the story and the story is about how the indomitable human spirit overcomes. In the end, One Second After is a cautionary tale against homogeneity and the loss of imagination – killers of our human spirit, for without that, whether we face a super flu epidemic, an EMP strike or the zombie apocalypse, our society is lost.
- Cidney "Reader. Wannabe writer.
That's a picture of me standing in line to see Stephen King!"
A page-turner, no doubt, but...
The preaching about the dangers of relying on technology gets a little old. If it had been straight-up post-apocalyptic thriller, it would have been fine; throwing in a couple of comments about how dependent we had been on technology would have been OK, too, but the book really beats it into you. Still, I could hardly turn the audio off on this one. If you are interested in similar themes (minus the preaching), try Lucifer's Hammer (huge meteorite) or The Stand (flu pandemic).