One Second After by William R. Forstchen was recommended to me when I did my post last year of dystopian fiction. I ended up getting the book from the library, and it is my second book read for 2013, and the first one for Carl's Sci-fi experience, and the Dystopian Fiction challenge.
One Second After is set in the 2000 decade. It's published in 2009, but the author doesn't give a date, just that it is after Sept 11. It's set in Black Mountain, North Carolina, in a small town that has a college, and is close to the interstate highway leading to Asheville and Raleigh. One day in April, in the afternoon, Colonel John Matherson, retired (though still this side of 50), receives a phone call from his friend in Washington. And the line goes dead, and all the power stops. The cell phone, the ceiling fan, and then eventually, they realize, all the cars on the interstate, and then fires burning in the mountains around them are planes that have gone down. There was an EMP, electromagnetic Pulse, that detonated over the US, (and eventually they learn other parts of the world, three bombs), and all the power is gone.
One Second After follows John, his two daughters Elizabeth and Jennifer, his mother-in-law Nancy, their two dogs, and the lives of the people of Black Mountain in the year after the EMP ended that way of life. Especially, it takes place over the first two months. It shows how quickly civilization falls when there is no communication, how poorly prepared people are for any emergency lasting longer than a day, and how much skills to be able to look after yourself are going to be needed.
This was one frightening book to read. It paints a realistic portrayal of one man struggling to keep his family safe and town strong, and keep it together when bigger threats in the world around it come along.
It's interesting to compare this book to Flood by Stephen Baxter, which I read last year, and who is a British writer and so the ideology and setting, and how the world reacts is different - and yet people do the same everywhere. In both books, some people become savage and lawless, with the breakdown in society. Others become stronger community oriented, though in Flood, most of the world ends up drowned, and only a few thousands are left at the end, drifting on ships and flotillas over the endless oceans. I didn't review Flood then because it was such a bleak outlook, and I found it difficult to review. I liked parts of it, and others I thought were fairly ridiculous. The characters were manipulated and I wasn't happy with how several of them died. It didn't seem realistic, and this made me realize that that's what I want most of all in a dystopian novel. However, it did have interesting ideas and science, and there is a sequel, Ark, which I am planning to read one day. It does show how difficult it is to write about the end of the world and make it believable and the reader to care about the characters.
Back to One Second After: Forschten worked in the US government, and he wrote One Second After as a warning. He says in his afterward that the possibility of an EMP being created is very real, and that he was concerned that the government wasn't doing anything to prepare the American people about it, or doing anything to protect the US from it. Ideally looking for ways to prevent nuclear bombs from being exploded above the atmosphere, which is what would create the EMP - no nuclear fall-out, but the energy blast destroys all wave-length power. All of our technology is now electronically based and controlled. If we lose power, we seem to lose everything.
One Second After is a good novel, and the characters are well-done. I thought the changeover to a town-run council well-done and realistic, and the sorting out of who does what, and who is valuable or not interesting. The story itself is fast-paced, the dialogue is good if abrupt, and the Colonel is very much a man who controls his environment and loved ones - when his daughter falls pregnant, his mother-in-law understands why, but he is confused as she is only 16, and forgetting that the world is down to today , this minute - he can read situations very well, but not always people, especially women. It's kind of funny, and sweet, and keeps the book from being too military and man's world. I enjoyed it very much. I really enjoyed the way the society falls apart and then comes together is shown. And I cried at the end, because the inevitable happens - if you read the book, you will know that one member of his family is particularly vulnerable, which I won't give away here. Just, if you ever wanted a realistic picture of what would happen to a typical US town at the end of the world, this is a fun and good book to try.
Revolution vs One Second After.
I couldn't help comparing this to Revolution, the JJ Abrams tv show from this fall, which talks about society several years after an EMP destroyed civilization. I watched several episodes of Revolution, but found I didn't like all the killing, and the characters I did like they didn't spend enough time with, and I really don't like endless flashbacks - the flashback parts were what I really wanted to see, how they survived, when they decided to leave the big cities, what it was like to go through the days and weeks after the power fails. It was difficult to go back and forth between now and then, when I wanted to stay then, and learn more. That interests me, that time of change, of coping, of learning how to survive, and then what follows after. One Second After is that story of how people get from the EMP to the time in Revolution. I also hate how Elizabeth Mitchell's character pretended to be dead to her family for all that time. Totally unbelievable, especially when her husband and brother-in-law both held the keys to restarting the power. Ridiculous even. So I had to stop watching, I was yelling at the characters so much. Read One Second After to get an idea of the story Revolution is probably trying to tell (without all the annoying characters).