Saturday, 5 January 2013

Dystopian and sci fi book: One Second After

    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).


25 comments:

Geranium Cat said...

I don't think I can cope with too much dystopian fiction - I read one last year, and thought it was very good, but it will keep me going for a while :-)

Susan said...

Geranium Cat: Which dystopian book did you read last year?

Your reason is also why I've only signed up for 5 this year. I might read one or two more, but at the end, they aren't happy, and I do need some happiness in my reading too :-)

Carl V. said...

It is funny that you mentioned Revolution because that of course was my first thought as I was reading your review.

Sounds like a good realistic fear novel. I read a novella in Lightspeed Magazine today that had some of that same kind of terror, with a world with few resources and like this one some people are more savage than others.

It does make you wonder how society would react to a sudden loss of all our technology, power, etc. I hope we never have to find out.

Lynn said...

I've read a few dystopian novels, most recently Ashes which similar to One Second After involves the future of the world and the how the survivors manage after an EMP changes life as we know it. Ashes also had a horror element to the read as some of the survivors change and become more like beasts or zombies in a fashion (although I wouldn't say it was a zombie novel). It was a good read and like you say in your review it's interesting to see how people change and in a lot of instances become quite feral. The Road is another one that springs to mind. Its a very dark book with cannibalism and all sorts thrown in - makes very grim reading but even so is quite a compelling read.
Thanks for the review.
Lynn :D

Vintage Reading said...

Good reviews. Like the sound of One Second After.

The only dystopian fiction I've read has a female focus, The Handmaid's Tale and I suppose The Hunger Games. I haven't read a great deal of science fiction but I loved Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Charming story.

Vintage Reading said...

Good reviews. Like the sound of One Second After.

The only dystopian fiction I've read has a female focus, The Handmaid's Tale and I suppose The Hunger Games. I haven't read a great deal of science fiction but I loved Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Charming story.

Susan said...

Carl: Is LIghtspeed Magazine an online magazine, or on the news stand? It's not one I've heard of before.

I don't want to find out either how we would survive in a world collapse. It's all fairly grim reading, though exciting in a way because it says yes, we can survive, and also, maybe we can find a way to avoid it.

Lynn: Ashes sounds interesting! Thanks for the tip, I will see if I can find it at my library. I haven't read The Road yet, it's one I'm scared to read. Thanks for leaving a comment, I'll come visit you :-)

Vintage reading: Funnily enough, I haven't read The Handmaid's Tale yet. One day I will. Every time I pick the book up, I get a not yet feeling. Not sure why, possibly the forced babies issue bothers me. It feels like a step backward for humankind. I should really read it first! The Hunger Games I read last year and enjoyed it, though the games part of it and the constantly being watched got annoying. The characters were good, though. I need to read the rest of the series, this year I hope.

I read a Wrinkle in Time two years ago and really enjoyed it (it was a reread). You're right, it is a charming story! I have the next two in the series, to read one day.

Carl V. said...

Online only. You can buy individual issues or subscribe through Kindle or Nook or you can read individual stories online through the Lightspeed Magazine website.

Susan said...

Carl: Thanks! I'll check it out. By the way, have you been watching Revolution? I meant to ask, since you picked up on how similar One Second AFter was to the show.

Carl V. said...

No, just see the commercials. I don't watch a lot of live television, I usually watch stuff when it comes out on DVd/Netflix when I can watch a bunch of episodes whenever the mood strikes.

Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous said...

This sounds fascinating--and I don't think I could cope with it! I don't mind the occasional dystopian literature, but this sounds like it would hit way too close to home! I manage better with slightly more removed dystopias...

Literary Feline said...

As I read your review, I couldn't help but think of Revolution was happy you mentioned it at the end. And now I know what it is that bothers me about Revolution. Thank you! I still watch the show, but I am not sure why sometimes. Maybe because I want to know what the point is? I don't know.

Anyway, One Second After sounds really good. And frightening. It really makes you think, doesn't it?

Debi said...

Okay, I *really* like the sound of this!!! (Wonder if I can find a copy with out the foreward by Newt though. ICK! :P ) But seriously, I've no doubt I will be searching this one out!

Janet said...

A good friend recommended One Second After to me. I bought it with a Christmas gift cart and now it is sitting in my January stack. I will post my review when I am finished. Your review helped move it to the top of the stack!

Susan said...

Carl: Netflix is bigger in the US than it is here, though we do have it. I don't watch a lot of live tv either.

Cheryl: do you have any favourites in the slightly removed from reality category? I'd like to keep reading in this area, so I'm always looking for new titles to read.

I know how you feel, although I do enjoy dystopian fiction, I have to go read something more uplifting or lighter, afteR

Literary Feline: I'm so glad you said that, you are the only person so far to agree that something is wrong with how the show is done. My eldest son loves it, and thinks it's fine.

One Second After does make me think, they all do. How would we survive? Can we prevent this?

Debi: yaaay! lol we are all so bad for each other's bookshelves, aren't we? which is so fun too. So that's you and Wendy looking for it :-) I hope you find it - I had to go through my library, like I said. And you can always skip the forward. I didn't know who it was til I got to the end of it! I agree with your sentiment too, usually Newt and I don't see eye to eye on anything.

Janet: Awesome!!! I'm really happy someone recommended it to you, and that you went out and bought it too. It must be available there, it wasn't here unless I special ordered it. I hope you enjoy it. I'll look for your review.

Kathleen said...

On Second After calls to mind that Doomsday Preppers show I watch on TV once in awhile. Sounds like an interesting read.

Susan said...

Kathleen: which show is that? It sounds interesting (and scary).

Kathleen said...

The show is called Doomsday Preppers and it is on the National Geographic channel. The show is fascinating. It seems like people start out with a good idea...to be prepared for disaster but then they just take it to a level that isn't healthy. It is entertaining but disturbing!

FCTC said...

Really good collection..I really liked this sf book

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Tom_E_Reynolds said...

I liked your review of One Second After, but had to comment after reading your comparisons and opinions of Revolution.

I just downloaded the audio book version of One Second After, and have listened to it now twice in a row.

I was pleasantly surprised how similar it was to an older TV Series from 2006 called Jericho, aired on CBS for 2 seasons.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jericho_(2006_TV_series)

It follows the same post apocalyptic story as One Second After, in fact there are many themes that are very similar, but handled differently. (I guess, in the end, we will all behave the same way when faced with the same obstacles to our survival.)

I believe it would be worth your effort to look for it, I thought it was still available on Netflix.

Jericho is a much better watch then Revolution. With more in-depth character development and better plot lines around how to survive without food, electricity, running cars, heat, medicine, back-stabbing neighboring towns, armed mercenaries...

I think you may be presently surprised, based upon your comments about what Revolution lacked.

If you do watch it Susan, email me back, I'd love to hear your comparison to One Second After.

I also heard a rumor that the author of One Second After was working on a squeal...I can't wait!

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