It’s rare for me to review a book beyond a basic star rating on Goodreads, but I wanted to review this book here for y’all. NOT because it’s such a great book (trust me, it’s not), but because it does present an idea worth discussing. The book is One Second After by William R. Forstchen.
I don’t know where or how I found this book. Usually I make a private note to myself on Goodreads if a book is by an author I haven’t read before. But I have no notes for this one, so it will remain a mystery.
This an apocalyptic book, centered on the destruction of America due to a high-atmosphere nuclear bomb that emits an electromagnetic pulse. The EMP wipes out all our electronics in an instant, bringing our civilization to a catastrophic halt. The story is a disturbing description of how one town deals with the aftermath.
The author has an impressive bio of military history and history of technology. He says his description of how EMPs can be generated, and the damage they can cause, is accurate and true. I have to take him at his word for that – it certainly sounds plausible, and I have no technical knowledge in that area.
Oddly, for someone with so much to offer, he writes a book riddled with ridiculous errors. I am amazed that Purdue actually hands out PhD’s to people who don’t know the correct phrase is “could have” not “could of.” Or that “their” is not the same as “they’re” which is not the same as “there.”
Um, no these errors didn’t happen just once. They occur throughout the book. Sure, the editor is at fault, but the poor editor probably couldn’t believe a grown man with a PhD actually turned in something like this.
Putting all that aside, the book does have something to offer. It’s a dispassionate examination of life after catastrophe. Who dies first, second, third…, including famines, flu, and the secondary diseases that result from too many people dying all at once and how to deal with the bodies. Mr. Forstchen provides a good discussion, through his characters, of why there’s not much to be done to prevent these deaths. The story provides an even better example of how a community can work together to help each other, while policing the bullies and outlaws.
I believe in being reasonably prepared for emergencies – I’ve written before about our earthquake kit. Anyone who is even modestly prepared can probably survive long enough to join up with neighbors, and thus contribute to the larger group’s survival. I don’t think that means you should go out and dig a bomb shelter, stock it, and live there in perpetual hiding. But at least stock enough somewhere to take care of your own needs for a week or three, then maybe stock a bit more to help out someone else.
At its worst, One Second After is a gun-lover’s wet dream, with the far-right hawkish tendency to believe that all wrong-doers are evil devil-worshipers who never met a heinous act they didn’t embrace, and the good guys having guns and being willing to use them is the only answer. This is silly enough, but there’s also the fact that no one in the book seems to understand how wrong it is for the main character (a good guy!) to steal and horde all the insulin in the area, for his own daughter’s use. I know – parents will do crazy things for their kids – but someone should have called him on it. Since no one does, I’m left with the uncomfortable idea that Mr. Forstchen thinks this is heroic, or at least laudable, behavior.
But he does provide a top-notch description of how our modern global society has traded any possibility of self-sufficiency for convenience and cheap products. In fact, he uses the insulin to do this, starting with the oil coming from the Middle East, and following a byzantine trail around the world to produce the medicine and the equipment needed to administer it.
In the end, it’s this trade-off that kills so many people: without immediate and constant replacement of all consumables, most Americans are helpless.
Maybe it would be best to die in the first wave or two, eh?