One Second After by William Forstchen

I finished this one a few days ago.   It’s about an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack on the United States and its’ effect on one small town in North Carolina.

I came into this book with some very high expectations.   I had heard that the book was very personal for the author and often just writing the material forced him into tears.   I also heard that it had that effect on most of the people who read it, just because it was so uncomfortable and gut-wrenching.    The inside cover flap of the book starts the description of the story with something about the US losing a war, which is a shocking scenario, but completely plausible under the circumstances of the story.

I’m not a fan of Newt Gingrich, but I have to admit that the foreword by him does lend the book some credibility, making me believe that Forstchen is a well-connected guy and privy to a lot of information and viewpoints on the subject of EMP warfare.   The afterword is done by Captain Bill Sanders, USN that discusses the real threat of an EMP attack.   I believe that this subject is something the author has some authority on and has definitely put some thought into.  

 He peppers the book with laments about how we as a society never took the right steps to put measures in place to deal with an EMP attack when it would’ve been easy.   I think Forstchen really set out to sound the alarm to raise awareness of our vulnerability over just wanting to write a book about a doomsday scenario.   In some of these kinds of books it seems like the author just wants to write about a SHTF scenario (and there’s nothing wrong with that) and the “how” part of it gets lost in the story.   Although there’s more to it than just the EMP attack, the idea of the EMP sticks with the reader throughout the story.

After writing that book about Red Dawn, my mind was definitely in that zone when I read this and I picked up on a handful of subtle and maybe unconscious references to the film in the book.   I think the two are similar in the sense that they both put the idea of American invincibility to the test and show the reader a world where we’re on the losing end.   Between the Soviet invasion of Red Dawn and the EMP attack in One Second After, guess which one is actually 100% feasible?  

I think one major strength of this book is that he covers in-depth two aspects of TEOTWAWKI scenarios that often get glossed over:  pets and our health system.   Coincidentially, the fate of the pets of the town and the scenes involving our fragile health care system are some of the most harrowing scenes I’ve read, especially the nursing home scene.    The character of Jennifer (the youngest daughter) was a 12-year-old type I diabetic and modeled after Forstchen’s own diabetic daughter.   He dwells on medical issues such as the shortage of medicines, lack of staff, lack of power to run machines and poor sanitation quite a bit in the book and I suspect that’s his way of addressing his own family’s vulnerability.   I guess insulin has to be kept refrigerated, which is another problem when you have no electricity.   At any rate, I would say that this book is the best book of it’s kind I’ve read in the way of addressing what kinds of danger lurks in a post-SHTF medical system.

Another strength of the book is that I think most of the characters are more or less believable.   I know there’s a tendency in this genre to make the protagonist a bad-ass karate master with a heart of gold, but in this case the protagonist (John Matherson) is fairly reasonable.   He’s a former Colonel in the Army and a college professor.  He describes his time in service as being mostly academic and he’s not gifted with the ability to construct explosives out of household materials, kill people with his bare hands, etc.  

I also don’t think that anything in the book (off hand) was particularly sugar coated and the author’s assessment on how things would look is very pragmatic.    I think that’s a plus.

The book had some weaknesses.   I think a lot of the teary-eyed “my country ’tis of thee” moments were a little goofy, but after thinking about it a little more, maybe that really would be how people would react?   People do get sentimental for the past in hard times, that’s for sure.

 I also thought that some of the historical references thrown in there had the aura of “hey, look what I know!”, but then again the author is a military historian and the main character was something similar.

I would have liked a little more about the day-to-day lives of the post-EMP people, like what they ate and did but then again I understand that this book is more about raising the threat of an EMP than writing about a dystopian world.

The ending is also pretty damn typical of these kinds of books.  I’m not even sure if there’s a good way around this anymore.   At any rate, I thought it was worthwhile to read based on the fact it brings up some very uncomfortable ideas that don’t get a lot of talk in the world of preparedness and survival.    I’m going to stock up on some more dog food and try to keep myself out of the hospital.