One Second After

onesecondOne Second After
by William Forstchen Jr.
2009 / 345 pages (K.)
read by Joe Bennett
Rating 6 / contemp.  dystopian sci-fi

My son recommended this one to me (actually,  he gifted me with this and another book!  Yay!  And thank you! )  And it’s time to take a break from my “heavier” reading – so …

A massive “nuclear electromagnetic pulse” creates a disturbance so great that electrical impulses end contemporary life as we know it – computer-operated devices,  electronic devices, other things on which society depends just quit. Nobody dies as a direct result but there is a lot of death due to dependence on electronics.   This shutoff might be in the middle of the freeway,  a medical infusion, a television show, whatever.

This book focuses on the seconds and hours and then days and weeks following the shutdown as they transpire in Black Mountain,  a small North Carolina community very near where the protagonist,  John ____,  a local college history professor and ex-military  man lives with his two daughters. One of the girls is diabetic and needs insulin injections,  the deceased mother’s father lives in the nursing home which loses all power.

During the initial panic hundreds of motorists are stranded on the freeway near John’s house and he drives over in an old Edsel, a pre-computer car, to see.  There he meets a woman named Makala who shows up a short while later as a leading character.

A number of chapters then describe the horrors of life without electronics – lots of looting especially of the pharmacies where the drugs are kept,  there are many, many deaths, some from lack of medicine, some from starvation, some from fighting – there is one execution for looting drugs.

The town, under the authority of the mayor and other officials,  has to make certain decisions about food, safety and medicine.  Martial Law is put into effect.

Helicopters are seen but they just fly off.  Old radios and cars are assembled.  No one knows what is happening in the world beyond the city of Asheville where hundreds of refugees are streaming toward Black Mountain.  John and others try to form alliances and plans and the idea that this is really basic, something that the kings from the middle ages did, crosses John’s mind more than once.

The structure is straight forward linear which is appropriate and the language that of genre formula fiction.  The characters are pretty “typed” and rather flattish but serve their purpose in terms of the plot and theme.  All this puts the focus on the story itself which holds up quite well.  It’s fast-paced, well-thought out and has a fair theme – what would the world look like if this kind of thing happened?  What and who survives?  What would the new priorities be, individually and societally?

On the downside the memories of the old good life get a bit much – there’s more a nostalgia for the 1950s than for the 2000s.

On the downside the memories of the good old life in Christian America get a bit much – there’s more nostalgia for the 1950s than for the 2000s although the Vietnam war gets good play.   One small point seems to be that we can probably survive better without all the electronic stuff  (a sense of smugness creeps into the narrative whenever some old technology is produced),  but more that we ought to be prepared.   The cheap patriotism (flag and war based) gets a bit much but the references to Stalin and Hitler are sometimes spot-on (to me).

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