One Second After by William R Forstchen is another story of America after an EMP attack. This one well written by an experienced author. Also much harder than the other novels I’ve read and much more poignant. Many times while listening – I listened to the audio book – I almost quit because it was too much to take and tears ran often.
This is the story of the community of Black Mountain, North Carolina after an EMP attack on the United States. The main viewpoint character is retired colonel John Matherson, professor of military history and single father of 2 girls. The book spans a year after the attacks, with many chapters headed with the number of days since the attack.
In my classification of survivalist vs regular people, this is the story of one prepared regular person. While professor Matherson isn’t a survivalist, his military and historical perspective makes him an invaluable resource and leader to the whole town.
The Survival Scenario: EMP
Three nukes take out every thing electronic in the US, Russia, Japan, Korea, and Eastern Europe. There is much more detail on what the implications are in this book that some others I’ve read.
The setting has a number of advantages, but not the ones people expect of a “rural” community. Matter of fact that is a point of discussion in the book, that refugees from the city think Black Mountain must have food, because they are rural and have farms. But most of the farmland has been made into suburban housing and they get their food from the supermarket just like the cities.
The two big advantages they do have are a water reservoir higher than much of the town, which means they have running water for most of the town even when the power goes down. And they are surrounded by mountains except for a couple of entrances, which gives them some tactical advantages. They do have the disadvantage of a interstate highway running through the town, so the golden hoards pushed through their territory.
The Book as a Book
Forstchen is an accomplished author with a number of novels of military history, alternate history, and science fiction under his belt before taking on this subject. As a result this is the best written book I’ve read on the subject. Characters are full, rich and well drawn. They act like I’d expect good people in hard situations to act.
Forstchen is a professor of military history and it shows in this book. Matter of fact toward the end I was wishing the main character – who is also a professor of military history – would stop taking asides into how much this was like historic events.
Food ends up being the central issue in the book with starvation killing more than just about anything. Not having enough food also means you don’t have as much strength and are more susceptible to disease.
It seemed amazing how quickly starvation started killing, less than 2 months, and that with a low calorie diet – under 800 calories/day. And any food was good food at that point. While “store what you eat and eat what you store” is a good advice, I wondered if it would be worth spending a few hundred dollars on something like this (which is really about 34 days at 1000 calories/day for one person). When they are putting sawdust in bread and a ration is 600 calories, those will look pretty good.
There is an interesting exchange in the book when the emergency city council is talking about food stores in the town. They mention the Franklin clan, which are survivalist types and how maybe they should go get their food and pool it with all the community food. But the chief of police says he doesn’t want to go do that because he knew he couldn’t do it with taking casualties.
Ultimately – and quickly – they decide not to take food from individuals as long as they don’t ask for rations from the central stores. If they do then they get to search your house and take any food there for the community. Which is fair and what I’d hope people would do. That said, eventually there are home invasions for food as a regular occurrence by desperate people after a couple of months.
Early on they mention precious metals having some worth in trade, but after a few months it is only ammo that trades and the only thing it trade for is food. Especially 22 ammo, because that is what is used to hunt squirrel.
Related to food and ammo, in well under a year the whole area is hunted out. All the horses are killed for food and any dog found wondering ends up in a pot.
While dealing with letting refugees down their stretch of road, they decided that people with particular skills can stay. Ive come to realize the best skill you could possibly have is a doctor. Any community will let an extra doctor in. Nurses and vets – which become doctors – are next in line. They won’t have it good in the job they will have to do, and when the plagues start health care professionals are going to be hit hard.
One thing that happens is a lot of diseases we don’t worry about in the US make a comeback in the horrible conditions. Those mentioned are Typhoid and Cholera. Interestingly when I was getting a H1N1 shot at my local drug store they offered “international immunizations” for travelers. One of those immunizations was for Typhoid. Reading this book almost made me get one right then. There is also a vaccine for Cholera though it wasn’t listed at the drug store.
A really well written book about a very hard situation. After reading it, I concluded that an EMP attack on the US is the worst event that could befall us. In this book 80-90% of the population dies in the first year and the country breaks up.
I also learned the term asymmetrical attack in this book. That is when a weaker enemy can launch a powerful attack against a stronger enemy. EMP is the ultimate asymmetrical attack.
More Resources on EMP
Wikipedia explanation of EMP A good general explanation of EMP.
Starfish Prime – One thing missing in this book and in Jericho was the atmospheric effects. You might not have seen in during the day, which is when One Second After happen, but Jerhico’s was at night and it seems you’d get these atmospheric effects over the whole effected area.
The One Second After website.