One Second After by William R. Forstchen


Science Fiction

One second after One Second AfterWilliam R. Forstchen; Forge 2009WorldCatIt seemed like a normal day in western North Carolina when the war took down the United States. John Matherson was talking on his cell phone with a military friend in Washington D.C. when the power went out. Everything electronic died. The country has been bombed by an electro magnetic pulse (EMP).

When he realizes that not only is the electricity off, but that cars have stopped, back up generators don’t kick on, and battery run gadgets don’t work, he can guess what happened. But no one is prepared for no power anywhere. Suddenly their community outside of Ashville in the mountains is cut off from everyone else. No one is communicating, pumping water, delivering food, manufacturing medicine, or making household necessities like toilet paper. Only older machinery works – items built before electronics became complex. John is able to get around in his mother-in-law’s DeSoto when modern cars won’t work.

Although his wife died of cancer, John’s two daughters are with him. The oldest in 16 and in high school. The younger is 11 and is a type 1 diabetic. Their acreage is sizeable for the area although they are above the lake that supplies water to the region. His mother-in-law and ailing father-in-law move in with them. Now he and the nearby community have to face their new reality. Chaos will soon be the norm if they can’t get some sort of infrastructure together quickly.

William R. Forstchen’s One Second After has been compared to Alas, Babylon and On the Beach for apocalypse scenarios. Yes, One Second After is as unnerving as those books. I first read Alas, Babylon, in the later 1960’s after the spectre of nuclear war so prevalent in the 1950’s was past. It is excellent, but didn’t scare me. One Second After could happen right now so is realistically unsettling.

One element that One Second After includes not in the others is the confrontation with outsiders. After the first devestating group of death, things settle down and they begin to cope. That’s when people from other areas start wanting in. Ashville tries to send 5,000 survivors when their community can barely support themselves. A huge viscious gang called the Posse is heading toward them, leaving death and destruction all along their way.

Most of the action and deaths happen off the pages of William R. Forstchen’s novel. There are a few scenes that bring everything into focus, such as when John has to execute a drug addict who stole pain medications from the locail nursing home patients. The book is about what people have to do in dire circumstances, not necessarily the details of how they do it – such as the war with the Posse.

This is a chilling, upbeat, cautionary book. The focus is on the survivors of an apocolypse watching the destruction of life as they had always known it. It catches the reader in. Yet the reader stays on the outside. There is a kindly old doctor who predicts the next steps in their future to prepare the reader for the waves of war, illness, and shortages. Then the happenings themselves are glossed over.

Notice:  Non-graphic violence

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