Book Review: One Second After
As a rule I don’t read a lot of post-apocalyptic survivalist literature these days. I read a couple of Matt Bracken’s books and they were OK but many books of that genre are just awful. The plots are ridiculous, the characters are over the top with most being some variant of “former Navy SEAL” and the books are mostly an excuse to scatter random tacticool language.
However a lot of people have mentioned “One Second After” by William Forstchen so I finally decided to give it a try, in spite of the introduction by Newt Gingrich. It was…actually not bad. The plot was a little thin but the characters were decent. The hero of the story wasn’t a cold blooded killer and didn’t have an Arnold Schwarzenegger arsenal from “Commando”, instead relying on some basic weapons that most average people would have on hand.
The basic gist is what life would be like in a small town after a series of EMP strikes wiped out all of the electronics in the U.S., centered around a widower father and his daughters, one who has diabetes.
What most people liked about the story was the fact that it seems to be reasonably plausible. There isn’t a zombie apocalypse or an invasion by North Korea but EMP blasts? That could happen and it would be devastating in a world that relies so heavily on electronics.
The writing isn’t great, a lot of people got twitchy over the poor grammar and apparently lackluster editing. It isn’t a great work of literature by any standards. The dialogue can be choppy and stilted and often doesn’t sound at all how people actually talk. Many of the pivotal events aren’t even described, the epic showdown between the small town and the horde of barbarians is recounted after the fact. That suggests to me that the author (or his editor) didn’t feel confident in his ability to capture something on that scale so they just talked about it once it was over.
The real value of the book is not in the character arcs or the reading experience but in making me think about big issues if things go tits up. One thing that I came away with was that a major disaster and collapse would not only have a serious kill off of the U.S. population but those who survived would really need that to happen. We are not in a place where the infrastructure could support 350 million people if the supply chain broke down. He spends a lot of time dealing with what would happen to the tens of millions of people dependent on meds for a variety of illnesses. Spoiler, many would die and pretty quickly. Starvation and disease, not to mention human predators, would become a critical issue quickly.
There aren’t a lot of gunfights or fights in general, lots of soul-searching and shifting morality to match the situation.
All in all it was a decent book because it made me think, not about the plot or characters but about the real life implications and warnings it brings up. That alone made it a worthwhile read even if it isn’t something I would be likely to read more than once.