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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.


  1. Anonymous

    I used to read Tom Clancy techno-trash novels for the association with my career field (defense electronics) and generally enjoyed them. Until he went "inclusive". Ok, Tom, we get it. You were only trying to expand your already ginormous reader base of middle-aged White guys with military or defense backgrounds. But homeboys don't "read". And as that infamous Reagan-era quote so succinctly put it, Women don't care about throw weights.

    Heroes have been in short supply since the end of WWII and they didn't ever come in any flavor other than White-Male, to a significant degree. I can't watch any movie newer than Apollo 13 because of the mind-numbing affirmative action. The cognitive dissonance is so loud a man needs earplugs.

  2. Anonymous

    back in the 1980's I attended a lecture about emp at cgsc or the army finishing school for ltc's and
    above. the experts figured on about half to 2/3 of the country being dead inside of 6 months.
    the country has at best a 30 day supply of food. warehouses, farms, stores everything.
    and after it happen, all frozen and stored food will go bad inside of a week or less.
    meds are a big problem as over half the country is on something. people over 60 will go fast as will
    the very young for the most part. image the country with a population between early teens and late
    30"s for the most part. and then think about how moral they are as a rule. life will be hard and dangerous for most left alive. think the riots where bad ? if this happens, all bets are off.
    yoyo for real and bigtime.

  3. jl

    I read that one a few years back and my assessment is about the same as yours. A good overall story with fair-to-middlin' writing, BUT it sure got the mental gears going! That being said, I didn't bother with any of the sequels.

  4. 4hawks

    One Second After was a pretty good read. I haven't read the later releases, but I'd try if I found them marked down in the ol book store. The segment of his daughter getting ill and dying was crafted so well (to me anyway) that I was boo-hooing like a jilted prom date. I had kids that age at the time. I think recently that Bison (Dakin) mentioned that Forstchen wrote a series entitled: The Lost Regiment, and he said it was well written. I will say this; Bison knows his doom fiction. He steered me toward several great reads, one of which is: Cannibal Reign by Thomas Kolonair. I have read and re-read that novel several times in the last 3 years. It has a military slant but the main character Jack Forrest is the man, as are all his associates. Complex and well written and fast paced after the first few pages of story build up. I hope to find a hard copy to go on my end of the world library shelves. If we did have a major EMP event, no more boosters huh? heh.

  5. T Town

    I think I am more afraid of the people who are on some kind of psychiatric drug. A few years ago, I read something that estimated somewhere close to half of the population was on some sort of psychiatric drug. Those range from mild mood enhancers, to drugs along the line of ritalin, to full-blown psychiatric drugs for controlling things like bipolar disorders. You can't go cold turkey with those type of drugs, but that is exactly what will happen to millions of people if the drug supply chain is broken.

  6. Arthur Sido

    People who have time to wean themselves off of mental illness drugs can be OK but if you stop cold turkey? It would be bad, multiply that time millions of people and that is a recipe for some crazy shit going down.

  7. NIdahoCatholic

    In '08 and '09 I read "Patriots" by James Rawles (economic collapse), and One Second After. The takeaway from both books is get out of major metropolitan areas. In any collapse, regardless of reasons, folks in the city will have a shorter life expectancy than those in the country. Both books were instrumental in my leaving metropolitan Western Washington and moving to rural North Idaho. In light of the PanicDemic, and Comrade Governor Inslee's diktats, it was a wise move.

  8. Arthur Sido

    That is what I keep telling people, the number one thing they need to do is get out of the blast zone. When things go sideways, urban areas will bein flames in no time and then they will head to the suburbs where they will find easy pickings.

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