Book Review: One Second After Part I

Readers love apocalyptic thrillers. Zombies, alien invasion, nuclear war, and pandemics have long been the traditional scenarios found in End of the World novels. Devote an hour to book browsing on Amazon and you will see the astounding amount of apocalyptic fiction titles available. Some titles became literary classics like H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds and have withstood the test of time, continuing to be consumed by subsequent generations of readers. Others have turned into more contemporary bestsellers enjoying mainstream popularity for a short period of time before falling into obscurity. And then there are the less than memorable titles that are remembered mostly for being poorly written. The rise of e-books has introduced an almost endless stream of apocalyptic stinkers to readers worldwide.

In 2009 One Second After, a novel by William R. Forstchen, was published. This book enjoyed immediate mainstream success and popularity. It also quite unexpectedly opened the door to a new subgenre of apocalyptic fiction; EMP thrillers. For the uninitiated, EMP stands for Electro-Magnetic Pulse. We’ve talked about it at times in the past but as a quick refresher, EMP is a wave of electromagnetic energy created by a nuclear explosion capable of causing massive damage to electrical grids, communications and perhaps anything containing electronics. Truthfully, no one is quite sure just how much damage the pulse from a detonation at the edge of space might actually cause.

One Second After is the story of one man’s efforts to keep his family and town safe as the world falls apart around them. The main character is John Matherson, middle-aged former US Army officer turned history professor. His wife succumbed to cancer prior to the events of the book, and left him with two daughters. Matherson lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a small town situated 11 miles or so east of Asheville. He is a popular and respected member of the community. Despite having been born and raised in New Jersey, Matherson is highly regarded by Black Mountain residents.

The novel begins on a regular spring day. John is home with his 12 year old daughter Jennifer, some of her friends and his mother-in-law Jen, getting ready for his daughter’s birthday party. John’s cellphone rings and it turns out to be Lieutenant General Bob Scales, an old friend and former superior from the Army calling from the Pentagon. They talk for a few minutes and then John puts his daughter on so Bob can wish her a happy birthday. Moments later, Jennifer hands the phone back to her father who’s brusquely told by his friend that he needs to go. “Look, John, something’s up. Got a problem here. I gotta—” The sentence is left unfinished. At that moment John’s cellphone dies, along with the power. He doesn’t realize it at the time, but the world had just irreversibly changed and the America that Matherson had loved and adored was now forever gone.

The story follows John, and the residents of Black Mountain through the next 365 days as they first try to find news on what has happened, and then focus all their thoughts and efforts on survival. The loss of power and practically all electrical components was caused by the EMP given off by three nuclear detonations at the edge of the atmosphere, directly over the United States. As the novel progresses, additional information and news becomes known. None of it is positive or encouraging. But as Matherson recognizes early on, events taking place on the state, national and international levels mean nothing to him or his town. What’s going on in and around Black Mountain is the priority.

Forstchen’s model for the aftermath of the EMP attack is a compromise between a slow burn type collapse of society and a more rapid degradation. Starvation and disease set in, forcing John, who is by that point a member of Black Mountain’s emergency council, to make some very harsh and difficult choices and decisions. When word arrives that a caravan of modern-day barbarians (criminals, drug dealers and gang members in reality) is heading towards Black Mountain, defense of the town and its remaining inhabitants falls on John’s shoulders.

Matherson leads Black Mountain to victory and in the process becomes the town’ leader. The story continues on through that first year, with John’s younger daughter dying from lack of available insulin. His family has undergone other changes, and so has the town. On the 1 year anniversary of the attack, a column of US Army vehicles filled with troops and relief supplies arrives. These men are greeted as heroes and it turns out the commander, General Wright, remembers Matherson from when he taught at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Wright then goes on to explain to Matherson just how bad the overall situation is. I’ll touch on that, and discuss the aftereffect One Second After has had on Apocalyptic fiction, prepping and other subjects in Part II. That will be posted on Sunday… well as the Novel Update.


6 Replies to “Book Review: One Second After Part I”

        1. Alas Babylon is a timeless classic. I think that is the Red Storm Rising of apocalyptic fiction and it hasn’t been beat yet. One Second After is close but Alas still takes the prize

          Liked by 1 person

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