I've been meaning to read this one for a while. I like some of the TEOTWAWKI fiction/film that's been produced, and hearing the raves about this from "mainstream" readers, I figured it would be hard to go wrong.
I remember looking at a cover of Popular Science or Popular Mechanics back in the 1980s, showing a nuclear blast in the atmosphere above Kansas. The blurb said such an explosion could knock out electronic devices all over the United States. It was over a decade later before "Electro-Magnetic Pulse," or EMP, became a familiar term in our lexicon. With the Cold War over, most everyone assumed it would never be used as a weapon. But rumors were widespread that EMP devices were being planted under the highways as a means of ending high-speed chases.
Forstchen has written a novel which assumes there are still nations and organizations around the world with ill will toward the USA, and they cripple us with just the sort of EMP attack theorized by that magazine in the '80s. He speculates how things go in the first year after such an attack in one small town near Asheville, North Carolina. It's not really a survivalist novel, though it does document the community's efforts to survive.
The protagonist, John, has a few things in his favor. He's a retired Bird Colonel, and a professor of history, which enables him to plan and execute the defense of Black Mountain. His mother-in-law owns a couple functional pre-electronic ignition vehicles (not dependent on microcircuitry--therefore EMP-resistant). And he lives up in the hills where there is plenty of game to hunt...at first.
John also has some disadvantages. Primarily, one of his daughters is a diabetic, and dependent on insulin.
Forstchen concentrates on the medical side of such a scenario--with food availability being a related health factor. And it would be every bit the nightmare he describes.
An EMP wouldn't just knock us back to the 1960s or '70s (before our entire society became so dependent on electronics). It wouldn't just knock us back to WWII, or even the 1800s. Because of our ignorance of how things were done before the pervasive technology we now take for granted, it would be more like the Middle Ages. How many of us know how to farm? How many know how to turn wheat into bread (assuming you live within range of where wheat is grown)? How many can fix stuff when it breaks (without power tools)? You can hunt for food if you have firearms, or are knowledgeable enough to build your own traps or weapons (which you probably aren't). OK. But how will you prevent most of the meat from spoiling before you can eat it? How many even know how to start a fire? How would you transport the tons of crops from the west and midwest to the starving masses in the rest of the country before it rots where it sits?
Forstchen grazes these subjects while spinning this yarn. Again: this is not a survival story. And it sure isn't escapist entertainment. It's a warning. On a few occasions John wonders at why no precautions were ever taken against this very real threat.
(WARNING: political screed follows. Colored text.)
"Our" government is about 17 trillion dollars in debt last I had the stomach to check, and putting us millions deeper in debt with every passing second. What are we spending the money on? Bailing OTHER countries out of their problems, for one thing. Our tax dollars have already turned Red China into a superpower, and transferred our industrial capacity to them. And we're borrowing billions from them so we can give it right back to them in the form of foreign aid. (I dare anyone to justify that. It cannot be justified, so it is ignored.) Part of that astronomical debt has been accumulated by bailing out Wall Street, of course, and other institutions, at the expense of the middle class. It's being used to form, fund, train, equip and arm various organizations (standing armies, is what the founding fathers would call them) to infringe and eradicate our individual rights protected by the Constitution which every politician swears to uphold. The money's used to make those same politicians filthy rich on our dime, as they immunize themselves from the "laws" they pass for the rest of us. The money is heaped upon illegal aliens and the Parasite Class to bribe them into loyalty to the Democrat Machine and to continue to steal our elections. It's used to arm and feed our enemies in the Middle East and around the world, to topple existing regimes and replace them with even more anti-American despots. It's used to fund undeclared wars. It's used to prop up the hopelessly corrupt, incompetent, anti-American, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic would-be world government called the United Nations. It's used to fund an untold number of frivolous studies and "works of art;" to pay for infanticide, condoms and untold multitudes of political pork. It's used to cover up the unending crimes perpetrated by the present administration while funding their exorbitant vacations, concerts and shopping sprees even as those of us trying to earn an honest living (if we're fortunate enough to still be employed) have to deal with higher and higher cost of living as the wages we earn plummet in buying power.
That's just a glimpse of where this money is being flushed, as the government refuses to fulfill its legitimate functions (like securing the borders). Meanwhile not one dime of this astronomical spending is directed toward strategic missile defense, a civil defense infrastructure, or protecting our power grids from EMP. "Homeland Security" is all about planning for an offensive war against American citizens, evidently, and has nothing to do with protecting the homeland from attack.
And while this goes on, the nations that hate us (but are all too willing to accept our handouts) are acquiring the capability to knock us into Medieval times with relative ease.
Forstchen slips a few pointed questions into the narrative about why nothing was done before it was too late, but never questions the priorities of those holding the purse strings, as I just did. Understandable, for a number of reasons. What I've just done is considered "preachy." And "preaching" is only tolerated when hardcore leftists are doing it. Also, as obvious by an introduction written by Newt Gingrich this is a neocon novel. My definition of neocon: a socialist who wants a strong military and espouses lower taxation.
In the Newspeak we're being trained to use, Marxists are called "liberals" and neocons are called "conservatives." I've just about quit using the term "conservative" (at least without quotation marks) because the term is constantly used to describe anyone not as devoutly left-wing as those who control the mainstream media. Don't let all the misnomers confuse you. Neocons split from the Democrats basically during the Cold War because Stalin and Mao were a bit excessive in pursuing Marx's utopia, and neocons prefer a more subtle and gradual, less violent means toward the same ends (as long as taxes are dialed down a bit while military strength is dialed up) while the "liberals" adore the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez...Until/unless knowledge of their own despotism becomes too common.
The neocon disposition is evident in some of the solutions and policies conceived by the good guys in One Second After. But it's all plausible enough, and even though I would be classified as a dangerous kook in a TEOTWAWKI community presided over by the Forstchens or Gingriches of the world, One Second After was still a decent read for me. Enough attention was paid to character and conflict to keep me turning pages, and caring what happened next.