By Chet Yarbrough
By William R. Forstchen
Narrated by Joe Barrett
A listener is in the hands of a master story-teller with William Forstchen. “One Second After” is reminiscent of “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. It is another post-apocalyptic tale of travail but it garners a broader audience for two reasons. One, it is more emotive than McCarthy’s book and two; it has a beginning that contextualizes its apocalyptic event.
“The Road” received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; “One Second After” did not. A plausible reason for success of “The Road” is that McCarthy published in 2006 while Forstchen published in 2009. Both authors are excellent but Forstchen offers more characters to care about and a context driven story of civilization’s end.
Forstchen begins with a foreword by Newt Gingrich and ends with a postscript by a retired Navy Captain. Gingrich, like Forstchen, is a historian. The retired Navy Captain had responsibility for preparing the United States for nuclear war while on active duty. Putting aside the conservative tenor of Forstchen’s book, Gingrich and the Navy Captain offer added suspension-of-disbelief to the story. A listener is seduced into believing the world might end in a whimper rather than a bang from a nuclear detonation.
The whimper is created by an EMP, electromagnetic pulse, unleashed by a nuclear detonation above the continental United States–by an enemy unnamed. The pulse destroys all electronic systems in the United States. Planes crash, electronics in cars fail, traffic jams proliferate, hospital power systems fail, and thousands die. Civilization, in a matter of seconds, is transported to the dark ages before light bulbs worked and water flowed uphill.
Forstchen masterfully personalizes the devastation by telling the story of an ex-military Colonel that resigns from the service to take care of his dying wife in a small mountain community. The Colonel works as a History Professor at a small Christian college before the apocalyptic event occurs. The Colonel’s education and position offer historical perspective to the story.
Because all communication is disrupted, communities are left to fend for themselves. The importance of communication resonates in both “The Road” and “One Second After” but Forstchen expands personal implications of poor communication to all of society.
Communities return to a state of nature that relies on manual labor and use of natural resources to sustain life. Because all electronics have been disrupted, no food is imported and gravity is the sole means of transporting potable water. Older cars, manually flown planes, and gas-fired generators work as long as fuel supplies are available. In a compressed period of time, civilized behavior disappears because of dwindling food supplies and water.
The Colonel becomes a key to organizing the town to survive the apocalypse but not without many personal trials that give emotion and personal empathy to the story. At conclusion of “One Second After”, there is no happy ending. However, the journey is interesting and compels one to investigate EMP.
There is truth and fiction in Forstchen’s concern about EMP. He testified before congress about the potential threat of EMP. Loss of power and communication from a nuclear detonation is possible but the extent of damage or longevity of consequence is exaggerated by Forstchen’s compelling fiction. The more likely cause of a loss of power or communication is cyber attack or a massive solar flare. Never the less, EMP is one more thing for human beings to worry about.
One disturbing consequence of the book is presumed endorsement of private ownership of guns solely designed to kill people. It is a book of fiction. It is well written. It is entertaining. But, it has a recognizable right-leaning, constituent view of American’ civilization. However, as Forstchen notes: We are Americans–all of us.