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One Second After

One Second After - William R. Forstchen I usually like books like One Second After, where the book is all premise, and the story follows all the steps that follow from that premise. Seveneves was one -- what would happen if the moon blew up? -- and The Martian was another, and One Second After asks what would happen if an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) detonated over the US and wiped out all of our electronics. Forstchen's book doesn't start off as directly as Seveneves did -- he spends most of the first chapter building up the main character and his family, as well as going into excessive detail about Black Mountain, NC (which, having been there, I can confirm is correct, but Lordy, who needs to know exactly where the used bookstore is in a novel?) before having the event happen -- but once it does, the book follows the devolution of society as all of the luxuries and necessities are wiped out in an instant.

The premise of this book is great, but Forstchen really drops the ball when it comes to the execution of the story. It's still thoughtful in how he takes the time to show how it would affect so many aspects of our lives, but none of it is particularly original. Just about every post-apocalyptic novel or movie has addressed these same points; the only difference is in what causes the apocalypse. One point I'll give to the author is how he creates the isolation of the survivors, since most methods of communication are knocked out due to the EMP. It's impossible for the character to get confirmation of what happened without traveling to some place to talk to someone who knows.

In addition, the fall of society happened a lot faster than was believable, at least to me. Within five days of the detonation of the EMP, our main character straight-up executes a couple of thieves who stole drugs from a nursing home. I get that things would happen quickly, but it seems like a huge step in five days' time to go from "We're Americans, and we can get through this", to "You're guilty, and now I'm the judge, jury, and executioner". Even The Walking Dead handles that transition with more subtlety.

Newt Gingrich wrote the foreword to this novel, but even without that, the novel is a conservative's wet dream. Aside from the main character and all the other notable characters being trigger-happy ex-military, or the multiple passages on God, patriotism, and America, there's one passage where a character says about global warming, "sure, spend hundreds of billions on what might have been a threat, though a lot say it wasn't." I mean, sure, if you want to count all of the uninformed conspiracy theorists, I suppose there are "a lot" of them, but 97% of scientists ("a lot") disagree. As if that weren't enough, the main character finds abortion "anathema to him" (not that this is a plot point at all; it's just something the author threw in to get his point across), the residents go on and on about American values and build up a militia in no time flat, the story glorifies war and its victims, all the main characters call on God to help them, and to top it off, the super bad guy who they fight near the end of the novel is a Satanist. He's not an opportunist or someone on a power trip; he's in league with Satan. And the main character (our Catholic, ex-military, strong-jawed example of perfection) for real tells some people in that group they will have the mark of Cain on them for the rest of their lives.

This book is peppered with grammatical errors that kept grating on me (including one character telling another "You need to lay down"). There were run-on sentences that didn't appear to be there for stylistic purposes, adjectives used when adverbs should have been, and there were so many "must of" and "might of" and "could of"s in this book that I almost quit reading the book because of them. Outside of Facebook or Twitter, those phrases should never be used. Ever. Not even in dialogue, because they aren't even dialectical; they're just someone mishearing what someone else said. I started tracking how many times Forstchen used a variation of that phrase, but after twenty or so, I gave up. Why an editor didn't fix that is beyond me, because it's just embarrassing for everyone involved.

What else? Forstchen does more telling than showing. He doesn't show us anything outside of the small town of Black Mountain, even though all the big stuff is happening outside of it. We just hear about it from other people after the fact, or worse, through speculation. Most of the action takes place outside of the story, so much of the book is just a group of people talking about what happened, instead of Forstchen taking us through it directly. He repeats the same few sentences of detail about what an EMP would do to all of our electronics, long after we already got the point. Women are damsels in distress, inept, or just there to be ogled by the men. The main character is supposed to be likable, but he wheedles people into giving him the lion's share of supplies when they start to go scarce. Forty people in town need insulin, and you just have forty vials? Why, give me five, because my daughter needs them and my wife is dead! And no one ever calls him on it. Sure, he feels shame about it later, but not enough to return most of it.

I also had a big problem with how the residents of Black Mountain dealt with those of Asheville. Asheville was made out to be the enemy, refusing to help the smaller town as the situation grew more and more desperate. The main characters grew frustrated with the members of the larger town, namely because they refused to send food, people, supplies, etc. But none of the folks in Black Mountain offered any of those things to Asheville, either; in fact, they went so far as to threaten to turn off the water supply to the city if they weren't allowed to maintain their own town without interference. I don't understand how the reader is supposed to sympathize with a group of militants who treat outsiders the same way their enemy does.

This is the second book I read based on a recommendation from my stepfather-in-law because he knew the authors. I was apprehensive about starting Could You But Find It because it was self-published, but not One Second After because it was published by Tor. I suppose you can guess from this review which one turned out to be the better book. Sure, the book reads quickly, but there are so many other, better post-apocalyptic books that do a better job describing the end of society, there's no point in wasting time reading this one. The only reason I finished reading it was because I had already made it halfway through before realizing how awful it was, and didn't want to lose what time I had already put into it.