One Second After
By William Forstchen
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune
I don’t usually start a book review with a quote from another novel. But One Second After is not a typical post apocalypse novel.
First of all, it is introduced by Newt Gingrich. I did not know this when I bought it online. I made the mistake of looking up post holocaust novels and then counting up reviews on Amazon.
The premise is a little different from many in the genre. Instead of a nuclear war, the problem is an EMP that fries all electronics in the country. The protagonist is John Matherson, a retired Colonel who took a professorship at a college in North Carolina. He gives up a chance to be a General because of his wife, who passes away. The EMP cripples the whole country. Only pre-1970’s cars work. The power grid fails. Supply chains halt. Cities fall into disease and murder. But our heroes are good conservative real Americans. They fight a war, defend their way of life, and survive while 90% of the population dies of hunger, war and disease.
What makes it different from something like The Postman is that The Postman believed in a future where humans could change, reject war, and become more evolved. Gordon Krantz starts the novel as a self-centered drifter but ends as the moral leader of a brighter future. Unlike The Postman, in OSA the love of peace is berated. Peace lovers are looked down upon.
They’ll never make it now. I bet on that campus, today, they’re sitting around like the French nobles did at Versailles even as the mob swarmed over the gates. I bet they’re singing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ even as they starve to death.
The protagonist of One Second After remains essentially the same person. He is impacted by the events around him, the death and disorder, but it doesn’t change him. He is comforted by his moral superiority which helped him survive. He executes junkies that steal medicine, but has no moral dilemma about doing it. Sure, he vomits. But his thoughts and attitudes are the same before and after.
Gingrich’s introduction is full of fear mongering, followed by self righteousness. This is a mirror of the book. This is probably why it was so well reviewed. It appeals to those who buy in to the fear of Al Qaeda, ISIS, Mexican immigrants, liberals, gangs, elite Hollywood, homeless people, black lives, and texting while driving.
I’ll take the optimistic view any day.