New York Times Bestselling Author William R. Forstchen Tells A Story That Might Be All Too Terrifyingly Real. A story in which one man struggles to save his family and his small North Carolina town after America loses a war that sends our nation back to the Dark Ages. A war lost because of a terrifying weapon, an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) … that may already be in the hands of our enemies. Months before publication, One Second After has already been cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read. It has been discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a realistic look at EMPs and their awesome ability to send catastrophic shockwaves throughout the United States, literally within seconds. EMPs are a weapon that The Wall Street Journal warned could shatter our nation. In the tradition of On The Beach, Fail-Safe, and Testament, this book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future … and our end.
One Second After is very much the type of book that I normally enjoy – a fictional yet realistic story populated by a group of people who are trying to survive after a cataclysmic disaster has changed the way in which society itself works, or for that matter something that breaks down society from a worldwide organization into small branches of separate societies. In this book, the disaster is caused by an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse). EMPs will basically fry anything that has an electronic component, and so the survivors in this book are left without anything that requires electric power to run. The fact that EMPs are a possibility in our own reality makes this idea really scary. Living in the Maritimes I have had some experience with weather-related power outages, some lasting as long as 2 weeks, so the idea of losing all power indefinitely was terrifying to me. For all these reasons, I was sure that One Second After would be a winner of a book for me. However, sometimes when things look perfect you discover the exact opposite.
My main complaint, and the first thing that I noticed at about 25 pages in, was that the structure of this book was very disjointed. There is the main story containing narration, dialogue, all the normal things in fiction. Scattered amongst this was the scientific and technological explanations and hypotheses concerning EMPs. Both of these things were necessary to make the story work, because a reader would need to know the information in order to fully understand what was going on. However the problem that arose for me was that the style and tone changed drastically when the two met. For example, a group of town people would be having a meeting to discuss what had happened, why there was no power – casual conversations between peers – but then one of the people would begin explaining to the group the way in which EMPs worked. Automatically the tone shifted and I personally felt that the story ended and was replaced by a blurb (or several pages) of straight non-fiction. This shift was jarring to the flow and also made it seem as though the explaining person had abruptly jumped out of character. Once I realized that this was going to happen quite often, my interest in the book itself diminished.
I honestly hate to seem like I am picking apart any book, but the other problems I had also made this a less than enjoyable read. However my reviews are based on honesty, so here are a few of the more prominent complaints I had. The editing of the book itself was poor, with sentences that felt very unnatural, especially within the dialogue. It felt to me as though no one had read through the book after the first draft. Also from my point of view as a female, the women in this book were not portrayed quite as realistically or positively as I’d hoped. The mayor and some women in the put-together militia were female but they never seemed to be important to the plot. The main females fell into the roles of sick daughter, dead wife, old mother-in-law and possible love interest. Now would be a good time to mention that the story contained a whole whack of formulaic characters and relational situations. My one last complaint – and right upfront I will say it has nothing to do with my being a Canadian – it was seriously annoying that whenever something negative happened or was mentioned, a character would say something about being an American. Certain phrases like “but we’re Americans” or “but this is America” repeatedly being used got tiresome, it began to feel as though the author wanted readers to believe that the United States as presented in this book was beyond perfection and incapable of any wrongdoing. Apologies to all Americans out there, this isn’t meant as a personal criticism of your country – it would have bothered me just as much had the story been set in Canada or England or any other country in the world.
So there you have it, just a few of my thoughts about One Second After. Makes me feel like a cranky old curmudgeon but honestly I had high hopes for this book and it just fell flat for me on all levels. The description of this book, as well as the introduction mentioned the books On The Beach and Alas, Babylon – both books that share similar themes – my recommendation would be to skip this one and check out either of those instead. Then again, everyone’s taste is different and One Second After might be the perfect fit for you.
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