One Second After – William R. Forstchen

She’d always talk about how great Gandhi was. I’d tell her the only reason Gandhi survived after his first protest was that he was dealing with the Brits. If Stalin had been running India, he’d been dead in a second, his name forgotten.

Have you wondered what will happen if electricity suddenly stops coming? This book replies exactly at that questions, under a fictional story following an ex-military history professor, in a small town in the mountains in the United States.

Loss of electricity (not a blackout, in a blackout you kind of expect electricity to return) can have several reasons. In this book, there is an electromagnetic pulse that fries the grid and everything electric (circuitry). This threat is actually possible, and the guy in the US Army looking at this problem (asymmetrical threats) was an advisor for the book.

In case electricity stops coming, the very fiber of society disintegrates: no communications (no phones, television, internet, newspapers), no commerce (no card readers, only cash for a while, then only barter), no food (no refrigeration, no trucks to bring food to supermarkets, no machinery to harvest, no trucks to bring food from silos to animal farms), government loses the monopoly of violence (how can you announce the police of a robbery, crime, rape, if communications are down?), no medicines for the needy (diabetics and others). Also, no hygiene products for women.

Without electricity

Electricity allows to increase tremendously the efficiency of agriculture and food production. Therefore, as soon as it disappears, human population reduces to the efficiency of food production before electricity. This means mass starvation, which the book painfully describes.

The story takes place in the United States, in a mountain town. Hence, some features are present, which might be specific to the country, such as : numerous people have guns that can hunt with and many citizens have military experience. This comes as an advantage, because, as society breaks, individuals usually kept in check by police, re-surge as organized bands, taking food by force and killing. Police can’t quickly intervene, without the instant communications.  Also, many officers and hospital staff might be wanting to return home, at their loved ones, until some form of community protection is realized.

William R. Forstchen is asking many interesting, deep questions about the vulnerabilities of our society. The literary value of the book is quite low, writing is ok, fluid, but not fantastic; however, the strength of the book is coming from the really good questions that it asks. This is kind of hard fiction, from politically conservative perspective.

There are many low chance, high threat events that could destroy civilization. Supervolcanoes, meteorites, robots, plagues, but it is not a lot you can do if a meteorite comes. On the other hand, just blowing a nuclear bomb at high-altitude, for example 50 km up over a continent, the US Army colonel specialized in this issue argues, is enough to destroy a country. In the book, they don’t even know who launched the nuclear bomb. All that they know was that the launch was from a freighter out in the sea and they speculate that maybe a terrorist group or a country not friendly to US or even a large power that covered their tracks really well.

A report from nine scientists was published, unluckily in the day of the 9/11 attacks and, seemingly, a US Congress inquiry was made over this, but overridden by the terrorists attacks.

Overall, a must-read book for the interesting questions it asks.

 

[Picture from http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Strommast-Current-Pylon-Steel-High-Voltage-Sunset-520008%5D

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