One Year After
© 2015 William Forstchen
It’s been two years since an EMP blast reduced most of the United States to medieval conditions. After cars and the electrical grid failed, everything went to hell — complete with hordes of the damned, mobs of men and women given over to madness attacking anything in their path. In the aftermath, starvation and disease again reared their heads, killing millions. Colonel John Matherson was a history professor on the Day of the attack, but in the wake of the chaos became the commander of his community’s defensive forces. He could do nothing against the death of his daughter and other loved ones by disease, but he could fight gangs, and so stand for the rule of law as to prevent his own friends from becoming monsters themselves. In One Year After, we find Matherson and the town council of Black Mountain attempting to rebuild, nearly on the verge of establishing a electric generator. But beyond the mountains there is a continent of forces fighting for chaos and order, and the fair city of Black Mountain has caught their eye. As Matherson attempts to negotiate a peace between his city and a smaller community nearby, the area becomes of interest to a Federal government attempting to reconstitute itself. Torn between hope that this is a genuine start to national recovery and his fears that the ‘federal administrator’ isn’t on the level, Matherson and Black Mountain stand cautious, and are ultimately caught up in another life-and-death struggle.
One Second After read like a science-fiction horror story, chronicling a catastrophic breakdown of society; One Year After’s story is far less harrowing, being mostly politics and combat as Matherson works with his neighbors and the government in nearby Bluemont that claims to be the legitimate government. Black Mountain has weathered the worst of the breakdown, but its neighbors spell trouble. Not only is there constant feuding between mountain clans that frequently bleeds over into his city, but those warring tribes have caught the attention of the Bluemont government. The United States’ overseas meddling has for once paid off; the troops and equipment stationed outside of the EMP bursts are alive, kicking, and back in the states to restore order. At the novel’s opening, a draft has been imposed on the populations in contact with Bluemont, as it is attempting to create an Army of National Recovery to put an end to the multitude of highwaymen and cults now peppering the landscape. Faint broadcasts from the BBC hint that interesting goings-on are happening around the globe, dropping secret messages to ‘friends in Montreal’ or Prauge, and detailing the ongoing failure of Bluemont to put down a monster ruling in Chicago while the Chinese occupy California.. As the plot of the book unfolds, Matherson increasingly suspects that this new Federal authority isn’t one worth of trust, and eventually has to make a decision: conscience or convenience. Temptation is an ongoing theme here in his social balancing act; how easy would it be to say to hell with his raiding mountain neighbors, instead of swallowing pride to make a peace with them; how simple his life would be if he would simply throw his lot in with Bluemont. Time and again Matherson hovers between what he believes is right, and what seems right, with Forstchen using cigarettes as a visual clue. Accept an offered smoke and enjoy immediate satisfaction…but at the price of reviving a long-beaten addiction.
Although One Year After doesn’t have the immediate punch that One Second After did, the firefights amid abandoned and repurposed sights of urban decade are well done, especially as they happen alongside Matherson’s frequent soul-searching bouts of tough decision making. I appreciated the nuance here; unlike Patriots, antagonists are redeemable — even the Feds.
Always good for a laugh these sort of things [I have my own collection of ten such coming up next year!] I'm always impressed at how fast things fall apart (I don't think we're that fragile) and how quickly people descend into savagery (usually cannibalism!) which I think highly unlikely. It also makes me laugh that we seem to go from high-tech to Medieval in the blink of an eye. People forget that we had fully functioning global empires long before electricity. If the power went out – even permanently – sure a lot of people would die in the dislocation but the world would be back on its feet and functioning in a few years at best. Maybe one of the books in the set of 10 will have more confidence than the usual pessimistic stuff we've all become used to?
Ten books?! I only read this one because I happened to spot it at the library. 😉
One of Forschten's key points is that we lack the kind of infrastructure those pre-industrial nations had; production and processing of food and are centralized, not dispersed, and nigh-nonexistant beyond the industrial scale. At most we have organic farmers and woodshop hobbyists. These days most people can't even cook, at least not in the US! Skills can be re-learned, slowly, but what about the primitive machining that's required to produce basic tools? This is why the replacement of trade classes by “memorize this for the test then forget it” sequencess, and the denigration of trade school, is a tragedy, at least for the US. I don't know the status of real/trade skills in the UK.
Stephen said: Ten books?! I only read this one because I happened to spot it at the library. 😉
You know me and my hard-core ways… [grin] They're not all about survivalism though… In fact the first one is about a US Destroyer playing cat and mouse with a Russian sub and accidentally starting WW3. Then there's alien invasions, environmental disasters etc…
Stephen said: I don't know the status of real/trade skills in the UK.
Probably not much difference to the US. Most things considered life skills pre-electricity are odd hobbies these days. I think if tech society collapsed though the oldies would get through it. After all the teens would probably be too depressed to survive without Facebook and Twitter.
Is that Russian sub story contemporary, or set in the Cold War?
Cold War. It's 'The Bedford Incident' by Mark Rascovich published in 1963 and made into a movie starring Richard Widmark.