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.