Black Mountain, North Carolina is a small town, host to a college with about 600 students, no large businesses, but gaining favor as summer hideaway for people from the larger cities. Black Mountain is, however, strategically located on the Interstate highway system and provides the water supply to a larger nearby city. On the afternoon of the first day described in the book's narration, the phones suddenly go dead along with all the electrical appliances. Just a second before, everything worked; but now, just one second after, nothing seems to work.
John Matherson is a former U.S. Army Colonel who came to Black Mountain with his wife when she was dying of cancer. She had grown up in the town. Matherson is now a Professor of history at the local Montreat College. The widowed father of two daughters, Matherson is respected within the community. Within hours it becomes clear that this is no ordinary power outage, and that the power may be off for a very long time. Every modern electrical device is dead, destroyed by what Matherson is beginning to suspect is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States by unknown attackers. The United States has, in an instant, been thrown back into the 19th Century; but the narration in the book points out that 21st century people are not at all equipped to live under 19th century conditions.
Matherson's immediate concern is his 12 year old daughter who has Type 1 diabetes. Without a constant supply of insulin, which requires refrigeration, she will die. The story shifts quickly to how the community reacts. Matherson is a respected outsider, his military experience and standing as Professor and his levelheadedness are appreciated. There are hundreds of people whose cars and trucks simply stopped on the nearby Interstate highway. Those people make their way into town, where some of them are clearly unwanted. There is an immediate concern about food. The leaders of the community soon begin wondering how these several thousand people going to be fed for any appreciable length of time. No refrigerators or freezers are running. No trucks are bringing in fresh supplies every day.
Concerns immediately arise about the nursing home in town where Matherson's cancer-stricken elderly father-in-law resides. The elderly and frail need refrigerated medicines, and many require constant nursing care. The EMP has damaged the nursing home's standby generator, which cannot be started. There are no radio broadcasts, no television, no internet: no communication with anyone outside the town. The family of Matherson's late wife have been car collectors on a small scale, and they happen to have a couple of Ford automobiles that are so old that the EMP did not affect them because they have no modern EMP-sensitive electronics. Another local resident owns a vintage airplane that later becomes very useful because it is so old that it has no vulnerable electronics. Without modern utilities and supplies, diseases surge. Minor wounds sometimes become seriously infected, but the community has soon exhausted its supply of antibiotics. The social order begins to break down. It is too late in the year to plant crops, and few people in the area know how to farm anyway. Skills that haven't been needed in several generations have become critically necessary. The town must organize its young people to defend itself against a marauding band of criminals, who eventually attack the community, resulting in a violent and deadly conflict. After a time, the extreme shortages of food necessitate difficult choices about who gets how much food and which people are to be deliberately underfed to the point of starvation. Increasingly, Matherson is forced by circumstances to assume a leadership role as the situation continues to deteriorate. Matherson, and a few others, try their best to maintain a balance between the multiple necessities of rationing scarce resources, maintaining orderly law and individual freedom, as well as personal responsibility and moral behavior in the midst of deeply deteriorating physical and social conditions.
Toward the end of the novel, it is revealed that the EMP was generated by three nuclear warheads launched from container ships. One was launched from the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of United States and detonated in space over "Utah, Kansas, and Ohio." The container ship was sunk by an explosion immediately after the missile launch, and no indication remained of who was responsible for the attacks. The other two weapons were detonated over Russia and near Japan and Korea.
In July 1962, a 1.44 megaton United States nuclear test in space, 400 km above the mid-Pacific Ocean, called the Starfish Prime test, demonstrated to nuclear scientists that the magnitude and effects of a high altitude nuclear explosion were much larger than had been previously calculated. Starfish Prime also made those effects known to the public by causing electrical damage in Hawaii, more than 800 miles away from the detonation point, knocking out about 300 streetlights, setting off numerous burglar alarms and damaging a telephone company microwave link.
The EMP damage of the Starfish Prime test was quickly repaired because of the ruggedness (compared to today) of the electrical and electronic infrastructure of Hawaii in 1962. Realization of the potential impacts of EMP became more apparent to some scientists and engineers during the 1970s as more sensitive solid-state electronics began to come into widespread use. The relatively small magnitude of the Starfish Prime EMP in Hawaii (about 5,600 volts/meter) and the relatively small amount of damage done (for example, only 1 to 3 percent of streetlights extinguished) led some scientists to believe, in the early days of EMP research, that the problem might not be as significant as was later realized. Newer calculations showed that if the Starfish Prime warhead had been detonated over the northern continental United States, the magnitude of the EMP would have been much larger (22,000 to 30,000 volts/meter) because of the greater strength of the Earth's magnetic field over the United States, as well as the different orientation of the Earth's magnetic field at high latitudes. These new calculations, combined with the accelerating reliance on EMP-sensitive microelectronics, heightened awareness that the EMP threat could be a very significant problem.
About the Author William R. Forstchen
William R. Forstchen (born 1950) is an American author who began publishing in 1983 with the novel Ice Prophet. He is a Professor of History and Faculty Fellow at Montreat College, in Montreat, North Carolina. He received his doctorate from Purdue University with specializations in Military History, the American Civil War and the History of Technology.
Willaim R. Forstchen is the author of more than forty books, including the award winning We Look Like Men of War, a young adult novel about an African-American regiment that fought at the Battle of the Crater, which is based upon his doctoral dissertation, The 28th USCTs: Indiana’s African-Americans go to War, 1863-1865 and the "Lost Regiment" series which has been optioned by both Tom Cruise and M. Night Shyamalan.
Willaim R. Forstchen’s writing efforts have, in recent years, shifted towards historical fiction and non fiction. In 2002 he started the “Gettysburg” trilogy with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; the trilogy consists of Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War, Grant Comes East, and Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant - The Final Victory. More recently, they have have published two works on the events leading up to Pearl Harbor and immediately after that attack Pearl Harbor, and Days of Infamy.
In March 2009, Willaim R. Forstchen’s latest work, One Second After, (Forge/St. Martin’s books) was released. Based upon several years of intensive research and interviews, it examines what might happen in a “typical” American town in the wake of an attack on the United States with “electro-magnetic pulse” (EMP) weapons. Similar in plotting to books such as On the Beach and Alas Babylon, One Second After, is set in a small college town in western North Carolina and is a cautionary tale of the collapse of social order in the wake of an EMP strike. The book has been optioned by Warner Bros. and currently is in development as a feature film. The book was cited on the floor of Congress and before the House Armed Services Committee by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R.-MD), chair of the House Committee tasked to evaluate EMP weapons, as a realistic portrayal of the potential damage rendered by an EMP attack on the continental United States.
Willaim R. Forstchen resides near Asheville, North Carolina with his daughter Meghan. His other interests include archaeology, and he has participated in several expeditions to Mongolia and Russia. He is a pilot and co owns an original 1943 Aeronca L-3B recon plane used in World War II.
One Second After - William R. Forstchen - NEW Book
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