Saturday, April 4, 2009

Book Recommendation: One Second After

Copyright 2008-2009, Paul Jackson, all rights reserved

Normally I recommend technology and programming related books on this blog and One Second After, by William Forstchen, is fiction, but it’s fiction about technology, so that’s okay … or, rather, it’s fiction about non-technology.

One of my favorite types of fiction is the displaced-person genre, stories where a person or group are dramatically displaced from their normal environment, especially where technology is involved.  Whether it’s about someone with technological knowledge displaced to where that knowledge doesn’t exist yet (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Island in the Sea of Time and 1632) or apocalyptic tales of people reliant on technology when that technology or the society fails (Dies the Fire and The Stand), there’s something about these stories that appeals to me.

One Second After is different than other books I’ve read in the genre because most of those others rely on a certain amount of fantasy or, at least, willing suspension of disbelief in order to achieve the displacement.  One Second After doesn’t need to, it’s premise is all too real, believable and possible.

The premise of One Second After is: What would happen to a society if an EMP eliminated most technology?

A generally accepted fact is that an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) caused by a nuclear explosion at high-altitude would damage or destroy most unshielded electronics – so imagine the impact on your life if most electronics stopped working.

Not just our convenience and entertainment, but our very survival relies on electronics.  The average city needs power to pump water to its citizens and trucks (modern trucks and cars need their electronics to run) to bring in more food.  Modern medicine is based around technologically-sophisticated diagnostic equipment and drugs have to be shipped on a regular basis.  Our entire financial system is dependent on electronics – it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank if the bank records are inaccessible and no one can take a debit card for payment.

One Second After does an excellent job of examining the consequences of all these things and more.  It also explores the societal changes and how people and groups would behave in such a situation – not always pleasantly or likable, but very realistically.

It’s a well-written, plausible story … disturbing because of its very possibility.

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