on March 19, 2009
Fans of the author will not be disappointed by his latest work.
Forstchen examines the effect of an attack on the U.S.A. using an EMP(or rather three EMPs). The electro magnetic pulse ruins most electrical gadgets; computers and anything controlled by them, data storage, modern vehicles and planes, electricity generators,water supply, medical equipment, phones and radios.
The small town in which the story is set reverts to a barter economy and its shops soon run out of food and medicines. Local law enforcement has to cope with increasingly desperate local citizens,stranded motorists, and refugees from the big cities hoping to find food and shelter.
Forstchen examines the big issues mainly by looking at the impact on one family. This approach works well, and the reader is drawn in, wondering "what would I do in that situation?"
The reason I gave this book 4 stars rather than 5 may sound trivial. Every single "could have, should have, would have, might have" in the book is written as "could of, should of" etc.After reading several dozen of these I almost ended up shouting at the book. I guess I'm getting old.
on May 12, 2009
I have read serial killer books, grisly murder books, but this was hands down the scariest book I have ever read. A book that caused me to lose sleep and kept me thinking long after I was finished reading.
The book follows what happens to an American community after and EMP attack is visited on our country. EMP occurs when a nuclear bomb is detonated above the atmosphere, causing every single thing in it's range containing anything electronic to fail. Cars, planes, pacemakers, electricity, you name it, it's gone forever. The country is immediately plunged into the dark ages, the population far too large to be supported by 18th century technology. Different parts of the country fare better or worse depending on their locations to urban areas. Gangs roam the land, bringing death and destruction to any remaining survivors.
What is frightening about this book is the fact that it is a very real possibility. The government is currently studying EMP attacks, as it is probably a more real threat than the thermonuclear attack we have always been raised to fear. If you ever had a thought of having your home prepared for a disaster, you will be propelled into action after reading the horrors entailed here for anyone who does not.
The day after reading I could not help but realize how fully dependent we are on electronics and technology. I found myself cataloging each thing I did during the day. How long can you last with the food in your pantry and maybe a week's worth of water before it becomes contaminated and cholera, dysentery, and thyphoid break out?
You may not have ever imagined America as a third-world country. This book will force you to.
By the way, if you have a project due or deadline, finish it before you pick this book up. It sucks you right in and you are compelled to finish it instead of doing anything else. I really came to love and care about the characters. It was hard to "watch" as the worst befell them.
on March 30, 2009
I live in Black Mountain, NC, and am a personal friend of Dr. Forstchen, so I read this latest book of his with considerable interest. I would highly recommend it.
The EMP event he describes might presently be improbable, but is certainly possible. Nicholas Taleb would undoubtedly recognize it as a "Black Swan" event: something that lies outside the range of normal experience, but that has a catastrophic impact. Taleb pointed out that humans have a tendency to excessively discount and underestimate Black Swans, so I would encourage readers to be careful not to dismiss Forstchen's book just because the scenario he paints is improbable. Furthermore, an EMP attack is hardly the only thing that might result in the substantial or total collapse of the economy and civilization; there are a range of possible scenarios, and the practical effect of living through them and their aftermath might not differ all that much from what Forstchen describes.
Some might be tempted to feel depressed after reading "One Second After", or to consider Forstchen's outlook to be excessively pessimistic. On the contrary, I consider his to actually be a rather optimistic view. Importantly, his story line assumes that the townspeople DO come together and cooperate with each other; the town government does hold together, and the town leaders do lead. The town does not devolve into "every person for themselves" anarchy, as so many other post-apocalyptic visions presume. It is also optimistic in that the townspeople do actually win in a horrific battle against a nightmarish roving gang. It is optimistic in that the protagonist and the other characters do succeed in the struggle to maintain their humanity and deepest held values.
So, read the book. But then what? Don't just set it down and forget about it. If it doesn't spur you to action, then you've wasted your time. The fact of the matter is, there ARE things that each of us could and should be doing in all of our communities right now to prepare ourselves and our communities from a whole range of vulnerabilities.
Some people are going to be tempted to rush out and stock up on non-perishable foodstuffs. Fine, but remember that those will eventually run out. What you and your community really need is to build up your local food production capacity; that is where you will find true food security. Plant fruit trees, and transform your yard into a vegetable garden. If you rent and don't have garden space, then participate in a community garden; if there is none in your community, then start one. Patronize local farmers through local farmer's markets and CSAs. Learn to can and dehydrate food, store what you grow and eat what you store -- think in terms of a whole system, operated on a long-term basis. Consider how you are going to cook food when the electricity and natural gas and propane and coleman fuel all run out; there are alternatives, including wood stoves and solar ovens.
Consider your water supply, and have a backup. Bottles of water are fine for a couple of months, but nobody can store enough water to last a lifetime. Consider having some sort of filtration system in case one must rely on surface water, and some sort of cart and barrels to haul it.
Consider how you are going to keep warm in the wintertime. Now is the time to weatherstrip and insulate. Consider getting a woodstove and laying up a few cords of wood - and having the axes, saws, and carts to cut down and haul more wood when your supply runs out. Consider installing some solar space heating panels if you have a good southern exposure.
Consider how you are going to keep well and healthy. In Forstchen's novel, many people die of disease and what are presently treatable medical conditions. Get yourself a good first aid book, maybe take some Red Cross first aid classes, and set yourself with a good set of first aid supplies. While some herbal remedy claims must be taken with a grain of salt, there are some that do work; learn the difference, and be prepared to grow or gather whatever is useful for health and healing.
Maintaining communications can be useful. In Forstchen's novel, all electronics are fried, and the town is left with no working communications. I do wish that Forstchen had mentioned that it is possible to protect sensitive electronic devices with a Faraday Cage. Put a portable radio in a cardboard box, put that inside a bigger box, wrap the package completely with aluminum foil (every square inch, no exceptions), attach a ground wire (secure metal-to-metal contact), and attach the ground wire to a ground (a cold water pipe is not ideal, but will do). He mentioned one person in a distant town having a working shortwave receiver; if several of the townspeople in his novel had the forsight to store portable radios with shortwave bands (along with some way to recharge the batteries, either by crank power or solar panel), they would have been able to get important outside news much sooner. Even more importantly, if several people had hidden away a few pairs of FRS/GMRS 2-way radios in faraday cages, then the town government, police, and militia would have had valuable 2-way communications. Do yourself and your community a favor and consider doing this; after an EMP attack is too late.
This is not a complete list; Amazon.com has a number of books with more extensive recommendations for disaster preparedness. Take this opportunity to take advantage of the time you have before something unexpected, but maybe inevitable, happens.
on April 14, 2009
I purchased this book because I have been flogging the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack scenario to friends and relatives since early 2008, when it became apparent to me that the U.S. had lost the will to halt nuclear proliferation among terror-sponsoring states. I reasoned that a stateless actor or an apocalyptic regime might calculate that an EMP attack would actually create more casualties and more economic damage than a direct strike on any one city. An EMP attack also has the advantage of being the equivalent of hitting the broad side of a barn. Just get the nuke up a couple hundred klicks and go "boom," rather than trust your missile's guidance to hit an urban center from offshore or (alternatively) risk detection of a smuggled warhead. Lastly, the straightforward atomic bomb designs a nascent nuclear state is likely to deploy don't make as big a crater as a sophisticated "hydrogen" (fusion) bomb does, but they're already very effective at creating EMP.
Given the above, one would imagine I'd be among the vanguard in extolling this novel. For reasons great and small though, I was ultimately disappointed. In my opinion the story's biggest flaw is its implicit assumption that EMP would render irrevocably inoperable any integrated-circuit based device -- i.e., anything more advanced than wires, coils, and vacuum tubes -- and by extension anything that depended upon such devices (your modern automobile, for example). My readings so far of the findings of the ongoing EMP Commission (in particular April 2008, see empcommission.org) suggest that this is a gross exaggeration. True, while the near-certain collapse of the electrical grid would immediately harm the transportation infrastructure (imagine no subways, no commuter rail, no street or traffic lights), the vast majority of automobiles would still be mobile. Similarly, while the cellular phone and land-line telephone systems will be severely crippled (at onset) or entirely nonfunctional (after 72 hours) due to their ultimate dependence on the electrical grid and sophisticated switching technologies, there is little reason to believe that battery-operated two-way radios and (especially) simple AM and shortwave receivers would be harmed at all. The author's belief that only antique autos would run and only tube radios will turn on following EMP is key to creating the conditions of immobilization and isolation on which the rest of his story arc depends. And when I couldn't buy into the author's core assumptions, the plot lost much of its punch.
From that point onward, the book's other shortcomings became more grating. Some old-school editing, say from my bespectacled junior-year English teacher, would have helped a great deal. Mrs. K would certainly have caught the "horde" used mistakenly instead of "hoard", the "striped" for stripped, the "breech" which was supposed to be a breach and the "than" / "that" typos which mangle a sentence. Adverbs in dialogue were recycled to the point of distraction. There's only so many times a character can respond "sharply" to another in a single conversation before the reader wants to attack the book with a sharply instrument.
It would be a terrible shame if this book's vision convinced readers that an actual EMP attack would be unavoidably catastrophic, and survivable only by a select few who empty their bank accounts and utterly abandon their former lifestyles in preparation. I sincerely believe that this is not the case, and that the most-likely EMP attack scenarios can be survived by nearly everyone who can plan for three months without the grocery store, ATM, and utility services. Yes it takes some forethought and a little planning, but think of it as a life insurance policy for your entire family that actually pays off when you wind up living instead of the other way around.
I would've loved an EMP disaster novel to be a smash hit that would later become the movie that would galvanize an irresistible push for robust missile defense and an uncompromising policy of nonproliferation. I desperately want a concerted government program to harden the protections on high-value electrical infrastructure and build increased EMP resistance into our evolving telecommunications system. Maybe these things will still happen, but I don't see this book being the trigger for them.
on April 20, 2009
I wish I had liked this book better. Good premise, and books about EMP attacks always interest me. But Forstchen makes a lot of irritating missteps. His professor hero becomes the town leader even though he's caught completely unprepared, even to lacking insulin for his daughter. Canny local survivalists are regarded as a mere resource rather than as the natural leaders, presumably because they lack a PhD.
People start immediately fleeing en masse from the cities toward the book's rural setting. All wrong, as the history of disasters shows repeatedly. People will die of starvation rather than abandon their homes and possessions - not that they should, but they do. And in Forstchen's post-EMP world, with very few working automobiles, the idea of tens or hundreds of thousands flooding via foot from the metropoli of Greensboro and the Triangle out to the country is absurd (for one thing, it's a big mental wrench to leave Granny and Baby at home, presumably to starve, while those capable of making such a trek act in a rationally utilitarian manner to save themselves. It eventually happens, but it takes a good while to get to that point and it's far from universal). As for a 1000+ member paramiliary gang of ex-biker convicts terrorizing the state...well, Forstchen is indulging in more fantasy writing here (see his pretty good Midkemia book).
Forstchen does address the issues of clean water and medicine. With the hero's daughter being a type 1 diabetic, that issue at least is thoroughly represented. He overemphasizes the food problem, and it is presented very one-dimensionally as well. It mostly focuses on foraging (from grocery stores, that is), rationing, and confiscating existing food. Then there is some hunting. But actual, you know, agriculture, barely gets a nod. Even when there is a brief discussion of farms it centers on whether to immediately consume all the livestock or save some for breeding. The idea of going out and planting something in the ground simply never comes up, as incredible as that sounds. There is a late mention of a harvest from an orchard, but that's about it.
Forstchen's second-biggest gaffe is probably his failure to understand which regions are self-sustaining and which aren't. He does seem to get that California produces some sort of food. But he completely mangles the relative situations of the Midwest, the book's North Carolina setting, and Florida. The corn belt isn't the human-devoid cornucopia he imagines it to be (and Iowa for instance has a much shorter growing season than NC); he probably sells North Carolina's food production potential short; and he completely strikes out on Florida - like California a populous state with a year-round growing season which produces a huge overabundance of vegetables, fruit, and other food. Just googling 'Florida agriculture' before he committed himself would have saved him from looking like a fool. The last thing people would be doing is fleeing north from Florida - and that's even only considering food.
Fleeing north when there's no power...what was that other gaffe? Oh yeah, winter. In a country with no power. We'll never know how they handled it, because Forstchen skips from early summer to the next spring. But the idea that anyone would have been heading north from the subtropics is absurb. People, and their modern homes, simply aren't built to take winter without power. Once you've burned the furniture, then what? And of course caloric requirements go up as temperature goes down, so the LAST thing you'd do in a food shortage would be to go north. Incidentally the same logic applies to altitude, and one of the reasons the mountains have always been sparely populated compared to the coasts is simply that the coasts have less severe winters. This would be another reason for the city dwellers to stay in their lowland bergs and not impose themselves on the hill dwellers.
But the biggest annoyance was the lack of a plan. Forstchen thinks his busybody town council has a plan, but it really doesn't. Though lucky enough to have a working car, his hero uses it for unnecessary joyrides into town. He and the town repeatedly expose this valuable resource to needless risk (why not drive down NEAR the next town, then leave the car guarded and walk in the last mile, telling a little white lie about how far you walked if anyone asks? That way you don't tempt them. Or if you don't like that plan, some other plan. Any plan. Not just cluelessly failing to anticipate that a car is now worth confiscating by force or even killing for.)
Where his post-apocalyptic scenario misses the boat is in trying to reinvent the wheel spoke by spoke. Just because it originally took almost 200 years to go from steam power to nuclear doesn't mean that you have to go back to square one and take another 200 years to get back to where you just were! All the stuff's still there, it just needs replacement chips (better-shielded ones this time). Anything else is just a stopgap while you get civilization up and running. But when we find out what the powers that be are up to, it's more putting out local fires rather than actually addressing the main issue. True, you'd have to do both.
What did I like? Some of the self-sufficiency. And I thought he had a good commonsense and humane plan for dealing with food rationing and people who may already have their own food stores: you can apply for ration coupons, BUT you must then allow your house to be searched for all food. That way no one can douple-dip. At the same time, there's no forcible confiscation of food from those who did look ahead, no approved theft by the grasshoppers from the ants.
The novel as such is pretty cheesy. The widower dad with the sick daughter, the convenient new lady friend who drops in from heaven (okay the interstate) and just happens to be an attractive single nurse. The former mother-in-law who conveniently has a pair of vintage auotomobiles without the vulnerabilities of a lot of electronics. I don't think realistic fiction is the author's strong point, so I wish he had foregone the lame story attempt and just written a book about the actual physics behind and effects of an EMP.
This book describes one of the worst-case scenarios following an EMP attack on the US, from the point of view of a small rural town. If you have seen the TV series Jericho, you will find a lot of it here (quite possibly it was inspired by this book or vice versa).
Let's start with what is good about this book:
- It serves as a wake up call. It shows you that American society is way too dependent on modern technology, medicine, supply chains, and well-functioning infrastructure. Also, most Americans are not prepared, in terms of skills and supplies, to face and survive a major emergency. An EMP attack has the potential to revert the entire country to 19th century technology, minus the knowledge, skills, and electricity-free infrastructure to support a reasonable quality of life. So the major emergency in the book disrupts the lives of practically all. Famine and disease kill off the weak, the chronically ill, the old and infirm. If you think about Katrina, much of the same happened. Also, famine tends to bring out the worst in people, so serious crime and even large scale paramilitary battles erupt, leading to more deaths and suffering.
What is bad about this book? Here is a list to start:
- Factual errors - EMP is apparently not as destructive as author makes it sound. The preface and afterword of the book refer to a congressional report which can be found if you search online for empcommission. While I did not read every detail of the report, the summary and parts of individual chapters that I read seemed to say that disruption to communications would be temporary (i.e. phone coverage would recover in a matter of days), and most cars including modern ones are immune to EMP, especially if they are not running at the time of the event. Granted, electronics which are running, plugged in, etc may get fried, and there could be significant short term damage. However, the fear that highways will turn into parking lots and life will revert to 19th century - this may be an urban myth. Read the congressional report for yourselves.
- Jingoistic is a bizarre way. "We're Americans, therefore X" comes up a lot. E.g. when someone on the town council proposes that they should eat their dogs since food is seriously running out, the main character counters this with "we're Americans, we don't do that". Here is another pearl of wisdom, p. 337: "Vitamins, John thought. My God, so American. Something good from a small bottle." You get the point?
- Overemphasis on the military motif. The main character is a retired colonel, and everywhere he goes, vets from practically all wars after WW2 come out of the woodwork (often enough to get repetitive). They tend to be the most upstanding citizens ever, and engage in all sorts of overly romanticized heroism.
- Too much dialogue. Seriously, it gets annoying when even the most inane detail that moves the plot forward or explains what is going on is presented via dialogue. A little more narration would have been good.
- Lack of realism based on logic and human nature. The town miraculously feeds thousands of inhabitants through centralized rations for several months, even though the food stores are looted in the first couple of days and there are no further supplies from anywhere. Where does this food come from? Also, somehow they establish a centralized rationing scheme, martial law with quick executions, sort of like in Stalin's Russia in WW2 (there are plenty of direct references in the book). Yes somehow they do not devolve into hard line power politics, armed strongmen occupying all the resources, which is hard to believe. Also, there is some combination of small-town ethics combined with stiff upper lip which I really could not identify with. The father (main character) can't communicate with his daughters (at all), and although some hottie nurse is into him, there is zero romance whatsoever.
- This book does not really teach you anything. It just shows one way things can disintegrate when the electric and transportation grid go down. If you want to learn about survival from a fiction book, try Patriots by James Rawles. It has all of the same flaws as this book, even worse in fact, but you can learn by observing what the characters do to prepare for and cope with their crisis.
Bottom line: I can't recommend this book - too flawed and incomplete.
If you want a well written what-if end-of-the-world scenario, real Lucifer's Hammer. It develops earthquake-thunami-flood scenarios well, across urban and rural areas, shows a wider variety of more realistic human behaviors, and it is just a lot more fun to read.
on February 16, 2011
At the advice of a friend, I read One Second After, by William R. Forstchen (copyright 2009 Tor/Forge). It's the story of what might happen to Americans in the event of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that took out our electronics and communication net. It's told from the perspective of a history professor at a small Christian college in the mountains above Asheville, North Carolina, and his family. He's retired military, raising two daughters after losing his wife to cancer. He has settled in a small town called Black Mountain.
As far as the general populace is concerned, the EMP comes completely unexpectedly. And it's not that dramatic: The power goes out. Vehicle engines stop and the cars come to a stop. Cell phones stop working. It's an inconvenience to most; travelers are stuck on the Interstate, nobody can call home.
Of course, when a few days go by and there is still no power and no contact with the rest of the world, it's much more than inconvenience. The story follows the breakdown of the things we take for granted: That our fire trucks will run. That food will fill the grocery shelves. That we can get the medicines we need. That our pacemakers and insulin pumps will work and that dialysis will be available when we need it. That people will show up to take care of our loved ones at the nursing home. (This one hit me hard.) That one way or another we can feed our children. That people are basically good and will look out for one another.
Before long, people are dying, from illnesses that were easy to manage with medication and regular care; food is starting to run short, and people are scared.
If you think you're pretty good at handling crisis, that you're pretty independent and self sufficient, try reading this book and see if you still think so.
My friend recommended the book to me after a discussion we had about emergency preparedness. I had said to her that I hoped I would never get so desperate that I would not be willing to share with a hungry neighbor. I guess I wasn't thinking so far as that I'd be willing to share with just anyone, neighbor or not. She asked me, if it meant my child starving, and I knew it, would I share? What if that someone took the food away from me and my child, rather than sharing? Or what if it was a neighbor in need, but someone I knew had never been careful with anything in his or her life, rather had depended on people fixing things for him or her at every turn? Would I still feel the same? We also talked about home defense. I said I couldn't see myself taking up arms against fellow Americans, and she said this book might change my opinion on that. And yes, it did. The people of Black Mountain eventually do organize and band together to take care of each other, but that means they are a nice juicy target for the ruthless and lawless, who are better organized. Black Mountain must take up arms for very survival.
The book has given me a lot to think about. We need to have some basic things in mind in case something were to happen and help could not get to us for a few days, or weeks. Or months. It never hurts to plan.
With that said, I have to say that this book reads as though the second draft accidentally went straight to the publisher. I don't know who is Forstchen's editor, but evidently that person was having a bad week/month/year. Forstchen does not write dialogue well at all. Part of the problem is that his characters are about a half a centimeter deep. Blow on them and they will fall right over. And then when he makes them talk to one another, they get even thinner. So that's part of the problem. Poor characterization, stupid dialogue. On top of that, you have just plain bad proofreading and wonky punctuation. I found it very distracting. I almost got a pencil to make edits. (I've done that. I really have. It usually makes me feel better. I didn't go quite that far this time.) As an example, if you are writing dialogue, and one character is monologuing, and it runs to more than one paragraph, you don't put a closed quote at the end of each paragraph, you just use open quotes at the beginning of new paragraphs to remind the reader that the character is still talking, and when the character finally wraps up whatever it is he's trying to say, you close THAT paragraph with closed quotes. Sorta obvious. Didn't happen in this book. At least not consistently. I was already mad at the irritating conversations these paper people were having and then, having a problem figuring out which one was saying what, on top of that? Grrr.
And there was other stuff that should have been caught by somebody even if Forstchen didn't. Here's an example: In one scene, the main character is talking to his daughter, who is lying on a sofa. She's kind of mad at him. Here's the scene, minus things that would spoil the story for you:
Jennifer turned away, features pale.
"You're lying, Daddy. You never could lie to me."
"No, honey. It's the truth. [Spoiler redacted.]"
She said nothing, just looking at him.
"Sweetie, would you like me to read to you?"
Head turned away, she nodded.
See the problem? Where the heck is Jennifer looking? Her head is turned away, yet she's looking at him. Maybe there's a mirror in the room. Maybe she has eyes in the back of her head.
Anyway, this sort of stuff is all through the book and I find it distracting. It's easy to make these mistakes when you're writing because you get too close your words, but that's the editor's job, among other things, to notice stuff like that and bring it to the author's attention to be fixed.
So, final point: I recommend the story as an eye-opening though scary read, and I hereby ask for a job as a copy editor at Tor/Forge.
on July 21, 2010
I'm a big fan of the genre, and, coincidentally, I read "Alas, Babylon" just weeks before I started this book and was therefore very pleased to see so many comparisons drawn to it. Sadly, I saw relatively few significant similarities between these books. The obvious "post-apocalyptic story of survival focusing on one family in a struggling town" aside, where Alas focuses on a exciting story driven delivery that conveys the horrors of Nuclear attack, "One Second After" trudges through lecture-worthy detail, spending entire dialogue driven chapters giving transcript like details of the emergency council meetings.
In one of these meetings they discuss how to handle the survivalists which are living in the mountains. I found myself thinking, "Wow, I wish this story was about the rugged mountain survivalists family and I didn't have to read this crappy transcript of a emergency town hall meeting."
Twice in one of these meetings, it references John's thoughts being "...how much like Kings meeting to barter..." and then, a few paragraphs later, lead character John actually interrupts the riveting discussion on tetanus booster availability to say to the rest of the characters, "...how much like a meeting of Kings this is...". We get it History Professor. You have, once again, over-explained the obvious without a nuance of interesting story. So much time is spent discussing politics surrounding the survival efforts instead of the efforts of survival themselves.
The story never gets exciting or gains any sense of urgency because of burdensome story telling.
As a review note: I can overlook grammar and editorial mistakes. I read books to be entertained and have no problem insulating my enjoyment from poor editing. They are there, but my review is based purely on the story and how it was delivered, not the relevance on the premise or how it was typed. Nor do I consider the authors political views.
on August 17, 2014
I am not the type of guy who spends any portion of my day writing long drawn out reviews for products, good or bad, simply because I have better things to do normally. But I have to make an exception for this book as I am so depressed that I purchased it before reading reviews, and hope that others can be saved from reading such lazy "literature".
This reads like some cross between a brochure on the merits of Black Mountain, NC, and a 7th grade attempt at writing a SHTF novel. The fact that this was even published and passed through the hands of an editor makes me queasy. What makes it even more depressing, is the POTENTIAL this book had. As an ex soldier, and current military contractor, I purchased this right away based solely on the concept of an EMP attack being the primary theme, as that is a viable threat that is rarely explored. I read anything, but my favorite genre is post apocalyptic/survivalist. One of the greatest mysteries of my life is why I forced myself to read on despite knowing by about page 4 that I had wasted my hard earned money.
Let me break down some pros and cons.
- An EMP attack is rarely explored as a threat to our nation. I am a patriotic man, and a veteran. I like information that helps the American public stay prepared. Though weakly executed, this does provide some information to the public about the threat of EMP.
- The author didn't sugar coat when it came to the starvation, and brought up real possibilities that many people wouldn't think of, like eating pet dogs. As gnarly and distasteful as that sounds, this is supposed to be a realistic scenario and I can't imagine many people choosing death by starvation over eating their pets. I give him kudos for that.
- The location was a good choice. I read a lot of books that are post apocalyptic or what have you, and most have to do with trying to reach coastlines for fishing/water, or trying to reach farmland in the mid west for food. I have never read any about people staying strapped down in a low food yield area. It seems like in many books it's most people's first instinct to move, but people rarely explore the fact that no one knows if this will be lasting a few days or a few years. Often it seems like something wild happens and everyone assumes, "Ah crap, there goes life as we know, let's walk really far to a lake/coastline/farm in another state ASAP!"
- This sounds weird, but I like the main character suffering so much personal loss throughout the book. It's too common that people need to feel good and everyone dies except the main character and his family. That's lame.
-Lack of personality. Literally every adult character in the novel talks the same. There is virtually no personality between any of them. I have never read a book with so many characters all talking in the same voice. It was the worst dialogue I've ever experienced.
- There is so much time spent worshiping the people and beauty of Black Mountain, and the students and campus of Montreat College. It's one of the main things that kills the book, and makes it seem more like some guy trying to sell something instead of a well thought out novel. Especially gut wrenching was the multiple instances of references to, as it's referred in the book, "...a famous fresco, The return of the Prodigal, by the famous artist Ben Long..." It sounds WAYYY more like cheap promotion for Montreat College. Has anyone ever read a novel that tries to brag harder about unique locational details?
- Repetition. This plays along with everyone speaking in the same voice. If you were to try to read this book in a 24 hour span, take a shot every time someone says "helluva", or describes something with "damn/darn" in front of it. You would die before the halfway point. Damn cold, darn good, damn fine, damn this....I understand the need the characters sound like they all speak the same dialect, but this is absurd and lazy. My favorite was repetition in the same sentences. Below, a personal favorite:
"I can mobilize a hundred well-trained infantry and by God we will be there in an hour and by God you will give me that insulin."
That is one of the stupidest sounding sentences I've ever read in any body of work that was apparently edited. I won't get into the rest, but I will say that the author is in absolutely dire need of a thesaurus.
- the "Posse" - Everything about the Posse, down to the name, was just silly and lazy. Might as well have just named them "the Gang" or "the Bad Guys" if you aren't even going to try to come up with a name for them. Initially it states that it was a gang, once again named the Posse, BEFORE the EMP even went off, but afterwards apparently made the decision to start cannibalizing and recruiting the mentally ill, which the author equates to criminals. I love how so many separate characters refer to them as "Barbarians" on their own, in separate multiple conversations. Like after John had decided to call them that in one private conversation, suddenly the other characters begin calling them that as well, in their own conversations. Back to the "one voice" writing style. My favorite event was when one of the characters first describes the Posse, and John thinks about how isolated his town is as he was unfamiliar with such a group. But then suddenly a couple paragraphs later he is instantly an expert on the group and describes them in a speech as "..no longer dealing with refugees; we'll be facing an army as ruthless as anything in history." Really? You got all of that out of some rumors your buddy told you? Suddenly they go from bikers and punks to being as bad as the Huns and Nazis, and John goes from never hearing about them to subject matter expert in a matter of minutes? Once again, mind numbingly lazy writing. Another favorite is when he describes the leader of the posse..."...must have a good military leader in there, knows his stuff..." and then mentions frequently that they must have several ex military in the group. Then when they catch the leader, hes described as having tattooed arms, and an ugly face with an old knife wound. I'll get into cliches in a moment, but there's your first taste. They say the leader brags about having an "inside line with Satan" (weird, this EXACT situation was assumed earlier in the book by someone). Then when the leader speaks, he randomly references the battle reminding him of "the la Drang Valley", but then quickly explains that he saw in "that movie" and on the History Channel, because God forbid a criminal has had any formal education despite him being described earlier as a "good military leader." The entire Posse situation just made the book reek.
-Cliches - the cliches are never ending and make large portions of the novel painful to read. I will only include one, just because it is the silliest. One of the man looters of a retirement home is described as having a shaved head, earring, with a tattoo of a serpent on his arm, and red motorbike...Is that not the exact same description of the criminal that shows up on the Simpsons, minus the shaved head? Or like a combination of every negative stereotype that middle aged parents look for in the men their daughters date? Hilarious, literally no thought at all put into it. If you read the book as a comedy, the cliches become more tolerable.
- Civil War references - Hmmm I sure didn't need to Google this author to know he writes Civil War books! The Civil War is referenced CONSTANTLY. First off, the main character is obviously based somewhat on the author, but what becomes hilarious, is that EVERY OTHER character begins to take on traits of the author/main character. And here's a fun fact, in the city of Black Mountain, almost everyone is a member of John's Civil War Round Table. He introduces 3 other sporadic characters as members of his Round Table, the Civil War/Revolutionary War reenactment folks are referenced multiple times, his mother in law reads Civil War history books in her down time, and in day to day conversation, just about everyone references the Civil War, or other major world conflicts, notably the siege of Leningrad. A favorite gem is when the town is training students for battle, and the author feels the need to mention that the "reenactors in the town regretted they could not get their hands on an original cannon...". Thank you for telling us this completely unimportant information about what the Civil War reenactors regretted, though I understand your need to namedrop a Civil War/Round Table/Reenactment reference whenever an opportunity presents itself.
- The main character is horrible. John is the most unlikeable "hero" I've ever encountered in a novel. He's completely selfish and arrogant, and people suffer because of his actions. I won't get too deep into this, as there is no real argument for him, outside of the author wanting to make a historian sound like a brave warrior or something. How many pages were filled with him discussing cigarettes, anyone figure that out yet?
- The "enemy" - it never explains who really committed the final act that shut America down, just some lazy explanations and then that we apparently destroyed North Korea in retaliation, even if we can't be sure they are the ones who attacked us. That's the author's image of America? "Well, we don't know who to blame for this, but lets nuke an entire country because of their idiot dictator in response even though we don't know if they were even involved!" Wow.
I could go on, but I won't. This review is already way too long, and I think I've made my point. This book is a hodge podge mixture of cliches, bad writing, and fantasy scenarios. I read all types of books. My reviews are pretty eclectic, and I consider myself a pretty open minded person. I've read some pretty stupid books before, some I couldn't even finish. This is easily, and by a long shot, the worst. I have not an ounce of doubt in my mind about it. It reads like a middle school kid's homework, and I honestly feel depressed that I spent actual money on this. I know this review is going to warrant one of the author's arrogant and condescending responses that are so common on negative reviews of his books, because surely freedom of speech isn't tolerable when the reviewer dislikes something the great doctor wrote, but I don't care. My only wish is that I can save someone else this feeling of disgust I feel having spent money on this.
on June 26, 2009
To show you how bad this book is, I will write my review in the style of the author.
Reading, going through pages and pages, could of been at the beach, should of saved my money, but then again, like back in 1988, when I read The Stand, I thought I might enjoy this book. Characters talking, no object, subject or verb, no action either damn it. Just prepositional phrases and run-on sentences in abundance, not an editor in the damn place, needed a cigarette to get through the pain, eleven left. So much talk about cigarettes, maybe underwritten by Phillip Morris. Wish I could find a damn complete sentence without thinking back to other books, other times, but now gone.
"Darn it!" I said sharply as I realized I'd spent $17.00 on this book.
"Honey, it will OK, we are still Americans, aren't we?" my husband said softly.
"We better damn well hope so. They should of had an english teacher in the cast." I whispered.
I shuddered with rage. How could this have happened in America?
***brief pause while an irrelevant character breaks into the National Anthem while the rest of us try to unsuccessfully hide our tears******
OK, end of satire. Let's just say the best written part of this book was the Intro by Newt Gingrich. And thats scarier than an EMP.