One Second After
First edition cover
|Author||William R. Forstchen|
|March 17, 2009|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and trade paperback) and audiobook (audio-CD)|
|LC Class||PS3556.O7418 O54 2009|
One Second After is a 2009 novel by American writer William R. Forstchen. The novel deals with an unexpected electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States as it affects the people living in and around the small American town of Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Black Mountain, North Carolina is a small American town, home to a college with about six hundred students. Although it has no large businesses of its own, it is quickly gaining favor as a summer hideaway for people from larger cities. However, Black Mountain is strategically located along an interstate highway and provides the water supply for the nearby city of Asheville.
John Matherson is a professor of history at the local Montreat Christian College. A retired U.S. Army Colonel, he had moved to Black Mountain with his late wife Mary, a native of the town, when she was dying from cancer. The widowed father of two daughters, Elizabeth and Jennifer, and a collegiate professor, Matherson is well-respected within the community.
At 4:50 p.m. (16:50) Eastern Standard Time the second Tuesday of May, on the first day described in the book's narration, the phone lines in the town suddenly go dead, along with all the electrical appliances. Just a second before, everything worked; but now, just one second after, virtually nothing does.
Within hours it becomes clear to the residents of Black Mountain that this is no ordinary blackout, and they come to the realization that the power may remain off for a very long time. Every modern electrical device is disabled, destroyed by what Matherson is beginning to suspect is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States by unknown attackers.
The Contiguous United States has, in an instant, been thrown back into the 19th century. However, the narration in the book points out that 21st century people are not at all equipped to live under 19th century conditions. Later on, Matherson remarks that the survivors have the technology of the early 16th century.
The story's focus shifts quickly to how the community, as a whole, reacts. John is a respected outsider, and his military experience, standing as a collegiate professor, and level-headedness are appreciated by the town's residents. There are hundreds of stranded motorists whose cars and trucks have simply rolled to a halt on the nearby interstate highway. Those people make their way into town, where some of them are clearly unwanted by the locals. There is an immediate growing concern about food; the leaders of the community soon begin wondering how these several thousand people are 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 elderly cancer-stricken father-in-law resides. The elderly and frail need refrigerated medicines, and many require constant nursing care. The EMP has disabled the nursing home's generator which cannot be started. There are no AM/FM radio broadcasts, no television, no Internet, and thus, no communication with anyone outside the town is possible. However, two months later, a working antique telephone is set up to connect Black Mountain with the nearby town of Swannanoa.
The family of Matherson's late wife are small-scale car collectors who happen to own a 1959 Edsel, in addition to a Mustang. The two cars are so old that the EMP did not affect them because they have no modern EMP-sensitive electronics, such as transistors. Another local resident owns a vintage airplane that later becomes very useful, as it too is so old that it has no vulnerable electronics.
Without modern sanitation and supplies, diseases surge. Minor wounds become seriously infected, and the community has soon exhausted its supply of antibiotics. The social order in Black Mountain begins to break down. It is too late in the year to plant and harvest crops, which is a moot point as few people in the area know how to farm anyway. Suddenly, skills that haven't been needed in several generations have become critically necessary. The town must organize its young and able-bodied to defend itself against a marauding band of cannibals, who eventually attack the community, resulting in a violent and deadly battle. After a while, the extreme shortages of food require difficult choices regarding rationing; 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 growing leadership role as the situation continues to deteriorate. Matherson, along with a few others, try their best to maintain a balance between the multiple necessities of rationing scarce resources, maintaining law and order in addition to individual freedom, as well as personal responsibility and moral behavior in the midst of deeply deteriorating physical and social conditions.
Matherson is forced to lead several battalions of college kids into battle against the cannibalistic Posse. In the process the college’s resource officer is killed and the students’ numbers are reduced to two thirds of what they were before. After the battle the Posse leader is hanged on the interstate and John releases the several remaining Posse members, claiming that they weren’t going to do any more harm.
One year later, the U.S. military arrives to rebuild and aid the town. It is revealed that the EMP that devastated the contiguous United States was generated by three nuclear missiles launched from offshore container ships. One was launched from the Gulf of Mexico and detonated in the upper atmosphere over Utah, Kansas, and Ohio. The container ship was sunk by an explosion immediately after the missile launch; no indication remained of who was directly responsible for the attacks. Another missile was fired from off the Icelandic coast and detonated over East Europe and Russia. This launch hit major cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow. Another nuclear missile was detonated over Japan and South Korea. The U.S. government is said to have believed that an alliance between Iran and North Korea was responsible for the attacks, and that the United States attacked Iran and North Korea with nuclear weapons in retaliation. It was also mentioned that the U.S. withdrew all of its overseas military forces back to the United States to aid in rebuilding and humanitarian work. It is also revealed that the EMP attack brought down the not sufficiently hardened Air Force One, which killed the U.S. President upon impact of the crashing plane.
One year after the EMP attack, the United States is described as having 30 million survivors, down ninety percent from an original pre-attack population of 300 million. The People's Republic of China is occupying the U.S. west coast with a 500,000-strong occupation force, and Mexico has Texas and the American Southwest under military occupation, as a protectorate against China.
The book also describes the increasingly intimate relationship Matherson develops with a single and child-less nurse, Makala Turner, who was stranded by the pulse.
- John Matherson – A widowed professor of history at the local Montreat Christian College and retired U.S. Army colonel, who rises to a position of responsibility as the crisis in his community develops.
- Elizabeth Matherson – John’s sixteen-year-old daughter.
- Jennifer Matherson – John’s twelve-year-old daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes.
- Jenny – The mother of John’s deceased wife, Mary. Pat is a genteel Southern matriarch who is very close with John and his daughters.
- Makala Turner – A supervising nurse for a cardiac surgical unit from Charlotte, North Carolina who is stranded in Black Mountain on her way to a medical conference in Asheville on the day of the EMP strike.
- Charlie Fuller – John Matherson’s close friend and Black Mountain’s Director of Public Safety, in charge of the town’s fire and police departments.
- Washington Parker – A former Marine sergeant who is Head of Campus Security at Montreat Christian College.
- Dan Hunt – The well-respected president of Montreat Christian College, whose life Bob Scales saved during the Vietnam War.
- Jim Bartlett – John’s eccentric neighbor who owns the local Volkswagen repair shop and supplies the town with working vehicles after the EMP attack.
- Doc Keller – Black Mountain’s local doctor.
- Tom Barker – Black Mountain’s chief of police.
- Don Barber – Owner of a functioning Aeronca L-3 who provides crucial intelligence to the community, especially regarding the advance of the Posse, through his reconnaissance flights.
- Kate Lindsey – Black Mountain’s mayor at the time of the EMP attack.
- Ben Johnson – Elizabeth Matherson’s boyfriend and later fiancé.
- Bob Scales - John's friend, a high-ranking general at the Pentagon who acts as the girls godfather, got John his position at the college, and saved Dan Hunt's life in the Vietnam War.
The book contains a brief non-fiction afterword by U.S. Navy Captain William Sanders, regarding EMPs, which includes references to the reports of the United States EMP Commission and the book The Effects of Nuclear Weapons by Samuel Glasstone and Philip J. Dolan, published by the United States Department of Defense, which is a technical description based on early nuclear tests.
One Second After was released on March 17, 2009, and a trade paperback edition was released on November 24, 2009. The book reached the number 11 position on the New York Times Best Seller list in fiction, on May 3, 2009.
A sequel One Year After: A John Matherson Novel was released on September 15, 2015. The plot premise is: "One Second After was a dire warning of what might be our future...and our end. Now, One Year After returns to the small town of Black Mountain, and the man who struggled so hard to rebuild it in the wake of devastation-John Matherson. It is a thrilling follow-up and should delight fans in every way."
The third book in the trilogy, The Final Day: A John Matherson Novel was released on January 3, 2017.
- New York Times Best Seller list, fiction, May 3, 2009
- MacMillan, One Second After – publisher's book webpage
- US Government, Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack website
- Glasstone, Samuel and Dolan, Philip J., The Effects of Nuclear Weapons. Chapter 11. United States Department of Defense. (First edition 1950, third edition 1977. 
- New York Times Best Seller list, fiction, May 3, 2009
- One Second After, Official Book Web Site