When I was not quite eight years old, I watched an episode of The Twilight Zone that made a great impression upon me at the time: "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street."
The episode begins in late summer when Maple Street is full of playing children and adults talking. A shadow passes overhead and a loud roar is heard, accompanied by a flash of light. The residents of Maple Street find that their machines no longer work, and there is no power, their cars won't start. They gather together in the street to discuss the matter. By the end of the episode, they have all turned on one another, manipulated into chaos by aliens who do nothing but use their own fears against them.
You can find "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" in three parts, here, here, and here.
Another episode I well remember is "The Shelter."
The episode begins with a birthday party of good friends and neighbors, one of whom has just finished building a fallout shelter. A Conelrad warning comes on the radio, indicating incoming "unidentified objects" which may be Russian nukes. In the ensuing panic, the neighbors turn on the family with the fallout shelter -- which only has room, supplies and air for themselves and no more -- finally breaking down the door just as the all clear is announced.
You can find "The Shelter" also in three parts, here, here, and here.
The moral of both of these stories is simple: civilization is less than skin deep and the veneer can be stripped away in an instant.
This is also the point of the "useful dire warning" of William Forstchen's One Second After, a tale centered around the small college town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. (Not coincidentally, Black mountain is Forstchen's home town.)
A friend gave me a copy of this volume this past week and I have just finished reading it.
It is a ripping good read, if incredibly depressing because of the subject matter and the very real threat EMP poses.
Here is a snippet of a web review.
In One Second After, Forstchen asks not what could have been, but what will be the results of an EMP attack.
Electromagnetic pulses result from natural phenomena and in much greater strength from nuclear blasts. EMPs fry unprotected electronics. A nuclear bomb set off at a high altitude could cause electronics over a large swathe of the planet to fail. Little has been done to protect the US from this threat. This novel depicts what life might be like in the case of an EMP attack.
With no electronics vehicles won't run. How do we move necessities without modern transportation? Without electronics, we have no phones, computers, radios, or televisions. How do we communicate? How do we grow food or run our factories without vehicles or electricity? In One Second After, a lack of food and medicine leads to mass death. Society crumbles. Cities turn against the countryside and friends and neighbors turn against each other in a desperate struggle to survive. Criminals take advantage. Forstchen humanizes it by giving a detailed look at how events unfold around Montreat College in North Carolina. He uses convincing detail to make the events real.
One Second After is a masterpiece of distopian literature that ranks with 1984 and Brave New World. More important though than its role in our literature is what we do about the grave threat it portrays. Because, one second after the attack, it'll be too late.
Now I don't know about it ranking with Orwell or Huxley, but I had few quibbles with the narrative. Among them: the realization that country has been hit with an EMP attack unfolds too slowly, especially in the mind of the main character, a retired U.S. Army officer and with the emergency response personnel running the town. Also, the disaster effects themselves play out, in my mind, either too quickly for some or too slowly for others. Finally, the availability of alternate technologies that would afford means of communication, transportation, agriculture and community defense are somewhat minimized.
Still, the ghastly nature of the breakdown attendant to an EMP attack is not glossed over. Forstchen makes us stare directly into that beast's many faces.
For this reason, if no other, I recommend One Second After to all Threepers. Make sure Momma reads it, too. She'll start loading up the larder and the medicine cabinet without further urging from you.
There are several links about EMP and its effects on Forstchen's site. There is also a twenty-year old -- but still pertinent -- post of Duncan Long's on EMP protection here.
Start out, though, by getting a copy of One Second After. You will redouble your preparations afterward.