THE SKY IS FALLING!
Made you look, didn’t I? For that matter, I had to check. I could have sworn a piece just hit me in the side of the head, but it was just a bit of bagel the toddler sitting a few tables over just whipped at me.
I just finished reading two pleasantly fun works of fiction, One Second After and the follow up One Year After, apocalyptic tales set in northwest North Carolina, close to Asheville and near Mount Mitchell on the Blue Ridge Parkway. While perusing the new fiction shelves at the local library, the cover of One Year After caught my eye. Cool. A story of nuclear war with a twist, an EMP attack on the United States that takes out all modern day electronic circuitry, gamma radiation from a nuclear bomb detonated 20 miles in space, amplified by earth’s atmosphere. Suddenly the world is without electricity and is thrust into a new Dark Age, most cars rendered useless due to their reliance on computers, communication completely lost. The resulting chaos creating death from lack of available drugs or machines that keep people alive, pampered humans dying from heart attacks and stress related illnesses. Food almost immediately becomes scarce, the nation fragmented by lack of transportation and the ability to process food, the dependence on distribution from the nation’s breadbasket suddenly cut off. Water supply and lack of proper sanitation creates disease. The community of Black Mountain, NC in these books quickly have to decide to secure their community and filter who comes into their community, as a means of survival. Decisions have to be made about rationing, who gets what and how much, and those decisions also lead to the tough decision of who is going to die as a result.
One Year After is a sequel, so I also looked up the first book, One Second After. The author described inspiration for the book coming from books like Alas Babylon, a cold war era novel about a nuclear attack, one of my favorite reads from my teenage years. After reading that book, I remember thinking that it was something that could actually happen. That was the reaction to One Second After, a book recommended by Newt Gingrich for that very reason. William Forstchen was also influenced by Jean Shepherd, a friend of his, who encourage him to write. Jean Shepherd is best known for writing and narrating A Christmas Story, the movie inspired by a chapter of his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.
Forstchen lives in the area he used as the setting for his books, an area that I have an appreciation for, having ridden a bicycle tour in that area called the Assault on Mount Mitchell (three times). I could literally see the area in my head as I read the books. At one point in the story, a skirmish with a cannibalistic satanic cult scouring the western NC mountains like locusts, begins in Marion, NC.. the check in and 80 mile mark of the Assault on Mount Mitchell. Marion is also where the torturous climbing to the Blue Ridge Parkway starts on that ride. The whole area between Marion and Asheville is very familiar to me. I have left a lot of bicycle sweat and tears in those places.
The underlying theme of most apocalyptic stories is a pampered society that relies too much on technology and machines. Those who have resisted the march of progress or those who adapt to the lack of luxury are the ones who survive, heroes who have the strength to accept that their comfortable and instant supply existence no longer is available. Comfort is painted as a shallow existence, a weakness that kills when comfort is removed. Almost always in these type of stories we someone lost in denial on day one, clad in their fancy clothes and clinging to their BMW, crazed as they try to cling to what supposedly gave their life significance.
There are no zombies in One Second After or One Day After. Rather the antagonists in the story are those who try to take away the strength that Black Mountain achieves as it survives — its people, its youth, its return to electricity, medicine. As the community rises out of the dark age that it was thrust into, it resists the feudal attitude that the rest of the surviving world has apparently embraced. People, not resources, are seen as the strength of survival. They learn to help others outside to survive with them, take from what they have inside their community rather than steal from others.
For a while, as I read these books, I began to wonder if my world really is weak from comfort and ease. Are we too afraid to lose those nice things we have, too attached to our things? I have seen that attitude in practice, fired from a 25 year job by a man who is too afraid of losing any of the luxuries he has to care about people any more. He values his possessions over anything else. Is that what we have become, people who exist in our tiny little world, controlled by our possessions, paying our taxes and hoping that the people that we pay will take care of us and those who need help? Will we die if those things go away?
I sound very American right now, don’t I?
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that we are a pampered people, most of us any way no matter where we are, for the most part. I don’t know if that is bad, but I think that I (at least, since I need to be responsible for myself) need to be aware of what I have and how that affects me.
Excuse me. I need to take my son to McDonalds……