Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trading the Big Dragon for the Little Dragon

I recently read a book called "One Second After" by William R. Forstchen.  This author is highly credentialed and has published more than forty books, at least two of which are best-sellers.  That being said, I wasn't overly impressed in the beginning from an editor's point of view.  The meat of the story was okay, but the delivery was lacking in structure and format.  There were whole multi-line paragraphs comprised of a single sentence about a run-on.  And being a run-on was rarely the only problem.  The mega-sentence was usually fraught with multiple mixed tenses and conflicting conjugations.  Ugh!  I spent too many years as a technical writer and editor myself not to notice them, but I grew numb to them as I got into the story.  Anyway, by the time I finished the book, I found that I had a much bigger bone on contention with the author.

The main character in the story is a middle-aged professor in a small college town in North Carolina.  The professor is a widower, having lost his wife to cancer a few years back, who lives with his two teenage daughters.  The story begins a few hours before an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is detonated over the United States.  It is not clear for several chapters that an EMP is what caused the disruption of power, and the enemy is never clearly identified in the book.  The story is less about the attack itself than it is about the struggle to survive in the aftermath ... the crippling effects of the instantaneous and long-term disruption of communication and transportation, the inevitable shortages of food and clean water and, ultimately, the breakdown of civilized society.

I don't have a problem with the author's conjecture about what the population would face in such a crisis.  What I do have a problem with is my impression of what the author sees as a solution to that kind of crisis. 

Within days after the EMP, the townspeople begin to organize.  Several high muckety-mucks such as the mayor, the chief of police, a physician and the professor get together and start having closed door meetings.  Even the first day, there is talk of 'the authorities' (now defined as these few) commandeering resources such as the few vehicles that still run and food supplies ...for the good of the whole community, right?  

The professor happens to be driving his mother-in-law's old Edsel which, of course, is among the vehicles that is still functional after the EMP.  He immediately objects on his own behalf, making it clear that he will not willingly part with the keys to his own transportation.  The committee reluctantly agrees to let him keep it.  Special privilege?  Some more equal than others? 

Ration cards for food are implemented.  After a bit of discussion, it's decided that no one will be forced to participate in the ration program.  The implication was that there were some whacky 'survivalist types' on the outskirts of town who the committee felt might be difficult to bring into the fold.  But they decided that any who did choose to participate would have to agree to a search of their property and confiscation of any food stores found there ...for the communal coffer, of course.  Redistribution of goods? 

The book chronicles the town's struggles over the a period of about a year.  The story ends with the (new) military coming to the town, bringing food and medical supplies and the promise that more help is coming.  In comparing notes with the military officer in charge, the professor learns that his little town has fared far better than some areas of the country.  And, you guessed it, this is attributed to the 'organization' and 'decisive leadership' of the professor and his committee mates.  New nanny gov steps in to save the world (township) when big nanny gov goes away? 

Does anyone else have a problem with this?  We are currently fighting an overgrown, self-righteous government that believes we are incapable of taking care of ourselves and seeks to take over every aspect of our lives.  If the proverbial sh*t ever does hit the fan, we will be facing a lot of the scenarios portrayed in the book.  But if we get to that point, I will not be looking for a new master to rule my destiny.  I will take care of me and mine.  Alliances may be formed but they will be mutually desired and mutually beneficial ...or they will not happen.  In my opinion, it is foolish to trade a big dragon for a little dragon ...because little dragons will only grow over time.


  1. OOh, the townspeople were saved by mini-communism. How cute. Utterly unrealistic, but cute.

  2. I enjoyed the book from the standpoint of thinking about what could happen (and that's not necessarily good things).

    I have 5 years of food. If someone shows up at my door so I can share it the drug addicts that live in the rentals near the tracks or the 19 year old from down the street that refuses to get a job because Mom and Dad pay his bills and bought him a new car, the answer will be a definitive no.

  3. Hello, Brigid...

    I agree that the book gave me scenarios to think about beyond interrupted food and water supplies. We live in the country outside of a town with less than 5,000 residents. But there is a small hospital and a large nursing home in that town. In a true shtf situation, the medical crises for the sick, elderly and addicted described in the book would probably be pretty accurate.

    Five years worth is a great 'insurance' plan. We could eat for six months or better on what we have stored... up to a year if we rationed ourselves as we would in a crisis. What we grow would make that stretch a bit further. How much further defends on whether I would still have the ability to preserve by canning. Considering we have only been 'prepping' for a year, I think we've done okay. We had a substandard harvest from the garden last year due to some personal crises that delayed our planting by two months. But our garden is already planted and sprouted this year. So I'm hoping the harvest will be much better this year.

    I only 'know' you through reading your blog for the past year or so. But I would be willing to bet that if the (new) 'authorities' (self-appointed, of course) showed up on your doorstep to collect your food stores and offer you a ration card, your definitive answer to them would be 'Oh, hell, no...' Am I right?

  4. I'm glad I could ...thanks for coming back by here. I looked around your blog and didn't find an email for you so it was the only way I could think of to let you know.

    I enjoy your blog and read every post. Now that I can comment again, you'll be hearing from me.

    : )

  5. It's the same dragon, and he never quits. He employs a group of people that are unable to grow their own food, so they convince the rest of the people that they (the non producers) are necessary to keep things running smoothly. Kinda like , you pay us, we'll keep things working for you. It has ever been so.

    Gen 4:11-12

    11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;

    12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

    This curse has never been removed. Cain's progeny still walk the earth, still remain under this curse. Since they can't grow their own food, they have to convince those who can to do it for them.

  6. Hi, there! Thought I would stop in after you posted over at my place. Thanks for the book review. I'll put it on my list, as I have always liked reading "after the blast" books.

    I recently read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. I'm always a bit intrigued by the general feeling that society will completely break down after an apocalyptic event, or degrade to mini-socialist enclaves.

    I do wonder what would really happen, although I have no desire to find out.

  7. @AKA...
    When I first read your comment, I thought we were on completely separate pages about the dragon and I wasn't sure how to respond. What you say is true, it just wasn't the same analogy I thought I had in mind. Thinking about it though, I guess they really are the same because the dragon I refer to is the manifestation of the one you refer to ...manifestation in the form of intrusive, controlling government.

  8. @Buckskins...
    Times like these make us all wonder what would happen and how we would handle it. I realize people would have to work together to some degree and I'm sure alliances would be formed, some stronger than others. But I also know that I would have a problem with a group setting themselves up as the (new ultimate) authority over me and mine. Know what I mean? I haven't read 'The Road' by McCarthy but let me know if you think it's a good read. After reading 'One Second After' I am curious to see if other such books all draw the same conclusions about how society would reorganize itself.

  9. I don't quite know how to rate "The Road". It portrays the struggle of a Father attempting to find a safe place for his young son, following an apocalyptic event. McCarthy paints a particularly horrible breakdown in society. I was left with the same uncertain feeling I had after watching the movies "Unforgiven" and "3:10 to Yuma". The right words escape me, but it's almost a "what just happened?" feeling.

    That probably isn't real helpful, I realize. I don't regret reading it, but I wouldn't re-read it.