A lot of women read romance novels, but not me – my two favorite types of fiction are historical novels (where real or realistic people and events from history are dramatized) and, wait for it – the so-called “apocalypse”/prepper fiction genre. These are the novels that dramatize a world in which our current society essentially collapses – nuclear war breaks out, or a pandemic, or a super volcano – take your pick of catastrophic disaster, and it’s a sure bet that there’s an apocalypse novel written all about it. My personal favorites are Franklin Horton’s Borrowed World series, Locker Nine series and Mad Mick series, as well as Mic Roland’s Siege of New Hampshire series, Cyber Storm by Matthew Mather, and of course, William Forstchen’s After/John Matherson series. One Second After, the first book in that trilogy, has been the introductory book for a lot of people that have discovered an interest in this novel genre, and so it was mine as well. I came to it after I read Ted Koppel’s Lights Out, a non-fiction book which details America’s crumbling electricity infrastructure and how vulnerable it is to catastrophic break down or attack. It’s a doozy – but it should be on everyone’s must read list. To misquote Sun Tzu, know thy enemy.
These kinds of novels are a window into a world that, depending upon whom you talk to, will likely never happen or could easily happen tomorrow. The regular life stuff, like natural disasters and job loss, are areas that would most likely affect the average person, but they’re decidedly difficult to turn into page turner novels (someone prove me wrong). Exciting and dramatic novels are borne from scenarios of “the end of the world as we know it” (or in the prepper parlance, TEOTWAKI – like all nerds, preppers love their acronyms) variety. Remember something called the Carrington Event? I think most people have at least heard the term, but if you haven’t, it was geomagnetic/solar storm that occurred in 1859 – basically a flare from a sun spot. The technical term is a coronal mass ejection. They happen all the time, and are a normal part of the sun’s life cycle. But when a larger one is positioned directly toward us, electrified gas and particles can hit our atmosphere, and as Richard Carrington discovered in London during the Victorian era, it can make a few messes down here at ground level. The leading communication technology of the time was the telegraph, and the Carrington Event wrecked havoc with it, causing telegraphs to fail, shocking the operators and even causing sparks that set fires in a few places. A few days later and the world was largely back to normal, but what if something like that happened today, with all of our advanced electronic devices? If a solar flare can knock out a fairly basic machine like a telegraph, what could it do to our computers and computer-driven devices?
This is exactly the kind of scenario that William Forstchen delivers in his latest novel, 48 Hours. Forstchen tells the story from two perspectives, alternating between a married empty-nester couple, and a scientist named – you guessed it – Carrington. Only this Carrington is the imagined descendant of the infamous Carrington that first identified and lent his name to the solar event. The world gets a bit of a notice that something catastrophic is going to happen – 48 hours – and it’s up to people and governments to figure out what to do, and how to do it. The narrative is stark, and it’s a classic no-win scenario. The Kobayashi Maru has got nothing on what’s happening in this book. I’m intrigued by the worlds that Forstchen creates, and the ways that people respond to the events happening around them. My only criticism is that sometimes I find the character dialogue a little stilted; a bit forced. Not so with 48 Hours. Forstchen’s ability to speak through his characters has grown and evolved, and the dialogue, thought processes and plot are thoroughly believable and genuine. It’s such a page turner that it took me, aptly, less than 48 hours to read it start to finish. I couldn’t put it down. It’s hard to describe more of the plot without giving away the gems of the book and the fascination of reading it – it’s like peeling back the layers of an onion. As the characters move through events, you move with them, discovering things and having to adjust and evolve alongside them. A lot can happen in two days, and Forstchen delivers a novel that can make you angry, filled with despair, cry, and feel hope and peace, which is a lot of ground to cover in such a short amount of time and 315 pages. And it’ll leave you thunderstruck. You’ll be of one of two minds after you read a book like this – either you’ll subscribe to the “burn bright and fast” philosophy of living for now, and just worry about today. Or, you’ll end up on the opposite side of the fence, asking yourself “what do I do now, to make sure I can deal with stuff like that?”.
Personally, I think that the chances of a “super event” happening in our lifetimes are small, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be on our radar. I’m a fairly pragmatic person, so I think it’s important, and our personal and civic responsibility, to try to take care of ourselves and our families by ensuring at least the basics of survival. It’s about thinking about the things that could happen to you, and ensuring that you can cope with and survive those things, and in the best care scenario, do so in some kind of comfort (though admittedly, comfort isn’t strictly a survival concern). For most people in most places, a solar flare or nuclear war are vague and distant things to be worried about. Economic concerns, like job loss or income reduction, are top of mind for most people. Natural disasters, like tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and forest fires are equally at the top of the list for most. Ever think about how you’re going to feed your kids if you get laid off from your job and you’re down to one income, but all the same bills keep rolling in month after month? What happens if someone in the family gets seriously sick during that time, or it takes you three or four months to find another job? Do you have a plan for that? What happens if you have a grease fire while cooking dinner one night, and can’t put it out with the fire extinguisher and your whole house goes up in flames? What if your neighborhood gets hit by a tornado or taken out by a flood? Can you safely evacuate your family from those situations? And what happens after? Do you have the essentials; do you have a place to go?
If you have insurance of any kind (and you’ve likely got at least health and auto insurance), being prepared is just a different kind of insurance, and it’s one that is well worth getting acquainted with if you’ve got a family to take care of (and frankly, even if it’s just you). But it can be overwhelming to know where to start, especially if you’ve never considered these kinds of things before. Fortunately, a lot of people think about this stuff, and live prepared lifestyles, so there are a ton of resources to get you started, one of which is The Prepper’s Workbook by Scott B. Williams and Scott Finazzo. I am a devoted planner and list lover, and this book absolutely caters to that organizational style. And if you’re not the kind of person to have an “organizational style” this book is still for you, because it lays out areas of preparedness – getting started, sheltering in place, how and when to evacuate, and first aid – in manageable sections and in laymen’s terms that anyone can understand. One of the great things I appreciate about this book is that the second section is organized by types of common disasters, like tornadoes, earthquakes and fires. So if you live in a forest fire zone and that’s your number one concern, you can skip straight to that section to see what you can do to make your home and family safer should a forest fire happen in your community. There are check lists and charts to help you understand what your starting point is, and where your supplies and skills have gaps. Being prepared – prepping (it’s not a dirty word that’s code for “crazy person”) isn’t just about stuff, it’s about skills too. Do you know how to do CPR or stabilize a badly sprained ankle? Do you know how to obtain and purify water if your town enacts a boil order and the grocery stores are sold out of bottled? Can you cook a hot meal during a power outage, without poisoning your family with carbon monoxide? This book covers that basics of not only which gear and supplies might be useful to have on hand, but the kinds of skills you want to become familiar with now, before you really need them. And maybe you never need to use any of it. In fact, I hope you don’t. But life being what life is, we’ll probably all face a few storms before we’re done. Wouldn’t it be better to weather those storms safely and in relative comfort?