by Chris Jayne
From John Grisham’s “The Firm” (What if a new associate at a law firm discovered that the partners were actually involved in illegal activities?) to Kathleen Woodiwiss’ “The Flame and the Flower” (What if a young chaste heroine is raped and kidnapped by a world-weary sea captain?), from Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” (What if a young woman in a dystopian society, forced to participate in cruel gladiatorial style games, offers to sacrifice herself for her sister?) to Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander,” (What if a twentieth century woman gets sent back to eighteenth century Scotland?), the “what if” remains.
And it’s not just books. Consider popular television shows. The Walking Dead: What if the world was taken over by zombies? The Handmaid’s Tale: What if in modern America suddenly a society developed that enslaved and abused women in the name of religion? (Yes, I know Handmaid’s Tale was also a book.)
Of course, the “what if” question is what also engages the reader/viewer, because it allows the readers to ask the NEXT question, “What would I do in the same situation?”
Like many, I began watching “The Walking Dead” when it debuted on AMC in 2010. As a “respectable” mother, I could hardly admit I waited each week on Sunday night, wine glass in hand, to watch people get chased and sometimes eaten (gruesomely) by zombies, so I began referring to it as “my guilty pleasure.” In analyzing my watching habits though, I soon came to realize that I was not watching because I wanted to see the zombies. In fact much of the time the zombies irritated me at best. I was watching because I wanted to see these people, who I now cared about, survive the impossible.
Behind every good fiction plot is conflict. Behind every good romance plot is conflict. And there are not much better “conflicts” than society thrown back centuries and watching people fighting to survive. Because my background is writing romance, the next questions were of course inevitable for me. What now happens to relationship dynamics in this scenario?
There are many dystopian / apocalyptic / post apocalyptic worlds. Some are completely fantasy. (News flash: there are no zombies or vampires waiting to take over our cities and there never will be.) But others, like the EMP featured in my new novel “Minute Zero” or (all too current) a worldwide plague that might kill 70% of humanity, depending on to whom you talk, could happen.
An EMP for those who do not know is an “Electromagnetic Pulse.” This is a short burst of electromagnetic energy which can occur naturally due to sun spot activity or even lightning, or they can be caused by a nuclear explosion. A nuclear blast high in the atmosphere could cause considerable disruption, as many devices with computer chips would stop working instantly.
What would the world look like if every car manufactured since about 1985 (since they all have electronic fuel ignition), every cell phone and every computer was just “unavailable.” If the power grid went down because of course all of that is controlled by computers as well? No electricity, no phones, no cars between one second and the next? One reason novelists “like” EMPs is because, unlike nuclear attack or a world-wide plague, most people would survive the initial EMP unscathed, with houses, animals, roads, and plant life all unharmed.
(To answer the question, if the EMP was caused by a nuclear bomb, wouldn’t there be radiation or radioactive fallout? The answer is no. Fallout is caused when a nuclear bomb is exploded on the ground and millions of tons of debris is thrown into the atmosphere, and, now radioactive, it “falls out” back to the ground. A high atmosphere nuclear explosion by definition produces no ground damage, thus no debris. And most of the radiation itself from the initial blast would likewise dissipate in the upper atmosphere.)
How bad would an EMP be? Depending on who you talk to, the opinions range from “not bad at all,” to “stone age.” In a way, a post-EMP world would be like a “real” time travel. Twenty first century men and women, with current expectations, knowledge, attitudes, are now expected to suddenly survive in a world where the lights don’t come on with a flip of the switch, the food truck doesn’t show up at the grocery store each morning, and there are no Starbucks. By some estimates, half of the people in America would be out of food in a week, and if that thought doesn’t bring you up short, it should.
I chose to explore this world in my new “Stronghold” series.
What if the world shuts down in a millisecond?
What would you do?
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