Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
William R. Forstchen has a rather special knack for imagining our world in the throes of apocalypse, and in 48 Hours he returns us into a world plunged into obscurity. In two days the Earth is bound to be hit by a Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun, a cataclysmic event with the power to permanently destroy the planet’s electrical infrastructure. As the entire world goes offline in an attempt to mitigate the damage, the entire world’s population is preparing to face its darkest hour, teetering on the line between survival and total collapse.
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William R. Forstchen Creates a New Apocalypse
For a long time the great question on people’s minds, in regards to apocalyptic themes, was how the world would end; of the innumerable things in the universe which can kill us all, which one is the likeliest to befall us? Needless to say, this remains a subject without any concrete conclusions, and as the discussions went on peoples’ focus shifted on another, perhaps more interesting question: how would society handle its fall?
This is spawned a veritable mass of literature dedicated to exploring humanity’s hypothetical reaction to different apocalyptic events, and I would argue few authors do it better than William R. Forstchen. An established name in the post-apocalyptic genre, he returns to us with a new story of unspeakable cataclysm titled 48 Hours.
The story begins by explaining to us the terrible predicament the entire Earth has found itself in. Scientists have determined there will be a Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun in 48 hours, an event of unprecedented magnitude capable of destroying the Earth’s entire electrical infrastructure.
Without any actual means of doing anything about it, the world’s leaders have decided to go completely dark in an attempt to mitigate the damage, and thus the entire world has gone completely offline. No internet, cell phones, communication or even electricity in general. While at the onset it didn’t seem like a very long period, the world’s population is quickly finding out how suddenly living in the dark ages, even if for only two days, presents its very own set of unique challenges. As the hours trickle down, the question arises as to whether or not humanity can survive itself, never mind the impending solar storm.
The Study of Crisis
Regardless of whether or not you yourself are interested in the study of human behaviour in times of crisis, I believe we can all agree it might turn out to be an objectively useful field and possibly applied in scenarios outside of the apocalypse. For the most part, this is what 48 Hours is all about: to hypothesize on the behaviour of various types of people and systems when plunged into the specific scenario of an electrical Armageddon.
Personally-speaking, I find this subject to be more a-propos in regards to our own world, with our over-abundant reliance on electricity standing as a clear weakness of our civilization. I feel Forstchen went into quite a lot of depth in trying to explore the various ramifications of the event, detailing how he believes society would be affected on different scales and levels, at least in the United States of America.
I believe he outdid himself in the various depictions he made of all the ways in which the “little man”, so-to-speak, would react to this kind of scenario. From people plunging into despair to those rejoicing from getting a new shot at life in what they see as a new world order, we get to witness the entire spectrum of human fears and ambitions on full display, making the journey infinitely more fascinating.
As you might imagine, there is a veritable treasure trove of food for thought, but personally what caught my attention was the author’s depiction of governmental systems and how survival would largely be dictated by social classes. He makes some very interesting points about the government potentially turning its back on its regular citizens when the elite themselves are at risk, preferring to save their own hides above everything else and leaving the rest to rot in a dying world.
As a matter of fact, quite a bit of the material seems to denounce the ruling classes and their ultimate power over the rest of the people, and regardless of whether or not you agree with his ideas, the author definitely gives us a whole lot to think about. While it might be on the pessimistic side, Forstchen argues and supports his vision of a world plunged into darkness and feels, to me at least, a very realistic interpretation of how things could unfold.
The Reactions of the World
While the governmental systems and social dynamics are one thing, the people themselves are an entirely separate subject, and Forstchen gives them all the attention they could ever deserve. From the local to the national scale, we observe how people of all types from all walks of life react to the situation. While at time it does feel a bit obvious the author is using them to explore some concrete concepts he has in mind, it never took me out of the story as I found it woven well enough into the plot to give it a foundation in the book’s universe.
What I did truly enjoy was the way in which the author connected small local reactions to large national ones, detailing the spread of human behaviour and the rapid evolution of social tendencies. This interconnectedness helped to instill a real sense of grandeur to the whole event, giving us a big and complete picture of just how messed up things could get. With all of these studies of human behaviour, it can sometimes be easy to forget there remains a plot at the centre of this as we follow a few main characters and see how they all choose to survive through this.
Each and every one of them is described in magnificent detail, especially since we never stop learning about them for their words, reactions and decisions continuously add on to their personalities. The author certainly has a talent for creating the sorts of people we can get emotionally-attached to, which actually plays a big part as the story nears its chaotic ending and we start to feel the stakes of disaster ourselves.
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While it might not move at Mach speed, the omnipresent tension ensures the plot never feels stale or boring and does keep on progressing at a steady pace; this is one of those books where it feels as if the immersion factor gives us the impression it moves much faster than it really does, and I mean it in a good way.
The Final Verdict
To close up on this show, 48 Hours by William R. Forstchen is an extremely engaging story and eye-opening study of human and governmental behaviour during a short-lived electrical apocalypse. If you’re interested in this subject, this is the sort of book which will leave you thinking for days to come, if not weeks… as such, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre.
William R. Forstchen
William R. Forstchen is an American author, historian and Professor of History and Faculty Fellow at Montreat College in North Carolina. He holds a doctorate from Purdue University with specializations in military history, history of technology, and the American Civil War.
He has authored numerous acclaimed series, with some of the more widely-celebrated ones including Rally Cry, Honoured Enemy and the Wing Commander series.