The Final Day brings Forstche’s trilogy to a close
In 2011, William Forstchen’s apocalyptic novel, One Second After, appeared on best-seller lists. After reading for review this story of an EMP strike on the United States and the struggles of the residents of Black Mountain, North Carolina, to survive in a world without electricity, my first impulse was to rush to my neighborhood Ingles Market and fill my car with canned goods, dried foods, and medical supplies. This vivid account of death, destruction, and suffering in One Second After scared the hoot out of me.
Forstchen returned to this story in One Year After, where town administrator John Matherson and the other survivors in Black Mountain are now facing the incursion of the “New Regime,” a group claiming to represent the Federal government. When this “government” begins forcibly drafting the community’s young people into an “Army of National Recovery,” Matherson and his friends throw up a resistance that leads them into yet another battle.
Now Forstchen has given us the final volume of this trilogy, The Final Day (Forge Publishers, 2016, 348 pages, $25.99). China and Mexico control large parts of the Western United States, Texas is seeking to reclaim its nineteenth century status as a republic, savage bands of predators have overrun the major cities and the state of Florida, and a government operating out of Maryland and Virginia is trying to restore order in nearby states through the use of military force.
John Matherson and the remaining families and students of Black Mountain have slowly reestablished some electrical power, gotten some vehicles running again, and connected in a loose union with neighbors in Waynesville, Marion, and other nearby communities. Through the efforts of a retired computer programmer and some of the students from Montreat College, there is even the possibility of bringing to life some of the computers fried by the nuclear explosion.
Then Gen. Bob Scales, who once commanded John Matherson in the days before the EMP, arrives on the scene, sent by higher-ups in the government to make sure that Black Mountain and other towns will toe the line in regard to the new order. Matherson and Scales share the greatest respect for each other, but tension grows between the two men as it becomes apparent that the government has junked the Constitution and will take extreme measures to bring dissenters into line.
To say more about the plot of The Final Day would be to destroy the story for readers. Suffice it to say that the ending shocked me and seems a valid commentary on the gulf that currently exists between the majority of the American people, voters of the left, right, and middle, and the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C.
All three of the John Matherson novels have an individual theme. Forstchen meant One Second After as a shrill warning about the dangers posed by an electromagnetic pulse, a nuclear explosion above the atmosphere whose force would dismantle our electrical grid, taking out everything from computers to automobiles and airplanes.
In One Year After, he raises the question of political legitimacy. The so-called government and the “Army of National Recovery” claim to be lawful successors to the federal government, but commit egregious acts against the very citizenry they claim to be protecting. What loyalty, the book asks, do we owe to a government operating under a body of law created by itself?
In The Final Day, Forstchen addresses the conflict between duty and doing the right thing. Gen. Scales, one of Forstchen’s more thoroughly developed characters, embodies this theme. He is loyal to the government and has led troops to quell rebels in places like Roanoke, Virginia, yet increasingly the general has trouble reconciling his oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States with the propositions of the government he serves. (Even his name, Scales, implies the balance he must maintain during these moral conflicts.) The dialogues and conflicts between him and John Matherson are exercises in examining such dilemmas.
The Final Day offers readers exciting scenes of action and combat, philosophical points to ponder, and well-drawn characters like Gen. Scales, the computer expert Ernie, and Makala, John Matherson’s pregnant wife. I highly recommend the book, but would suggest that readers new to the John Matherson series read the novels in sequence.
In what is surely one of the most amazing of blurbs, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II called Kate Seredy’s The Chestry Oak “a masterpiece of childhood literature.”
At some point in 2016, a rave review of The Chestry Oak (Purple House Press, 1948, 255 pages, $12.95) crossed my desk. While I don’t remember the source of the review — a magazine, some online site — I will long remember reading The Chestry Oak this past week.
In this novel aimed at readers in upper elementary school and middle school, Kate Seredy gives us the story of young Prince Michael of Chestry, a Hungarian who lives and suffers through World War II, eventually finding his way through the kindnesses of many strangers to a Hudson Valley farm in the United States after the war. Seredy gives us a story of bravery in the face of horrible loss: Michael’s aristocratic and troubled father; his beloved Nana; the American family who eventually adopts Michael; the love between Michael and Midnight, a black stallion who eventually returns to his master.
The theme of The Chestry Oak can be summed up in a line repeated several times in the story: “As long as there are hearts to remember, nothing fine and noble will ever die.”
Nearly 70 years ago, Kate Seredy gave readers a great novel. Those who love literature, or those who love stories promoting the fine and noble impulses in the human heart, should rejoice that so fine a story is back in print.