Interestingly enough, when I originally started to write this post, it was with a mind to to tell you how I had once been a bit of a survival hound (or “prepper”), and how I drew on that background, as well as interviews with subject matter experts, and a LOT of research to make HPM as realistic as I possibly could. And that is still very much the case – it’s all true. What has changed is that, since the novel started doing relatively well last week, I’ve gotten some emails from a few of you – especially from one person, in particular (yes J – I mean you), and a couple of you have corrected me on some things I got wrong. I mean, it honestly never occurred to me that military Humvees wouldn’t have keys! I didn’t even think to check.
And that shows me that no matter how many studies I read, real life experience I had, or interviews I conducted – there will always be something that I missed.
So can I really tell you, the reader, that HPM is a realistic portrayal of post-apocalyptic life after a nuclear war?
If I’m going to be honest, I think I can unequivocally tell you yes… and no.
Obviously there is no way for us to really know what the world of HPM would look like – what it would be like to live through the hell of what I referred to as “D-Day”. But when I first began to think about writing HPM, it was with the idea that I wanted to tell as realistic a story as I could. Of course, since we haven’t really had a nuclear war (thank goodness), that meant I had to depend on a lot of homework. I eventually found and spoke with people who had done maintenance on Abrams battle tanks – someone who had been a nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare training officer – several folks affiliated with various private survival groups – and I read, read, read!
I started by reading. I read studies by the US Army, by well read survivalists, by companies selling goods specifically designed for the survivalist community – anything I could find on the subject of survival and nuclear war. Bear in mind, I first developed this interest back in the early eighties, and at that time, the common consensus was that the world wouldn’t survive an all out nuclear war – everyone just knew it. But as is the case with much conjecture, “everyone” doesn’t always know quite as much as they think they do. The more I researched, the more I began to find that there was quite a bit of disagreement regarding what the effects of a nuclear attack might be. One particular study that really caught my attention was the Oak Ridge National Laboratory work, “Nuclear War Survival Skills” by Cresson H. Kearny. It was actually more of a collection of studies wherein the ORNL civil defense project took everyday people, gave them a set of drawings, written descriptions, and common tools, and had them build improvised fallout shelters, blast doors, air pumps, and fallout meters. These were all designed to be built out of common household items. The study also contained synopses on government studies that indicated that “everyone” might be wrong about the long term effects of nuclear war.
That book led me to investigate other works, which in turn led me to find an entire sub-culture that I’d never really known before – survivalists. That was when I found that there were people out there who not only believed that such a catastrophe was surviveable, but they actively studied and took steps to prepare themselves for such events. Over the years, I met quite a few of these folks, and while I’ll admit that some of them struck me as being more than just a bit paranoid, the vast majority of them were just regular folks, who were concerned about some of the scary crap they saw on the news each night, and wanted to prepare for when the fecal matter impacted the oscillating air circulation device. Among survivalist communities, this is commonly referred to as a “SHTF” scenario (think about it, you’ll figure it out).
I spoke to a lot of these folks. Some of them called themselves survivalists, but were actually more like wannabe mercenaries. They were more than a little scary – especially when they found out I made custom knives. At that point, some of them tried to commission me to make some items that were obviously designed to be used against people in active combat (and I don’t mean in a self-defense scenario).
But there were also other folks – some were still pretty hard-core, members of groups with their own wilderness retreats, who took the lifestyle seriously and prepared with stores of supplies and plans of action with a military-like intensity. Others were less intense, instead adopting some of the attitude, but taking a more laid-back approach. They all had a few things in common, though; an unwillingness to trust a faceless government to take care of them in the event of a catastrophic, society-altering event; a desire to protect themselves and their families; and a willingness to invest the time and money in doing so. They view it just like you would any insurance policy – you hope you never have to use it, but it’s comforting to know it’s there if you do.
But what about the details? What about the effects of EMP on electronics, for instance?
There is some minor disagreement on this issue, but most sources that I read agree that any unsheilded “modern” electronic circuitry would suffer the same fate as if it had suffered a lightning strike – in short, they would be toasted. I recall panicking when I saw the movie “Broken Arrow”, in which the antagonist (John Travolta) detonates a warhead in a nearby silver mine. Just as he is about to be apprehended by NEST agents in a hovering helicopter, he looks at his watch and tells his driver to shut off the engine. The warhead detonates, and the NEST agents are killed when the electronics in their helicopter are fried and it crashes. Then Travolta has his driver restart the engine and drive off.
Did I get it wrong? Would simply shutting off an engine protect it from the EMP? I was seriously pretty concerned until I got back home and re-read some of the studies. From what I could see, this was simply another instance of Hollywood taking the path of least resistance.
So the bottom line is that, while I can’t say I got it 100% correct, I am comfortable that I’ve constructed as accurate a picture as I can.
Let’s just hope none of us ever have to find out how close to the mark I hit.
Stay safe, people.