By Jeff Ayers
In Timothy Washburn’s novel POWERLESS, a massive geomagnetic solar storm strikes without warning. It destroys every power grid in the northern hemisphere. In one week the human race is flung back into the dark ages. After which, survival becomes everything.
Only one man—army veteran Zeke Marshall—is prepared to handle a nightmare like this. But when he tries to reunite with his family in Dallas—across a lawless terrain as deadly as any battlefield—he discovers there are worse things in life than war. And there are terrible and unthinkable things he’ll have to do to survive…
Washburn chatted with The Big Thrill about his new book.
What sparked the idea for POWERLESS?
I read an article in a journal about the effects of space weather on the earth. That triggered a series of “what if” questions that I couldn’t ignore. I researched the issue further and what I discovered frightened me. The threat is real, and the power companies are woefully unprepared. Congressional hearings have been conducted, but, much like everything else in Washington, very little is being done. Scientists insist it’s only a matter of time before our planet is struck by a devastating solar storm.
Who is Zeke Marshall?
Zeke is a wounded man––both physically and emotionally. Wounded in the Iraq war, Zeke arrives at a stateside hospital to continue his healing process. While there he meets the woman of his dreams, only to have his life shattered once again. Seeking solace, Zeke migrates to his parent’s retirement hideaway in rural Oklahoma.
What was the Carrington Event?
On the morning of September 1, 1859, Richard Carrington, an amateur astronomer, observed a coronal mass ejection escaping from the surface of the sun. Fifteen hours later one of the largest geomagnetic storms ever recorded slammed into the earth’s magnetic field. Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America were destroyed, with many telegraph operators suffering electrical shocks. Auroras were seen around the world, some bright enough to awaken sleeping residents. And this was all before the advent of electricity. Today, a geomagnetic storm of similar size would cripple most of the world. Damage estimates for such a storm would be in the trillions of dollars.
What steps can both citizens and the government take to avoid this scenario?
Strengthening the power grid would be goal number one. But the issue is complicated. The grid is diverse with many corporate players. Parts that might work on the west coast will not necessarily interchange with grids on the east coast. In addition, most of the power companies have very few replacement transformers. Why? Cost is the primary reason. The transformers are enormously expensive and take as many as fourteen months to produce. Most of the major transformers are monstrous in size and can only travel via rail. Another issue is that most of the transformers are no longer manufactured in the United States. South Korea is a major producer, which only adds to the time lag to receive replacement equipment. Realistically, if the power grids are decimated, it will be years before they are restored. As for citizens, hide and hope are about the only things we can do. Maybe stock up on water and canned goods, which is something my wife and I discussed while I was writing POWERLESS. We bought a couple of extra cases of water but that was the extent of our prepping. We’ll be in the same boat with everyone else if something does happen.
Since this is your first novel, what was your path to publication?
After querying agents and receiving my fair share of rejections, I decided to approach the process differently. My publisher is one of the few larger publishers to accept submissions. I emailed a query and it landed on the desk of the right person. There really is a certain amount of luck involved and I’m about the unluckiest guy you’ll ever meet. My editor made some suggestions for changes, and I made them. After that, it took an additional three or four months before the project was presented to the editorial board. Nothing in publishing is done quickly. When it came time to negotiate a contract, my editor put me in touch with an agent who agreed to represent me.
How do you plan to follow up from tackling the end of the modern world?
Oh, there are many, many, scary scenarios out there. I have completed the second manuscript and submitted it to the publisher. I’m working, now, on a few tweaks to tighten the story. The second novel has a completely new cast of characters who are confronted with a life-changing natural event.
I know that George Noory of Coast to Cast AM is trying to get congress to fund a bill to upgrade our transformers. Do you think that would help?
Congress can’t even agree on where to set the thermostat. I don’t hold much hope that this issue will ever be addressed, much less any action being taken. I think the various power utilities will need to provide the answers. But I’m not holding my breath. There are no easy solutions, yet we can’t sit on our thumbs and do nothing. Something must be done to make our power grids more secure.
After graduating with a degree in Journalism, Tim Washburn spent several years working in the television business, both in Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Arkansas. After the birth of their third child, Tim became a stay-at-home dad while working freelance on the side. He began writing seriously several years ago, and Powerless is his first published novel.
When not writing, Tim enjoys reading, golfing, photography, and spending time with family. He is an avid college football fan, especially for his alma mater, the Oklahoma Sooners.
To learn more about Tim, please visit his website.