Nine years ago, Jack Erikson was deployed to China to protect the United States from a cyberattack. Now, suffering from a drug-induced amnesia, he is unable to recognize his own son. What Jack knows for sure is that an elite group of operators is determined to kill him. What he does not yet remember is that he controls a cyber-weapon powerful enough to return human civilization to the Stone Age. If Jack lives long enough to piece together his mission and his identity, he will be forced to choose between the fate of humankind and that of his own family.
Many people are surprised to learn that the fiction in Patriarch Run is premised on an under-reported, existential threat to our civilization. Over the course of the last 100 years, our society has unwittingly evolved to become absolutely dependent on a vulnerable critical infrastructure. As Jack learns in the story, 100 years ago you didn't need electricity to feed the population. That’s because the "pre-electrical" carrying capacity of the planet was less than 2 billion people. Our vulnerable infrastructure has increased the planet's carrying capacity to 7.5 billion.
The bad guy in my story intends to commit mass murder on a scale never seen before in human history by using a sophisticated cyberattack to take down the power grid. I wish that vulnerability were fiction. But it’s not. You can actually kill a lot of people this way.
Lest that be dismissed as fear mongering, I’ve included a brief video from Ted Koppel, a respected journalist, about the subject below:
In the video, Ted Koppel reports that a devastating cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely and that the United States is shockingly unprepared.
In addition to a cyberattack, there are several mechanisms of destruction that could bring down the power grid and trigger an apocalyptic scenario like the one outlined in Patriarch Run, including an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, physical sabotage, and a coronal mass ejection. That last event is naturally occurring and does not require any human malice or intent. As a matter of fact, on a timeline as large as the sun's, such events are routine.
I’ve included a brief NASA video below to show what a coronal mass ejection looks like:
I carefully researched the vulnerability of our critical infrastructure and depicted that vulnerability with great realism in my story. Then I had some of the leading experts in the country check the accuracy of my work. You can find a few of their endorsements here. disabled in your browser.
In a worst-case scenario, the events outlined above have the potential to destroy the power gird permanently. As was explained to Jack in my book, if that worst-case were to be actualized somehow, the gird couldn't be fixed. Not ever.
How can that be?
The critical hardware that would be damaged in such an event cannot be easily replaced. For example, the 2,000 large transformers of our power grid are handmade and take years to manufacture when our infrastructure is working perfectly. Society would collapse long before all the replacement transformers could be manufactured.
Without the use of widespread, reliable electricity, we could not grow, process, and transport enough food to feed the population. We could not distribute clean drinking water to our cities or provide sanitation or healthcare. There would be no commerce as we have come to know it. Such a collapse would probably result in widespread starvation, the reintroduction of diseases vanquished by modern sanitation, unprecedented social unrest, and a skyrocketing mortality rate.
I know that sounds bad. That’s because it is. If you want to learn more about how vulnerable we are, you can read my story Patriarch Run. You could also check out some of the other videos I’ve posted at BenjaminDancer.com. I’d recommend that you start with the National Geographic documentary, which is based on a book by Dr. Peter Pry (Dr. Pry endorsed my novel for its realistic depiction of this threat). There are videos from other credible sources, as well: NASA and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
I’m really sorry to be the bearer of so much bad news.
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About the Author
Benjamin Dancer also writes about parenting, education, sustainability and national security. He works as an Advisor at a Colorado high school where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. His work with adolescents has informed his stories, which are typically themed around fatherhood and coming-of-age. Find out more at his website www.benjamindancer.com and find him on Twitter @BenjaminDancer1.