People are becoming more aware of the risks posed by EMP attacks — and by the similar but stronger natural phenomenon of a Carrington Event, a solar storm that might affect most of the planet. Similar threats to the grid on a smaller scale — recent attack on power substations has people worried about terrorists’ ability to bring down the grid with a handful of rifles, even — have also gotten attention, and utilities are working, if too slowly, to add resilience.

The risk of a smuggled nuclear weapon has been known for a long time, and the obvious way to take out a major American city is to smuggle one in on a freighter. The federal government is supposed to monitor ports with gadgets that look for radiation, but such efforts are sure to be less than 100% effective.

But the telling part of Quick’s book is that the most destructive weapon of all is the one that doesn’t go off — the bomb targeted at Washington, D.C. While the novel follows people all over the country (the gay survivalist couple in San Francisco is my favorite), most of them are trying to make the best of things in the face of extreme hardship, often choosing to join together with their neighbors for mutual aid.

Not so in Washington, where even as tens of millions of Americans die, most of the action is about political positioning, and most of the government’s foreign affairs behavior is astonishingly naive. Both, alas, seem all too believable today.