The day after the bomb dropped the thousands of years of "progress" that had covered the treacheries and weaknesses of ordinary man with a thin veneer of civilization were dissolved and melted like snow in the desert's dusty face.
Then-- the law of the jungle reigned, but in the wreckage a few courageous survivors, men and women with the guts to have hope, were determined to build a new and better world on the ruins of the old. This is their story.
Title: Alas, Babylon
Author: Pat Frank
Start & Finished: 2/20/11
Publisher: J.B. Lippincott
Genre: Dystopian/ Post- Apocalyptic
Reporter, government official, war correspondent, philanderer, alcoholic, and fisherman Harry Hart Frank did a lot in his life but it's the novels he published under his nickname Pat Frank that got the most attraction, especially his magnum opus Alas, Babylon. Mr. Frank said that he got the idea for the book when a friend asked him a question that he himself had been pondering, “What do you think would happen if the Russkies hit us when we weren’t looking?” After replying that he thought we would win but with a casualty of fifty or sixty million, his friend said, “What a depression that would make!” After relating this incident in the foreward of Alas, Babylon Pat Frank said, “I doubt if he realized the exact nature and extent of the depression-- which is why I am writing this book.”
This story takes place in the fictional town of Fort Repose which is in Central Florida but based upon another real life small town called Mandarin and then set in the location of the town of Mount Dora. This book is one of the first post-apocalyptic novels written during the Atomic Era. Frank did do his research, from reading the Bible (which is where the title comes from, in Revelations) to visiting Cape Canaveral to consult with air command officials. He even called up a few doctors so Doctor Dan would be authentic. He also calls upon his time in the service as well as his prowess as a fisherman (he lived on a lake). It was said that he was a consultant of both the Department of Defense and NASA too. What he knew and what he learned during the course of writing Alas, Babylon and a few other of his books, Mr. Frank applied to real life such as buying canned food, bottled water, and building a shelter for his family. He even wrote a nonfiction book called How to Survive the H-Bomb and Why.
Alas Babylon is about adapting to the circumstances by learning to live like your great-great-great grandparents did and at the very center it's about family. Everything the main character Randy Bragg does is for his family; his blood relatives (brother's wife and children) as well as the adoptive family of all his nearby neighbors and the town doctor too. Though I enjoyed all the characters; especially little Ben Franklin, Randy was definitely my favorite and the most relatable for me. In the book there’s also a bit about the spirit and faith in and of man too and unlike other stories found in this genre (the barbarism of Lord of the Flies comes to mind), this book does end on a bleak but hopeful note. However, I believe after what Mr. Frank had seen all over the world and heard from his friends in the military, that he wrote this book as mainly a wake-up call about just how unprepared America is for war (or even natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina). After all, General Curtis LeMay; whom at the time was the current head of the SAC (and who is quoted in the book), was to have said "this man must have been reading my mail" after he had finished reading Alas, Babylon.
It is a post-apocalyptic novel but it's also set in the present (the present being the time it was published, 1959) and it is a glance into not only the lifestyle but the prejudices back then too. However, it’s also completely realistic and is easily applied to life today. I may not be old enough to remember the heyday of the threats of the nuclear holocaust in the Cold War time period which was going on before and after Alas, Babylon's publication but reading it does make one aware just how dependent the human race is on all our wonderful modern conveniences. This fact hit home for me a few years ago after Hurricane Katrina when we (and our town) was without power for a few days. That was pretty scary for me then since I had never before experienced something like that and all told, we got off pretty easy because of the area we were in. I couldn't even imagine living in a world like the setting of this book with no end in sight.
Stephen King's The Stand is not only one of my favorite books, it's also one of the books I re-read most often and up till recently it never occurred to me that I'm a huge dystopian fan. Yet I've loved every dystopian novel I've ever read including Scott Westerfeld's Uglies and James Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began. That’s also counting Alas, Babylon which I read for the first time back in my junior year of high school when it was required reading. The teacher Mrs. Harris actually gave me a copy since I enjoyed it so much! I had forgotten a good bit of the story but I think I may have loved it even more this time around.
“LeMay says the only way a general can win a modern war is not fight one. Our whole raison d'être was deterrent force. When you don’t deter them any longer, you lose. I think we lost some time ago, because the last five Sputniks have been reconnaissance satellites. They’ve been mapping us, with infrared and transistor television, measuring us for the Sunday punch.”Randy felt angry. He felt cheated. “Why hasn’t anybody-- everybody been told about this?”Mark shrugged. “You know how it is-- everything that comes in is stamped secret or top secret or cosmic or something and the only people who dare declassify anything are the big wheels right at the top, and the people at the top hold conferences and somebody says, ‘Now let’s not be hasty. Let’s not alarm the public.’ So everything stays secret or cosmic. Personally, I think everybody ought to be digging or evacuating right this minute. Maybe if the other side knew we were digging, if they knew that we knew, they wouldn’t try to get away with it.”
Pete began to play the cash register with two fingers while the car boy, awed, filled the big sacks. Randy was aware that seven or eight women, lined up behind him, counted his purchases, fascinated. He heard one whisper, “Fifteen cans of coffee-- fifteen!” The line grew, and he was conscious of a steady, complaining murmur. Unaccountably, he felt guilty. He felt that he ought to face these women and shout, “All of you! All of you buy everything you can!” It wouldn’t do any good. They would be certain he was mad.
Why should he be so upset about the remark of a thirteen-year-old boy? When he was sure the children slept in the back seat, he said, “They take it calmly, almost as a matter of course, don’t they?”“Yes,” Helen said. “You see, all their lives, ever since they’ve known anything, they’ve lived under the shadow of war-- atomic war. For them the abnormal has become normal. All their lives they have heard nothing else, and they expect it.” “They’re conditioned,” Randy said. “A child of the nineteenth century would quickly go mad with fear, I think, in the world of today. It must have been pretty wonderful to have lived in the years, say, between 1870 and 1914, when peace was the normal condition and people really were appalled at the idea of war, and believed there’d never be a big one. A big one was impossible, they used to say. It would cost too much. It would disrupt the world trade and bankrupt everybody. Even after the first World War people didn’t accept war as normal. They had to call it The War to End War or we wouldn’t have fought it. Helen, what has become of us?”
What had jolted Randy from sleep-- he would not learn all the facts for a long, a very long time after-- were two nuclear explosions, both in the megaton range, the warheads of missiles lobbed in by submarines. The first obliterated the SAC base at Homestead, and incidentally sank and returned to the sea a considerable area of Florida’s tip. Ground Zero of the second missile was Miami’s International Airport, not far from the heart of the city. Randy’s couch had been shaken by shock waves transmitted through the earth, which travel faster than through the air, so he had been awake when the blast and sound arrived a little later. Gazing at the glow to the south, Randy was witnessing, from a distance of almost two hundred miles, the incineration of a million people.
“I don’t know where, or when, or how. But as soon as school reopens in Fort Repose, or anywhere around, you go. You may have to walk.”“Golly, Randy, walk! It’s three miles to town.”“Your grandfather used to walk to school in Fort Repose. When he was your age there wasn’t any school busses. When he couldn’t hitch a ride in a buggy, or one of the early automobiles, he walked.” Randy put his arm around the boy’s shoulder. “Let’s get going. I guess we’ll both have to learn to walk again.”
In block letters he wrote:“DANGER! KEEP OUT! RADIATION!”“You’d better put something else on there,” Randy said. “There are a lot of people around here who still don’t know what radiation means.”“Do you really think so?”“I’m positive of it. They’ve never seen it, or felt it. They hear about it, but I don’t think they believe it. They didn’t believe it could kill them before The Day- if they thought of it at all-- and I don’t think they believe it now. You’d better add something they understand, like Poison.”
“Who cares about fish? If I grow up I’m not going to be a fisherman!”Helen called from the kitchen window. The children disappeared.Randy said, “Did you ever hear a little girl say ‘If I grow up’ before?”“No, I never did. It gives me the creeps.”
First Paragraph: In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida, it was said that sending a message by Western Union was the same as broadcasting it over the combined networks. This was not entirely true. It was true that Florence Wechek, the manager, gossiped. Yet she judiciously classified the personal intelligence that flowed under her plump fingers, and maintained a prudent censorship over her tongue. The scandalous and the embarrassing she excised from her conversation. Sprightly, trivial, and harmless items she passed on to friends, thus enhancing her status and relieving the tedium of spinsterhood. If your sister was in trouble, and wired for money, the secret was safe with Florence Wechek. But if your sister bore a legitimate baby, its sex and weight would soon be known all over town.
Article on Pat Frank that include interviews with his family
LOUD! Fan made promotional trailer
Source: Personal copy, courtesy of my high school literature teacher
Mushroom Cloud: see fourth quote
Boy Fishing: Ben Franklin fishing. A good bit of their food nowadays comes from the river
Armadillo: When the fish stop biting and the armadillos start rooting up the garden, the family learns that they taste pretty good!