J.B. Lippincott, 1959, 279 pages
This true modern masterpiece is built around the two fateful words that make up the title and herald the end - "Alas, Babylon." When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly.
But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness.
Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon is a classic novel of post-nuclear war survival. Set in Fort Repose, Florida, a tiny town that is missed by the nuclear missiles that level all major cities in the U.S., it is less Cold War science fiction than a survivalist epic.
The author of One Second After acknowledged this book as one of his inspirations, and the two books are very similar in many ways. Both feature the residents of a small Southern town forming a survivalist community in the wake of the collapse of the U.S. government and technological civilization. In Alas, Babylon, it is a nuclear war between the US and the USSR, the ominous and inevitable build-up to war taking up the first half of the book, as only a few people realize just what is unfolding before them on the news.
As in One Second After, Alas, Babylon features an All-American protagonist stepping up to take charge because no one else will, while he tries to manage his small family (in this case, the family of his brother, an Air Force officer who knew what was going down and sent them to relative safety ahead of time). There are food shortages, the necessity of modern people figuring out how to survive without modern technology, the return of the barter economy, as well as bandits and highwaymen. As a survivalist epic, it's not as grim as it could have been, but it's another one of those books that might make you think about stocking up on bullets and beans, just in case.
For a book written in 1959, Alas, Babylon holds up surprisingly well, largely because as with all stories about a total collapse of civilization, once the grid goes down and there is no more government, it doesn't matter whether it was 1959 or 1980 or 2014, everything is going to look like the 19th century pretty quickly. The USSR is no longer, but Russia still has missiles pointed at us; nuclear war may no longer be as likely as it once seemed, but it's hardly a threat that's vanished. The black characters, despite living in Florida in 1959, are treated better by the author than in some more recent post-apocalyptic novels I could name.
Verdict: This was a good read for anyone who's a fan of survivalist novels and stories about what a community would do after the end of the world. Very slightly dated, but the writing style and the challenges facing the characters will mostly keep you from noticing.
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