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Alas, Babylon (Perennial Classics) Paperback – 5 Jul 2005
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About the Author
Pat Frank (1908-1964) is the author of the classic postapocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon, as well as the Cold War thriller Forbidden Area. Before becoming an author, Frank worked as a journalist and also as a propagandist for the government. He is one of the first and most influential science fiction writers to deal with the consequences of atomic warfare.
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Bragg is left with other survivors in a small town. No one knows what has happened. It seems clear there have been nuclear strikes against most major US cities and missile bases, but none of the survivors know what has happened. Has the war ended? Is it still going on? Is there anyone else still alive? Bragg takes a lead in organising people locally.
There is something reassuring about the novel, and therefore something glaringly unrealistic. While the nuclear exchange between the USA and Soviet Union has destroyed their urban areas and killed countless millions, somehow the US government manages to continue functioning ... the surviving senior politician takes charge and tries to reorganise the nation and its government. Neville Shute's "On the Beach" portrays the few survivors of nuclear war waiting for the fallout cloud to kill them, "Alas Babylon" suggests that the end is far from nigh. Indeed, one of its concluding paragraphs poses the question, "Who Won?"
It's an entertaining enough and well enough written novel, but it does suffer from its harrowing sense of optimism ... or is that blind nationalism? Rather than a bleak, truly apocalyptic warning of the dangers posed by nuclear war, "Alas Babylon" offers not merely a conviction that survival is possible, but an appeal to 'American values' ... Bragg seizes the initiative locally and sets about rebuilding his community in a parody of the American Western.
The novel presents post-apocalyptic images of recolonisation, of the hardy settlers forging law and order out of the wilderness (Bragg shoots and lynches a number of outlaws). There is no genocidal removal of the native population - we assume the Soviets have all been killed, we do not know if anyone else in Europe (or Asia, or elsewhere) has survived, or, indeed, has been involved in the war. The novel is purely about survival of the USA and recovery (albeit it with a depleted population). Rather than serve as a warning, rather than appear as a radical piece of science fiction, it can be seen as glib in places, leaving major questions unanswered and the central issue of the potential nuclear destruction of the planet treated as ultimately escapable and survivable.
Some reviewer I have seen on various review sites noted the misogyny and racism in the book. What racism and misogyny present in the book is mild and a product of the time the book was written in. It is tempered by the fact that Pat Frank shows a community coming together, where everyone- regardless of age, gender or race has a contribution to make to the community. Please keep that in mind.
An excellent read.
Randy Bragg lives in the small Central Florida town of Fort Repose. He is not a very successful guy, in fact he is mostly content with eating his inheritance... One day however his much more formidable brother, Colonel Mark Bragg, USAF, sends him a telegraph ending in the words, "Alas, Babylon", a pre-established code between the brothers warning of impending disaster. It appears quickly, that this disaster is a HUGE one...
This was one of the very first novels to describe the occurence and the consequences of an all-out nuclear war. The much darker and much more pesimist "On the beach" was published two years earlier and the equally dark and pesimistic "Canticle for Leibowitz" was published in 1960. "Alas Babylone", a much more realistic thing than those other two classics, made quite a splash when it was published. Unlike so many others, the author, whose real name was Harry Hart Frank, knew what he was writing about. He served in military during WWII and watched Korean War as journalist, he studied a lot about the nuclear weapons and it shows in this book.
The novel deals less with the nuclear war itself, than with what happens next. There are, quite obviously, survivors, in fact quite a lot of them, but the organised society as we know it initially collapses - the description of this process is quite fascinating. Then, as always, people regroup and re-organise themselves, facing challenges and solving problems. This is an uphill battle, but life always ultimately triumphs over death...
Author very wisely states in this book, that it is not the strength of American nuclear arsenal that is the problem - it is the weakness of USA that causes Soviet union to attack, as Moscow believes it can win a nuclear war. It is a very important point showed in this book: in some circumstances a nuclear war CAN be won - it becomes only imposible if BOTH sides have enough primary and back-up fire power to always fully incinerate the enemy, no matter how total the initial surprise and how big the first-strike damage. On another hand, one thing totally absent here is the "nuclear winter", and a mighty good thing too, as it is a total nonsense...
This book can be also read as a kinf of post-apocalyptic SF, albeit slightly more optimistic than most of such works. Left-winged people and peaceniks will almost certainly hate this book - which is another point in its favour...
I don't want to provide spoilers here so I will keep this review short. This is an important book, still a good read and a thing that makes one think, in fact think a lot. I am glad that I bought and read it. ENJOY!