Wednesday, February 23, 2011

REVIEW: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank


The classic apocalyptic novel that stunned the world.

About the Author

"Pat Frank" was the lifelong nickname adopted by the American writer, newspaperman, and government consultant, who was born Harry Hart Frank (1908-1964), and who is remembered today almost exclusively for his post-apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon. Before the publication of his first novel Mr. Adam launched his second career as novelist and independent writer, Frank spent many years as a journalist and information handler for several newspapers, agencies, and government bureaus. His fiction and nonfiction books, stories, and articles made good use of his years of experience observing government and military bureaucracy and its malfunctions, and the threat of nuclear proliferation and annihilation. After the success of Alas, Babylon, Frank concentrated on writing for magazines and journals, putting his beliefs and concerns to political use, and advising various government bodies. In 1960 he served as a member of the Democratic National Committee. In 1961, the year in which he received an American Heritage Foundation Award, he was consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Council. From 1963 through 1964 the Department of Defense made use of Frank's expertise and advice, and this consultancy turned out to be his last response to his country's call. His other books include Mr. Adam and Forbidden Area.

My Thoughts

“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.”

...and so we are introduced to the setting of the book Alas, Babylon. Fort Repose is an idyllic little town located in Central Florida. At least everything is idyllic until "The Day". "The Day" is the day that the bombs fell-- nuclear bombs-- and entire cities were wiped off the map. 

This book was written in the heat of the cold war with Russia, and just shortly before the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. So it isn't surprising that the Russians are portrayed as the enemy in the story, or that a book about man's attempt to survive after a nuclear holocaust would be so popular at the time, and remains so 50 years later. 

The story is told primarily from the perspective of Randy Bragg, and follows him before, during and after the nuclear attack. Randy is a guy that just wants to do what is best for everyone. He isn't a control freak or someone who has to be the leader in every situation. He simply wants what is best for everyone.

Randy's love interest is Lib McGovern. Strong and intuitive and empathetic, Lib lends strength to Randy and their relationship builds through the story.

Randy's sister-in-law Helen and her children come to live with him, and she is a “man’s woman”. She's a good woman that any man would want as his partner in life, in good times or in bad. Smart, tough and strong, she takes over as a sort of "head of household" figure and keeps everything running smoothly.

Dr. Dan Gunn is a man who had all of the best intentions in spending a life in charitable pursuits, but has found himself a little embittered after a divorce as he finds his life's path altered and diverted. Admirable and hard-working and the only medical doctor, he is integral to the survival of the town.

Admiral Sam Hazzard is a retired admiral who settled in Fort Repose before “The Day”. At times tactless, but honest and forthright, he says it like it is and is blessed with a little inside knowledge of how the military and government works.


“...Mrs. McGovern she can’t ‘bide bugs or little green lizards and she won’t go out of the house after dark for fear of snakes. I don’t think the McGoverns going to be with us long, Mister Randy, because what’s Florida except bugs and lizard and snakes?” p.10 (Believe me, this is definitely Florida. Don't believe me? Just check out my spider posts on my other blog!)

“When it became common to spend a million dollars to elect senators from moderately populous states, I think that should have been a warning to us. For instance, free pap for the masses. Bread and circuses. Roman spectacles and our spectaculars. Largesse from the conquering proconsuls and television giveaways from the successful lipstick king.” p. 236

“I love you. I worry about you. I wonder whether I tell you enough how I love you and want you and need you and how I am diminished and afraid when you are not with me and how I am multiplied when you are here.” p. 237

(After receiving leaflets dropped by air): “...It was also useful as toilet paper. Next day, ten leaflets would buy an egg, and fifty a chicken. It was paper, and it was money.” p. 307 (This struck me funny, with the way the value of a dollar is falling. I guess if things get really bad, at least the dollar will still have value as TP!)

Vocabulary/Things learned:
These are actually words that I’m familiar with, but not comfortable enough to use them in my own daily conversation...

Cravenly- Characterized by abject fear; cowardly.
Usage: You mean to say that your cooks have all cravenly left for their homes? (p. 101)

Atavistic- The return of a trait or recurrence of previous behavior after a period of absence.
Usage: Today the rules had changed, just as Roman law gave way to atavistic barbarism as the empire fell to Hun and Goth. (p. 98)

Palaver- To flatter or cajole; to chatter idly
Usage: So my “Footnote” deals with tactical palavers of no real importance. (p. 236)

The Cover: At first I wasn't sure how I liked the cover. It didn't reach out and grab me. But then I looked more closely and found it to really be a great cover for this story. The landscape is quite evidently Florida landscape, and the hand held up blocking what could be a setting sun, or the blinding light of a nuclear bomb.

My final word: I found this to be a well-written story, the characters well thought out and well-fleshed out. The story had some depth.

I should warn you that the “N” word and the term "negro" are both used quite extensively throughout this book, as it takes place in the south in the heat of the unrest preceding the civil rights movement. That’s not to say that the book has a racist bent, as I am happy to say that it actually portrays the local black family (the Henry family) in a very positive light, and the racists in town as the arrogant ignoramus they are.

The attack is quite realistic, as is the reaction of the people. You can feel the confusion and tension and fear as the people try to understand what has happened, and how to deal with it. You shake your head at the people who still haven't grasped the gravity of the situation, and treat it as a temporary inconvenience. You wonder how they will deal with the lack of water, and with trade shutdown everyone is forced to become "locavores" and survive on whatever may be found within walking distance of home. Trade is a necessity, new skills are learned. Man adapts and survives.

I liked it. I liked the people, I liked that it took place in my own backyard, I liked that it was quite real, when I am used to reading fantastical post-apocalyptic zombie lit. I just plain liked it.

Buy Now:

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My Rating: 8.5 out of 10 

1 comment:

Ladytink_534 said...

I just finished reading this too! Somehow we both used all different quotes for our reviews. :) The book I'm starting next is The Postman by David Brin which was inspired by this book.