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Alas, Babylon is a 1959 novel by American writer Pat Frank (the pen name of Harry Hart Frank). It was one of the first post-apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age and remains popular fifty years after it was first published. The novel deals with the effects of a nuclear war on the small isolated town of Fort Repose, Florida.
At the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, Fort Repose resident Randy Bragg, while making a comfortable enough living, is drifting through life with little real purpose. His brother Mark, an officer in the Air Force, warns him that nuclear war is likely imminent. Mark, who lives in Omaha, sends his wife, Helen, and his children, Ben Franklin and Peyton, to stay with Randy. While he waits for them to arrive, Randy warns his friends, including his neighbors-cum-sharecroppers, the Henrys, and his girlfriend, Lib McGovern. He stockpiles food, and picks up Helen and her children at the airport, amid reports that tensions are rapidly escalating between the two superpowers. The next morning, war breaks out, and nuclear weapons destroy all of Florida's major cities. Washington, D.C. is also destroyed; before their radio communication is cut off, the townsfolk learn that a low-level Cabinet official has become president. The power soon dies, Fort Repose is completely isolated, and with the help of Liz, the Henrys and his doctor friend Daniel Gunn, Randy takes up the challenge of organizing a militia against highwaymen and leading the town into a new life of agrarian self-sufficiency.
In the foreword of the 2005 edition of Alas, Babylon, David Brin admits that the book was instrumental in shaping his views on nuclear war and had an effect on his own book, The Postman.
Tropes in this book:
- After the End: Sort of. The US, its closest allies, and the Soviet Union are pummeled, yet the rest of the world survives intact.
- Apocalypse How: This is a Class 0. The Soviet Union and United States simply trade nukes and much of world is not a part of that war-save for Britain, France, and West Germany, which are implied to have been hit due to the lack of broadcasts from those countries.
- Big Badass Wolf: Preacher Henry's been losing pigs. Caleb and Ben have to hunt it down. Turns out it's a German Shepherd gone feral in the aftermath of The Day.
- Black Dude Dies First: Out of the main characters, at least.
- Blind Without'Em: Dan
- Bus Crash: The last time we see Mark, he's at AFB Offut anticipating the Soviet attack. At the end of the book it's revealed that Offut itself was nuked and Mark was killed.
- Cats Are Mean: The first person to respond appropriately to the end of civilization is a cat; it's hungry and eats one of Flo's lovebirds.
- China And Japan Take Over The World: The Big Three after the war are China, Japan and India, who stayed out of World War Three and weren't nuked.
- Cold War
- Cosy Catastrophe: At times, the writing style almost resembles something from a boy's adventure novel. Part of this is because, while most of Florida is nuked, Fort Repose itself is the biggest clear zone in the state.
- Driven to Suicide: The bank president, when he realizes how worthless his money has become
- During the War
- Humans Are Flawed: The people of Fort Repose don't respond well on The Day. Afterward, they settle into a stable living arrangement, some better off than others. Randy's ex, Rita, is unhappy that someone clubbed her poodle with an ax handle so they could eat it. Also, a number of bandits do horrible things before Randy organizes a militia, including killing the pharmacist, the sheriff, and his deputy. Another group of bandits murder the beekeeper and his wife and club down town physician, Dan Gunn, breaking his glasses.
- Humans Are Survivors: The town of Fort Repose was a small, Southern town in the 1950s not yet fully adapted to electricity or air conditioning, and it's built around farming, so the switch isn't too hard. Plus they're on a river, and they have orange groves, and a physician who wanted to work in third world nations before being sidelined by alimony payments to an ex-wife with a gambling problem.
- I Choose to Stay: When the military gives the protagonists a choice between staying in the enclave of Fort Repose and evacuating, they decide to stay, having built up enough self-sufficiency to survive for quite a while.
- Inferred Holocaust: If the USA can suffer such catastrophic damage and still be considered the victor, then the Soviet Union must be in a ghastly state. The only knowledge we have about their existing state, though, is that their government is ruling from Mongolia.
- Karmic Death: Porky Logan attempts to steal some jewelry-unaware that they have been contaminated by fallout-and dies of radiation poisoning when he tries to wear them.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: On The Day, half the town of Fort Repose is trying to contact various people through the Western Union telegraph office. The bank manager is trying to get advice from the Federal Reserve branch in Jacksonville when there's a bright flash from the Northeast and the telegraph stops chattering.
Flo:' I'm sorry, Edgar, but Jacksonville isn't there any more.
- Literary Allusion Title: "Alas, Babylon" comes from a verse in The Bible. After hearing their pastor quote the verse over and over, it then becomes Randy and Mark's code phrase for "trouble."
- Mama Bear: On the morning of The Day, Helen is freaking out until Peyton is blinded by looking directly at a blast. Once she's aware of the need to help her daughter, she becomes calm and capable once more.
- Morally-Bankrupt Banker: Edgar Quisenberry, whose only criterion for whether or not someone has value is if they have money (or the equivalent in property/realty).
- Mr. Exposition: Randy's older brother Mark only has two roles. First he shows up and explains how and why the world is doomed. Then he dies off screen.
- Naughty Birdwatching: A comic-relief subplot involves accusations of this.
- Pair the Spares: Helen, meet Dan. Dan, this is Helen.
- Pyrrhic Victory: It is stated at the end that the United States did win the war but the cost was millions of dead, large areas of land are unlivable, and the United States is no longer a superpower.
- Hell, it's not even a first world country, anymore!
- Or even second-world(something like the Industrial Age U.S.)!
- Hell, using grain for something as trivial as making alcohol is viewed as very nearly treasonous!
- Hell, it's not even a first world country, anymore!
- Sacrificial Lion: Randy's older brother dies off-screen in his role as ranking Air Force officer in Nuclear War Central Headquarters. Malachai, quiet and humble mechanic who kept River Road functioning, is the only casualty of the mission to eliminate the bandits preying on Fort Repose.
- She's Got Legs: Randy first meets Libby when he pulls up to her dock and sees her legs sticking up in the air.
Randy: Hello, legs.
Libby: You must be Randy Bragg.
- Shipper on Deck: Libby makes it her mission to pair up Helen with a perfectly suitable partner. Partly so she'll leave Randy alone.
- Shown Their Work: The town of Fort Repose is based off an actual town in central Florida, and accurately references other small towns in the same area.
- Trapped in Containment: The entire state of Florida is declared a "Contaminated Zone," effectively isolating Fort Repose.
- Unexpected Successor: The new president was the female Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
- Wise Beyond Their Years: This is the impression the adults have of Ben and Peyton, whose education and childhood with television has prepared them for the coming apocalypse far better than their elders expected. Also, they're better prepared than their elders.
- World War III