Cover of first edition (hardcover)
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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 apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age and remains popular 54 years after it was first published, consistently ranking in Amazon.com's Top 20 Science Fiction Short Stories list (which groups together short story collections and novels). The novel deals with the effects of a nuclear war on the small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based upon the actual city of Mount Dora, Florida. The book's title is derived from Revelation 18:10: Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.
Randy (Randolph) Bragg lives in the small Central Florida town of Fort Repose and appears to be drifting down a somewhat aimless path in life when his older brother, Colonel Mark Bragg, an Air Force Intelligence officer, sends his wife and two children to stay in Fort Repose, explaining that, because the Soviet government believes it can succeed, it will be emboldened to risk war. Mark is flying his family down to Florida for their protection while he stays at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska.
Soon after, an American fighter pilot attempting to intercept an enemy plane over the Mediterranean inadvertently fires an AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missile that goes off course and hits an ammunition depot in Latakia, Syria, resulting in a large explosion. This event becomes the apparent casus belli for the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear strike against the United States and her allies. Early the following morning, Soviet missiles arrive from over the Arctic, as well as from submarine, while American missiles are sent in response. Randy and his house guests are awakened by shaking due to bombing of various air force bases and naval air stations across central and northeast Florida; one explosion temporarily blinds Peyton, Randy's niece.
Things are chaotic at first: Tourists are trapped in their hotels, telegraph lines fail to work, the use of the CONELRAD radio system exposes its weaknesses, convicts escape from jails and prisons, and a run on the bank results in the bank's closing. Randy organizes his immediate neighbors to provide housing, food, and water for themselves.
Over the months, news trickles in exclusively through the radio. Most of the government on both sides has been eliminated. The current American president, Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown, was formerly the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. As an active Army Reserve officer, Randy organizes a community self-defense team against bandits and works to rid the community of radioactive jewelry from Miami.
The following year, Air Force helicopters make contact with Fort Repose. While they offer to evacuate the residents from Florida, which is considered a "contaminated zone," the residents choose to stay. It is revealed that the United States won the war, but at a tremendous cost as it is now the recipient of aid from third world countries such as Brazil and Venezuela.
Effects of the novel on other writers
In the foreword of the 2005 edition of Alas, Babylon, David Brin notes that the book was instrumental in shaping his views on nuclear war and had an effect on his own book, The Postman (pp. xi-xii, ISBN 0-06-074187-2, Harper Perennial Modern Classics).
In the acknowledgements section at the beginning of his post apocalyptic novel One Second After William R. Forstchen credits "Alas, Babylon" as an influence in writing his novel about the small town of Black Mountain, NC. The novel is set in a time after numerous EMP strikes around the world cut off all sources of electricity to his town and the ensuing aftermath of sociological breakdown.
The John Titor story has similarities to Alas Babylon, most specifically, the Florida setting and the post apocalyptic culture described in the novel. This similarity has been specifically addressed by detractors who doubted the authenticity of Titor's claims.
- Owens, Vivian W. The Mount Dorans: African American History Notes of a Florida Town. Waynesboro: Eschar, 2000
- "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1959, p.150
- Playhouse 90 Episode Guide, TV.com
- IMDB "Playhouse 90" Alas, Babylon (1960)