Cover of first edition (hardcover)
|Publisher||J. B. Lippincott|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
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 has remained popular more than half century 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) and has an entry in David Pringle's book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. The novel deals with the effects of a nuclear war on the fictional small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based upon the actual city of Mount Dora, Florida. The novel's title is derived from the Book of Revelation: "Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come." The cover art for the Bantam paperback edition was made by Robert Hunt.
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. His older brother, Colonel Mark Bragg, an Air Force Intelligence officer, sends a telegram ending in the words, "Alas, Babylon", a pre-established code between the brothers – a reference to the book of Revelation 18:10, and a warning of impending disaster. Mark is flying his family down to Fort Repose for their protection while he stays at Strategic Air Command headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska.
Soon afterward, 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 excuse for the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear strike against the United States and its allies. The following morning, Soviet missiles are fired over the Arctic, as well as from submarines. American missiles are sent in response. Randy and his guests awake to the shaking from the bombing of nearby air force bases and naval air stations; one explosion temporarily blinds Peyton, Randy's niece.
At first, things are chaotic: tourists are trapped in their hotels, communication lines fail to work, the use of the CONELRAD radio system exposes its weaknesses, convicts escape from prisons and a run on the banks results in all of the banks closing. Randy organizes his neighbors to provide housing, food, and water for themselves.
As the months wear on, news trickles in by radio. Most of the government, on both sides, has been eliminated. The current American president, Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown, formerly the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, addresses the surviving United States, noting she is one of the most junior cabinet officials, as everyone above her is dead. Since Randy was an Army Reserve officer before the Soviet attack, he organizes a community self-defense team against bandits and tries to rid the community of radioactive jewelry smuggled into Fort Repose from the radioactive ruins of Miami.
The following year, Air Force helicopters arrive at Fort Repose. When 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. It is now receiving aid from third-world countries, such as Brazil and Venezuela.
Effects of the novel on others
- John Lennon, known for his pacifist views, and for his books, In His Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard in the Works (1965), was given a copy of Alas, Babylon by journalist Larry Kane in 1965. Lennon spent all night reading the book, fueling his anti-war fervor and envisioning the world's population attempting to crawl their way back from the horrors of a nuclear catastrophe.
- 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 influenced his own book, The Postman (1982).
- In the acknowledgements section at the beginning of his post-apocalyptic novel One Second After (2009), William R. Forstchen credits Alas, Babylon as an influence in writing his novel about the small town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. The novel is set in a time after numerous electromagnetic pulse strikes around the world cut off all sources of electricity to the town and depicts the ensuing aftermath of sociological breakdown.
- John Ringo's 2013 Under a Graveyard Sky, the first in his Black Tide Rising series, starts with an emergency code using the phrase "AlasBabylon." Frank's book is referenced as the characters' inspiration for that code, and is briefly synopsized.
- Frank, Pat (1979). Alas, Babylon. Illustrated by Hunt, Robert (Paperback ed.). ISBN 0-553-13260-1.
- "Amazon Best Sellers: Best Science Fiction Short Stories". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-08-02.
- Owens, Vivian W. (2000). The Mount Dorans: African American History Notes of a Florida Town. Waynesboro: Eschar.
- "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. December 1959. p. 150.
- Kane, Larry (2005). Lennon Revealed. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Running Press Book Publishers. pp. 141–142. ISBN 0762423641.
- Brin, David (2005). "Foreword". Alas, Babylon. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. pp. xi–xii. ISBN 0-06-074187-2.
- Forstchen, William R. (2009). One Second After. Macmillan. p. 12. ISBN 9780765317582.
- Ringo, John (2013). Under a Graveyard Sky. Baen Publishing Enterprises. p. 11. ISBN 9781625791887.
- Playhouse 90 Episode Guide, TV.com
- IMDb "Playhouse 90" Alas, Babylon (1960)