Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon

by Pat Frank
Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon

by Pat Frank

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Overview

“An extraordinary real picture of human beings numbed by catastrophe but still driven by the unconquerable determination of living creatures to keep on being alive.” —The New Yorker

The classic apocalyptic novel by Pat Frank, first published in 1959 at the height of the Cold War, with an introduction by award-winning science fiction writer and scientist David Brin.

“Alas, Babylon.” Those fateful words heralded the end. When the unthinkable nightmare of nuclear holocaust ravaged the United States, it was instant death for tens of millions of people; for survivors, it was a nightmare of hunger, sickness, and brutality. Overnight, a thousand years of civilization were stripped away.

But for one small Florida town, miraculously spared against all the odds, the struggle was only just beginning, as the isolated survivors—men and women of all ages and races—found the courage to come together and confront the harrowing darkness.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062296207
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 06/04/2013
Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
Format: eBook
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 4,425
File size: 611 KB

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.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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. This was not entirely true. It was true that Florence Wechek, the manager, gossiped. Yet she judiciously classified the personal intelligence that flowed under her plump fingers, and maintained a prudent censorship over her tongue. The scandalous and the embarrassing she excised from her conversation. Sprightly, trivial, and harmless items she passed on to friends, thus enhancing her status and relieving the tedium of spinsterhood. If your sister was in trouble, and wired for money, the secret was safe with Florence Wechek. But if your sister bore a legitimate baby, its sex and weight would soon be known all over town.

Florence awoke at six-thirty, as always, on a Friday in early December. Heavy, stiff and graceless, she pushed herself out of bed and padded through the living room into the kitchen. She stumbled onto the back porch, opened the screen door a crack, and fumbled for the milk carton on the stoop. Not until she straightened did her china-blue eyes begin to discern movement in the hushed gray world around her. A jerky-tailed squirrel darted out on the longest limb of her grapefruit tree. Sir Percy, her enormous yellow cat, rose from his burlap couch behind the hot water heater, arched his back, stretched, and rubbed his shoulders on her flannel robe. The African lovebirds rhythmically swayed, heads pressed together, on the swing in their cage. She addressed the lovebirds: "Good morning, Anthony. Good morning, Cleo."

Their eyes, spectacularly ringed in white, as ifembedded in mint Life Savers, blinked at her. Anthony shook his green and yellow plumage and rasped a greeting. Cleo said nothing. Anthony was adventurous, Cleo timid. On occasion Anthony grew raucous and irascible and Florence released him into limitless freedom outside. But always, at dusk, Anthony waited in the Turk's-cap, or atop the frangipani, eager to fly home. So long as Cleo preferred comfortable and sheltered imprisonment, Anthony would remain a domesticated parrot. That's what they'd told her when she bought the birds in Miami a month before, and apparently it was true.

Florence carried their cage into the kitchen and shook fresh sunflower seed into their feeder. She filled Sir Percy's bowl with milk, and crumpled a bit of wafer for the goldfish in the bowl on the counter. She returned to the living room and fed the angelfish, mollies, guppies, and vivid neons in the aquarium. She noted that the two miniature catfish, useful scavengers, were active. She was checking the tank's temperature, and its electric filter and heater, when the percolator chuckled its call to breakfast. At seven, exactly, Florence switched on the television, turned the knob to Channel 8, Tampa, and sat down to her orange juice and eggs. Her morning routine was unvaried and efficient. The only bad parts of it were cooking for one and eating alone. Yet breakfast was not her loneliest meal, not with Anthony ogling and gabbling, the six fat goldfish dancing a dreamy oriental ballet on diaphanous fins, Sir Percy rubbing against her legs under the table, and her cheery friends on the morning show, hired, at great expense, to inform and entertain her.

As soon as she saw Dave's face, Florence could sense whether the news was going to be good or bad. On this morning Dave looked troubled, and sure enough, when he began to give the news, it was bad. The Russians had sent up another Sputnik, No. 23, and something sinister was going on in the Middle East. Sputnik No. 23 was the largest yet, according to the Smithsonian Institution, and was radioing continuous and elaborate coded signals. "There is reason to believe," Frank said, "that Sputniks of this size are equipped to observe the terrain of the earth below." Florence gathered her pink flannel robe closer to her neck. She glanced up, apprehensively, through the kitchen window. All she saw were hibiscus leaves dripping in the pre-dawn ground fog, and blank gray sky beyond. They had no right to put those Sputniks up there to spy on people. As if it were on his mind also, Frank continued:

"Senator Holler, of the Armed Services Committee, yesterday joined others of a Midwest bloc in demanding that the Air Force shoot down Sputniks capable of military espionage if they violate U.S. air space. The Kremlin has already had something to say about this. Any such action, the Kremlin says, will be regarded the same as an attack on a Soviet vessel or aircraft. The Kremlin pointed out that the United States has traditionally championed the doctrine of Freedom of the Seas. The same freedom, says the Soviet statement, applies to outer space."

The newsman paused, looked up, and half-smiled in wry amusement at this complexity. He turned a page on his clipboard.

"There is a new crisis in the Middle East. A report from Beirut, via Cairo, says that Syrian tanks of the most modem Russian design have crossed the Jordanian frontier. This is undoubtedly a threat to Israel. At the same time Damascus charges that Turkish troops are mobilizing..."

Florence flipped to Channel 6, Orlando, and country music. She did not understand, and could not become interested in, the politics of the Middle East. Sputniks seemed a closer and more personal menace. Her best friend Alice Cooksey, the librarian, claimed to have seen a Sputnik one evening at twilight. If you could see it, then it could see you. She stared up through the window again. No Sputnik. She rinsed the dishes and returned to her bedroom.

As she wrestled with her girdle, Florence's thought gravitated to the equally prying behavior of Randy Bragg. She adjusted the venetian blinds until she could peer out. He was at it again. There he was, brazenly immodest in checked red and black pajamas, sitting on his front steps, knees akimbo and binoculars pressed to his eyes. Although he was perhaps seventy-five yards distant, she was certain he stared directly at her, and could see through the tilted louvers. She ducked back against the bedroom wall, hands protecting her breasts...

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
"In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida," an early December Friday dawns warm and peaceful. There are rumblings of potential crisis from the outside world--"The Russians had sent up another Sputnik, No. 23, and something sinister was going on in the Middle East"--but the citizens of Fort Repose bask in their small-town peacefulness. Then Randy Bragg, the younger son of a prominent local family--lawyer, Korean War vet, and unsuccessful candidate for the state legislature--receives a Western Union cable from his older brother, Mark, a colonel in the Strategic Air Command. Mark's cable includes a code phrase used by the brothers since childhood to indicate imminent disaster: "Alas, Babylon." Randy correctly concludes that nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union is in fact imminent. On Saturday morning, The Day, Randy wakes to "a long, deep, powerful rumble" and a second sunrise glow to the south. So begins the struggle of Fort Repose to survive the unimaginable. Against all the odds, the citizens of this small town are spared the immediate and worst effects of nuclear attack. But they escape neither the secondary consequences nor their own human limitations. As staples and services disappear--first the phone lines, then money, then gas, then electricity, then food and medications, then running water--they cope with a world in which, in a single day, a thousand years of civilization have been stripped away. In his large home just outside town, Bragg gathers together family members and friends, black and white, in a mutually supportive battle against disaster. Eventually Randy, as a lieutenant in theArmy Reserve, will have to assume command of the entire town. In the meantime, through the year that follows The Day, all the human strengths and frailties come into play, with the fates of ordinary people hanging in the balance. Pat Frank's classic post-apocalyptic novel remains "an extraordinarily real picture of human beings numbed by catastrophe, but still driven by the unconquerable determination of living creations to keep on being alive." --The New Yorker

Topics for Discussion
1. Why do you think Frank selected a phrase from The Revelation of John as the title of his book? To what extent do you think he intended the references to Babylon in Chapters 17 and 18 of The Revelation to apply to the United States of the 1950s? To what extent might they apply to the United States today?

2. What instances are there of people being in positions of power or public authority who should not be, before and after The Day? How does Randy's exercise of authority contrast with that of others, from the pilot Peewee to Bubba Offenhaus, Edgar Quisenberry, and Porky Logan?

3. What details reveal the specifics--and the inanity--of race relations in the American South during the late 1950s? Does the novel suggest any way of resolving the race issue? How does Randy's relationship with the Henrys go against his community?

4. In Chapter 4, Helen points out that her children, and all children in the late 1950s, "have lived under the shadow of war--atomic war. For them the abnormal has become normal." Do children today live under a comparable shadow or shadows? If so, what are the possible consequences for them?

5. What are the consequences--for Randy himself, for his family and friends, and for all of Fort Repose--of Randy's decision, in Chapter 5, that "he would have to play by the old rules"? In what ways do Randy and others subsequently act in accordance with or in opposition to "the old rules"?

6. What is the sequence of the escalating breakdown of "normal" order, institutions, and public services? How do people react to the sudden absence of services and procedures that they--we--take for granted? Would reactions today be different or similar? What do you think is the most serious loss?

7. In Chapter 5, Frank writes of bank president Edgar Quisenberry that "He had forgotten the implacable law of scarcity." How would you define/describe that law? How does it come into play for the people of Fort Repose, and what effects does it have?

8. Is Helen's "inventory of necessities," in Chapter 6, realistic and appropriate? What would be included in your inventory of necessities in the case of a similar catastrophe? Why?

9. What factors of character and circumstance justify Randy's assuming responsibility for and authority over Fort Repose? Is his thought in Chapter 7--"When you had the responsibility you also had the right to command"--explanation enough?

10. To what extent does "survival of the fittest" apply in Fort Repose after The Day? What do Randy and the others understand that phrase to mean? What do you understand it to mean?

About the Author: "Pat Frank" was the pseudonym adopted by the American writer, newspaperman, and government consultant, Harry Hart (1907-1964), 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.

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