Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review for "Alas, Babylon" by Pat Frank

For more information on this book, click this link to view it on Amazon.

This piece of literature will show up on any top lists of post-apocalyptic literature or classic science-fiction. It came up on a related search for "Lucifer's Hammer" for me.

Amazon has it rated under customer reviews as a 4.5 out of 5 stars based on almost 700 reviews.

Here is what Amazon has to say about the book in its description:

"Alas, Babylon." Those fateful words heralded the end. When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly. But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness. "

About the author, Pat Frank, Amazon has this to say:

"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."

I admit that I was originally put off on this book and it sat on my bookshelf, especially after having read "Lucifer's Hammer". While "Lucifer's Hammer" is a wonderful book, it doesn't translate very well to our more modern age, though it was published 18 years after "Alas, Babylon", which was first put on the shelves in 1959. "Alas" must have sat on my bookshelf for 3 years before I had exhausted my supply of new literature before a trip to Utah. So, I packed it for the trip.

Though "Lucifer's" suffered greatly in it's translation into the modern age because of the rapid changes in technology, the same can't be said for "Alas". Much of that is due to the nature of the plot, which surrounds type of plot driver and the location of the characters. The selection of locale was very intelligent, as it centers on an out-of-the-way town in Florida. Though the characters in this piece suffer many of the challenges that will be faced in a post-apocalyptic world, they are very small in scale and localized. For example, the climate of central to south Florida alleviates the challenges faced by pretty much every other geographical location in the world, namely winter and the ability to provide warmth and sustenance year-round. While it is very fortuitous for the characters, some readers my be put off by the lack of struggles faced by "real world" examples. But, as many authors have proven, and struggled with, the reality of writing in any other situation bends credibility because of the truth and harshness of nature. After all, authors want to write a lengthy story, and the reality of nature would prevent a writer from conveying their true message. 

What is the message the Frank was trying to convey? In my own opinion, it conveys that natural leaders will emerge. These leaders don't have to be pinnacles of the professional world, nor do they have to be militarily trained, though neither of these situations could hurt, as we see with the novels protagonist. Surviving such a world comes from being well-rounded and flexible in all facets of life. Most importantly, it proved that, despite whatever age we currently live in, we must be able to learn the lessons of past ages. One must be able to forget what modern technology affords us and quickly move on to providing for one's self by whatever means is afforded. 

I greatly enjoyed reading about how Randy stepped up as a leader of his community and quickly and efficiently surrounded himself with good people who had the skills he would need to survive. Randy was a very believable and very human character with flaws and strengths. The book provided almost every stereotypical issue that will arise in such a world, and while the solutions were often predicable, it reinforced the typical ideals conveyed in other such works.  For example, people will do whatever they must to survive, be it violence, theft, or deception. The body is a fragile item that must be given great care. The medicines and care givers that are the pinnacle of modernism will disappear overnight. One must quick to provide quick, even painful, solutions to medical issues or die. Perhaps most importantly, the work shows how the earlier proper choices in such a situation can provide exponential returns, if the proper course of action is taken. Specifically, Randy's decision to grow crops of sugar cane to make whiskey for bartering, would take months to see fulfilled, but it ultimately provided them an ample trade good.  


As stated, this book translated very well to our modern culture. I believe this is the case because, despite what "modern" technology may be, it will be rendered useless in the case of an EMP or nuclear bomb. This is a must read, no matter what your interest in reading may be.

5 Stars