Pat Frank,
Alas, Babylon
(Bantam, 1959;
Harper, 2005)

Alas, Babylon tells the story of a small town in Florida right after nuclear war accidentally breaks out between America and the Soviet Union. If full-scale nuclear war had occurred, the novel is not realistic, as it minimizes the global damage. (On the Beach depicts that scenario better.) But, if a limited, quickly aborted war occurred, Alas, Babylon becomes all too realistic. Such a "small" nuclear war is now more likely than a global nuclear war, with recent changes in the former Soviet Union and the upsurge in state-sponsored terrorism.

In Alas, Babylon, basic survival becomes the first goal of the now-isolated Florida town, with a rebuilding of an economy and a social structure addressed next. The characters are believable, the story flows well and the reader is left with the impression that he/she has been to this place and met these people.

Like On the Beach, Alas, Babylon takes humanity's worst-case scenario and moves forward with it. When I was a child, a global nuclear war did not seem implausible. It now seems less likely, but who can say after 9/11/01? Read Alas, Babylon and think. Hopefully, this sad and heroic story will forever remain fiction.

by Chris McCallister
29 April 2006

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