Sunday, September 4, 2011

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

This is another old book review from my_space:

A Google search of Alas, Babylon will establish that it was published in 1959 and is one of the first novels published with a post-nuclear setting. Alas, Babylon also has the dubious distinction of being the first book on my “It’s been sitting on my shelf too long” booklist. I remember this book sitting on the shelf at my family home when I was in high school. I’ll not bother you with calculations of how long it has been since I was in high school. The statement, “since I was in high school,” is proof that this book has been sitting on my shelf too long!

I suspect that one of my brothers may have read the book for a high school reading assignment. If I had read this book as a younger man I would have enjoyed it more. I may have been delirious about the opportunity to receive a grade for my report on Alas, Babylon. Fifty years after the original publication date, I fear the events and circumstances of this book would have little meaning to the youth of today.

By no means do I intend to imply that this book is great literature. My estimate of this book’s value is pulp, pulp, pulp, the dreaded triple pulp! For the first fifty pages I wondered if the writer and his story would sustain my interest. Frank surprised me with the climax, I felt genuinely worried about the nuclear strike. It was around ten at night when I read of the nuclear attack and I attribute my excitement to the stress of my workday as much as the skill of the author Pat Frank.

Frank hints at satire and sarcasm throughout the novel and managed hold my attention to the end. His main character, Randy Bragg, is a very modern man by the standards of the 1950s. Bragg unites a mixed racial group in his community, River Road, after what they call The Day. Bragg is prone to sarcasm himself but Frank never develops the satirical tone to buoy the book out of pulp status. The closing chapters of the book are the closest thing I can imagine to post-nuclear-bliss. Episodes include how they make their own moonshine which becomes a valuable commodity in the now necessary barter market and how they are forced to catch fish from the middle of the river during the heat of August. Post-nuclear pulpy bliss!

Frank applies one sarcastic sting at the end when the residents of River Road meet some Air Force Patrolmen. Bragg asks, “Who won the war?” The Patrolman responds, “We won it. We really clobbered ‘em! Not that it matters.” I’ve finished the book, not that it matters, now I will return the book to the pulpy pile from which it came.

Besides the simple enjoyment of reading, the one thing I have learned from this book is, if you use a quote from the Bible as your books title it may become a famous work as well. Frank has written a few other works and I’ll not relegate him to the list of authors I’ll never read again; Piers Anthony, R. A. Salvatore, V.C. Andrews and Louisa May Alcott. Many would add Weis and Hickman to this list. I enjoyed Weis and Hickman years and it's possible I may continue to read their works in the future. For now, I’ll get back to drinking my over priced beers and reading Sgt. Rock comic books and Philip K. Dick novellas.


  1. "post-nuclear-bliss"

    I read this in high school. Blankety blank years ago. Read it for fun because I loved post-apoc books. And "post-nuclear-bliss" is a very good description of it. I really don't remember many of the details but I thought it was an awfully optimistic view of a nuclear exchange.

  2. You remember it correctly, thanks for the comment.