Perhaps one of the best known post apocalyptic novels, Alas, Babylon, written by Pat Frank and released in 1959, paints a grim picture of what life might be like after a full-scale nuclear war between the US and former USSR.
The protagonist, Randy Bragg, a relatively carefree bachelor, is forced to take a leadership role in the survival of his Florida town, Fort Repose, which narrowly escapes destruction from the ultimate in nuclear catastrophes.
Surprisingly, many of the issues presented in Alas, Babylon, over 50 years ago, are still very relevant today. For example, Frank’s writing is clearly influenced by the Civil Rights movement that was gaining momentum during the time that this book was written. Alas, Babylon frequently references the still widespread segregation and racist sentiment that still existed in parts of the southern US during the 1950’s. The book portrays the complete collapse of civilization as the ultimate “leveling” of human beings, as each survivor shares in the struggle to stay alive, regardless of skin color, ethnic origin or social class. Though the Civil Rights movement has certainly altered the landscape of the US in a number of ways, racial tensions continue to be high today, especially with the recent death of Trayvon Martin.
From a survival perspective, the issues associated with a total breakdown of civilization remain the same. Without electricity, public water, law enforcement, medical treatment, transportation, fuel, etc, people are forced to accept more personal responsibility for the safety and survival of their families.
Nuclear tensions have changed in some ways since the end of the Cold War but with more countries in possession of “the bomb” than ever, the risk for a nuclear conflict continues. Alas, Babylon may be a little optimistic in terms of its somewhat “happy ending” but it serves as a reminder to us that we were once very close and that we are never very far away from the ultimate destruction of civilization.
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