Before Alas Babylon hit the bookstores and was made a movie the US population hadn’t yet done any heavy thinking about the implications of Sputnik 1 and hydrogen bomb arsenals capable of being delivered to the US heartland. Strategic Air Command was centered in Omaha, NE, and B47 bombers filled the skies. Civil Defense was mostly the local mortuary because they owned the ambulances. Complacency with having been victors of WWII, affluence, abundance and confidence in the future were the rule of the day.
Then along came Alas Babylon. The story of a small piece of Florida spared the bombs and fallout from an attack by the USSR and a prolonged nuclear war. Because it was early in the day the post-nuclear-holocaust genre hadn’t yet decided everyone had to die or turn into mutant barbarians.
The story was subdued enough to be believed. And Americans believed it. Beefed up Civil Defense, began the individual preparedness planning that would be required if they were to survive.
The first 20 pages of Alas Babylon describes the days leading to the war, all the usual suspects you’d hear tonight if you watched the evening news, minus the USSR. A buildup of tensions, a US Navy fighter-bomber pilot mistakenly releases a bomb over a port in Syria destroying an ammunition train. Secondary explosions and the beginning of mutual destruction for the US and USSR.
The book is a microscope look at the minds of the US citizenry as they existed in 1959, before ICBMs, before the moon launch, before the oceans were filled with attack and missile launching submarines. Martin Luther King was still in the future, along with the Vietnam War, race riots in US cities, Kennedy assassinations. automobile seat belts, gas mileage and foreign cars. Women were there to be protected, first into the lifeboats of whatever safety could be constructed during and after a nuclear war.
Alas Babylon is a good read, a great study in sociology and a particular slice of history frozen in time.
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Tags: alas babylon, pat frank, nuclear war, books, book reviews, reviews, history, society, sociology, human behavior, movies, psychology