“Alas, Babylon” by Pat Frank



It’s the end of the 1950’s in rural Fort Repose, Florida. One morning, almost without warning, life changes irreparably with a brilliant flash of light from the south – the vaporization of Miami by a Soviet submarine-launched nuclear missile. Then Tampa. Then Jacksonville. Then Orlando. Snippets of radio over the coming days, before the batteries give out, reveal that most of the large urban centers of the country have been wiped out. Fort Repose is one of the “lucky” towns, but it doesn’t seem like it when the full realization of no grocery stores, no gas, no government, no medical care, no running water slowly sinks in.

From this grim beginning, a small group of survivors band together and carve out a new life together. The story actually perks up and becomes pretty optimistic — by the end of the story, almost a year after “The Day,” the group is finally visited by an Air Force rescue helicopter from one of the uncontaminated zones. Given the choice to evacuate, they all choose to stay. They’ve managed to secure the necessities of life, and also see new-found purpose, such as the town librarian: “It was strange, she thought, pedaling steadily, that is should require a holocaust to make her own life worth living.”

At book’s end, Randy Bragg, the main protagonist, asks their Air Force “rescuers” who won the war.  (They still don’t know!  Very little news flows around when civilization ends…)   “‘We won it. We really clobbered ’em!’ Hart’s eyes lowered and his arms drooped. He said, ‘Not that it matters.'”

Reading this book made me wonder about the real possibility of nuclear war. It’s still a MAD world and stuff like Russia getting all bad-boy with Ukraine makes me much more nervous than Iran or North Korea. Worrying about how to survive post-The Day, like the Fort Repose citizens, probably won’t matter too much for many of us who will be mercifully (?) vaporized in the opening salvos. (I myself live about 10 miles away from a “Primary Target,” so nice knowing ya.)

But just in case, it seems that key to survival is a fresh water source and food source; near a river seems ideal. Mild climate would be a plus. Having hard copies of maps and survival manuals would be nice when the internet goes out. There’s a whole industry devoted to survival prepping.


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