Alas, Babylon

by Pat Frank

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The Plot

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The time frame of Alas, Babylon is limited to a single year following a nuclear war. Randy Bragg is a thirty-two-year-old lawyer and former military officer living in Fort Repose, Florida. He and his small community manage to survive the effects of the war and, through their communal efforts, to preserve a modicum of civilization.

Randy receives from his brother Mark, an Air Force colonel and member of Strategic Air Command Intelligence, a telegram that ends with the phrase “Alas, Babylon.” This is their code for disaster, adopted from fiery sermons they heard in childhood. Mark is certain that nuclear attack is imminent, and he entrusts to Randy his wife Helen and his children, Ben Franklin and Peyton.

Mark’s prediction proves true sooner than expected. The next morning, two nearby cities are hit by atomic bombs. Randy is awakened by shaking of the house, a loud rumbling, and an orange light. Peyton’s temporary blindness from looking at the light is only the first of many crises. Randy, on his way to find his friend, Dr. Dan Gunn, passes an overturned car with a dead woman beside it. Stopping automatically, he realizes that all the rules have now changed and that the days of the Good Samaritan are over. All the roads are jammed with refugees, convicts have escaped from prison, and businesses have closed. In short, chaos reigns. In the next few months, charity loses its moral imperative. As electricity, running water, telephone service, and other amenities become unavailable, filth, squalor, and moral poverty become, for many, the conditions of life.

Randy, governed by enlightened self-interest, does what must be done in a civilized world. He unceremoniously buries the bodies of his fiancée’s mother and the selfish politician Porky Logan, putting Logan and all of his contaminated goods in a lead coffin. Randy forms a community made up of Helen and her two children, Lib McGovern, her father, Dan Gunn, two “spinsters,” a retired admiral, and Randy’s “wards,” the Henrys. Through cooperation, the community avoids the degeneracy into which many have fallen. The worst of these are the gangs of “highwaymen,” to whom Dan falls victim.

Randy, as a Reserve officer, forms a troop and assumes control of Fort Repose. He imposes martial law and brings order to the town, punishing the highwaymen who beat Dan. He also establishes a means for legal marriage, then becomes the first to take advantage of it, marrying Lib McGovern.

A year after The Day (as it came to be called), one of Mark’s friends lands a helicopter in the yard. He reveals that the United States had won the war, that Mark could not possibly be alive, and that Fort Repose is free from radiation. When he offers to take the community to another city, the members all decline, preparing together to “face the thousand-year night.”

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