Alas, Babylon

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Alas, Babylon is a 1959 novel by American writer Pat Frank (the pen name of Harry Hart Frank). It was one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age and remains popular fifty years after it was first published. The novel deals with the effects of a nuclear war on the small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based upon the actual city of Mount Dora.[1]


Explanation of the novel's title

The novel's title is derived from Revelation 18:10, which is interpreted and quoted frequently in the book as the characters' way of warning each other of an impending crisis, such as the threat of a nuclear attack. It is loosely interpreted by the author as referring to nuclear holocaust.

In the King James Bible, this passage reads:

Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come.

Plot summary

Randy (Randolph) Bragg, the protagonist, is a man who dabbles at law and lives a life with little purpose. He lives in the small, Central Florida town of Fort Repose, which was founded by an ancestor during the 19th century. The scion of a once prominent political family, Bragg is a former Korean War infantry officer whose own foray into public life was a run for the state legislature which proved disastrous because of his open support for racial desegregation based on the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Randy's life appears to be drifting down a somewhat aimless path when he receives a telegram from his older brother, Colonel Mark Bragg, an Air Force Intelligence officer currently serving with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at its headquarters outside of Omaha, Nebraska. In the telegram, Mark informs Randy that he is sending his wife and two children to stay in Fort Repose, and that he wants to meet with Randy during a brief layover at McCoy AFB, in Orlando. The telegram ends the message with an ominous code: "Alas Babylon", a Biblical reference that the Bragg brothers employed throughout their lives to warn of danger. Only this time, as Randy would soon learn, it foretold a more ominous warning.

Randy drives to McCoy Air Force Base and meets Mark's arriving plane. While the jet is refueled, Mark explains to Randy the background for sending the urgent message. The Soviets evidently perceive a weakness in US and Allied defense posture and are believed to be staging an attempt to take advantage of the situation. A defecting Soviet military officer has brought the Russian "war plan" to the West. Mark believes the Russian plan is flawed and that the West would ultimately prevail, but danger lies in Moscow's belief that they can succeed, which emboldens them to risk war. Mark informs Randy that he is flying his family down to Florida to stay with him indefinitely - or until Mark feels the threat has passed. The brothers soon say their goodbyes, and Randy realizes that he may never see Mark again. Heading back to Fort Repose, Randy privately warns those people of Fort Repose whom he believes to be his friends of the impending war, including Dr. Daniel Gunn (perhaps Randy's closest friend in Fort Repose) as well as Elizabeth "Lib" McGovern, a young woman for whom Randy has come to care deeply.

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