January 8, 2009

Alas, Babylon

I enjoy a good post-apocalyptic novel and this one was one of the first concerning the aftermath of a nuclear war. It is also one of the best. You won't find mutants or zombies, blood-thirsty cannibals, or crazy Mad Max punks. This is a very realistic story about a family adjusting to the collapse of civilization as they know it. The story provides many examples of how life would change. Of course, the shipment of goods would stop. You wouldn't be able to just go to the store anymore to buy your food. Besides, how would you pay for it? Paper money is worthless without a government to back it. Also, the loss of electricity would mean no more TV, no more reading light. And because the water company relies on electricity to pump and filter the water, it would also mean no more water. You'll have to live of the land for food and water. But you'll also have to worry if that food and water has been contaminated by fallout. Refrigerators are useless, so you can't store your food and diabetics relying on insulin shots (which must be refrigerated) will have a very hard time getting their medicine. There are many things we take for granted and this story does an excellent job of bringing them to light. The novel was written in 1959, but surprisingly, it doesn't feel dated as other novels of this genre from that time, such as Nevil Shute's On the Beach.

"In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida," an early December Friday dawns warm and peaceful. There are rumblings of potential crisis from the outside world--"The Russians had sent up another Sputnik, No. 23, and something sinister was going on in the Middle East"--but the citizens of Fort Repose bask in their small-town peacefulness. Then Randy Bragg, the younger son of a prominent local family--lawyer, Korean War vet, and unsuccessful candidate for the state legislature--receives a Western Union cable from his older brother, Mark, a colonel in the Strategic Air Command. Mark's cable includes a code phrase used by the brothers since childhood to indicate imminent disaster: "Alas, Babylon."

Pat Frank's classic post-apocalyptic novel remains "an extraordinarily real picture of human beings numbed by catastrophe, but still driven by the unconquerable determination of living creations to keep on being alive." --The New Yorker

Dramatis Personae

Josh Halloway as Randy Bragg- The protagonist, and the descendant of an old Florida family. When the novel begins, he is a failed candidate for political office, living off his family's land and the occasional work as a lawyer in the small Florida town of Fort Repose. He is obviously educated, but at heart, he's still a country boy. I pictured him as similar to Matthew McConaughy's character in A Time to Kill.

Guy Pearce as Dan Gunn- Fort Repose's doctor, and Randy's best friend. A bitter divorce has left him disillusioned, but after the nuclear war, he becomes a hero, throwing himself into the difficult work of serving as a doctor to a community in turmoil.

Radha Mitchell as Elizabeth McGovern- Randy's girlfriend. A smart, resourceful, attractive woman, her parents have moved to Fort Repose from the North. After her mother dies of diabetes, she and her father, Bill McGovern, move in with Randy.

Mark Valley as Mark Bragg- Randy's brother, and an officer with the Strategic Air Command in Omaha. He warns his brother that nuclear war is imminent, and sends Helen and their children to live with Randy.

Gretchen Egolf as Helen Bragg- Mark's wife, and the mother of Peyton and Ben Franklin. Her husband, fearing imminent war, sends her to Fort Repose from their home in Omaha, where she moves in with Randy on the day before war breaks out.

William Hurt as Bill McGovern- Lib's father. He is a retired industrialist; in fact, he was president of a manufacturing company. His history in the manufacturing industry has provided him with mechanical know-how and this makes him a valuable member of the group. After his wife's death, he and Lib move in with Randy.

Victoria Tennant as Lavinia McGovern- Lib's mother, who suffers from diabetes.

Terrence Howard as Malachai Henry- Randy's neighbor, who works a farm with his family. He is something of a mechanical expert.

Harry Belafonte as Preacher Henry- Malachai and Two-Tone's father. Preacher is an older black man, but still healthy enough to plow his land. He is the head of the local black church.

Andre Braugher as Two-tone Henry- Malachai's lazy brother, and Missouri's husband, called "Two-Tone" because his face has two shades of color. Two-tone is unreliable. He spends most of his time sitting on the porch getting drunk.

Sherri Shephard as Missouri Henry- Two-Tone's wife, she lives with him on the Henry farm, and cleans houses for a living.

Robert Duvall as Adm. Sam Hazzard- A retired military man, he lives near Randy on the River Road, and operates a ham radio as a hobby.

Kathy Bates as Florence Wechek- Randy's neighbor, a gossipy older woman who runs the telegraph office in Fort Repose. She is good friends with Alice Cooksey.

Cherry Jones as Alice Cooksey- The Fort Repose librarian, and Florence's best friend. She comes to stay with Florence when news arrives of the war.

Rona Mitra as Rita Hernandez- A poor but beautiful woman who lives in the slum known as Pistolville. She is a former girlfriend of Randy. ßPin It

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