Book and a Movie—Alas Babylon

Nations are like people; when they grow old and rich and fat, they get conservative.

Yes, this book review blog has a new title because a little film clip enhances every story. Here’s a pairing you might not expect though, as the movie hasn’t been made.

Ever realize fifteen minutes into a great story that you’ve seen or heard or read it before? A set looks familiar or a line rings true, yet chunks of the plot are lost because you weren’t sharp enough or ripe enough the first time around? It happened to me twice this week: with the Alan Glynn sci-fi thriller Limitless (starring Bradley Cooper), which I now recognize as brilliant, and with Pat Frank’s post-apocalyptic classic Alas Babylon, which is darn good. I’d read it in high school but my strongest memory was of a housekeeper dancing in her socks to polish the floors, which just shows how immature I was at fourteen when it was assigned reading—I presume because it was written the year my class was born, in 1959.

As a prototype of the genre this patriotic survival story isn’t as brutal or sweet as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; and it’s nowhere near as imaginative as Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake; but does illustrate the optimistic resourcefulness of its time and feature characters whose mettle emerges amid the unthinkable. The smart band together. The fools die alone. The outlaws turn assassin. And through it all, love and community grow amid grief. Frank is also to be lauded for taking on the racism and sexism of his times, though with cringe-worthy results.

All things considered, I was surprised this book wasn’t made into a blockbuster. There was a 1960 version for produced for the television show Playhouse 90, but nothing else. Apparently English teachers agree because Youtube is overrun with student-produced faux trailers. Here’s one that captures the story’s essence nicely. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTsW3FIAtp4 .

As a fan of survival shows and lit, I’d be curious to know your favorites. Please leave a comment if you have one.