Alissa's Reviews > Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
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May 27, 2014

it was ok

This book was published in 1959, and it feels like it every step of the way. The plot is compelling enough, but the writing is incredibly wooden. I actually laughed out loud at some of the passages, and not in a nice way. The author drags us through 100 pages of rising action, which is annoying because it adds nothing to the plot, and we all know the bomb is going to hit before we even read the blurb on the back cover.

The racism and sexism are also pretty terrible. Even after the freakin' nuclear holocaust, the "Negroes" are doing all the housework. When the electricity goes out and they need to cook all the meat in the freezer, they can't decide whether to throw a "mixed party." People! The world just ended, and you can't decide whether or not to let black people come to your BBQ?

Also, this: "The more he learned about women the more there was to learn except that he had learned this: they needed a man around." First of all, find a synonym for "learn," please. Second, this was after the aforesaid male practically threw up at the sight of blood, ran out of the room, and one of the women had to take care of the injury. We may need you, buddy (after all, no electricity for vibrators in this grim future), but you need us too.

If you're thinking of reading this book, check out "The Road" instead. Same idea, but the execution is about 1000x superior.
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02/12 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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Stephen I think you're confusing the racial attitudes of the characters with those of the author. A portrayal of 50's Florida where whites and blacks dined together without a thought of race would have been pure fantasy. What's interesting is that these barriers begin to break down after The Day.


Alissa Because characters have nothing to do with the author? Well, even after "The Day," the whites couldn't decide whether to invite the black people to their BBQ. Not exactly the biggest post-apocalyptic priority, in my opinion. Sort of a racist critique non sequitor, really. As in...hey guys, we have other shit to worry about! Plus, the African- American folk make a mean BBQ. Trust you me.

I guess I prefer to keep my critiques of 1950s racism (e.g., Richard Wright) separate from anti-utopian literature that doesn't suck (e.g., Brave New World, 1984, Oryx and Crake, The Road). Also, the aforementioned authors were...good writers. I suppose I was too busy trying to understand the run-on sentences and all-around poor writing in this book to glean any truly meaningful themes from it.


Lord Humungus Alissa wrote: "Because characters have nothing to do with the author? Well, even after "The Day," the whites couldn't decide whether to invite the black people to their BBQ. Not exactly the biggest post-apocaly..."

I think trying to maintain some semblance of pre-apocalypse normalcy would be a big priority in these people's lives. And whether or not to invite someone to a BBQ would factor in. It's quite a progressive decision they're considering and the odd part is it took a global disaster for them to consider it.

The racist attitudes of the characters and possibly of the author were products of the times and not from some deep-seated burning racist hatred. Lovecraft had a cat named 'Nigger-Man' and he certainly wasn't known for his Klan connections.

The mere fact the author included black protagonists and families in his post-apoc tale was already far more progressive than most science fiction, and perhaps most fiction, of the time.


message 4: by Danielle (last edited Dec 10, 2010 06:08AM) (new) - added it

Danielle Thank you for writing this review. This book was recommended to me, but I hesitate to read anything based in the Cold War era because... well, frankly, it just doesn't resonate with me. I was born shortly before the Cold War "ended", so I have a difficult time understanding it. But I do love me some post-apocalyptic fiction!

From your review, it's clear I'm either going to hate or not understand this book. I didn't even initially understand what you meant by a "mixed" party! Sometimes it can be a good thing... perhaps the characters grow to overcome their ideas of racial segregation? Perhaps the author was pointing out the stupidity of men saying that women need them when the men can't handle being around an injury? Perhaps... but perhaps not. It sounds like this book is just a product of it's time, which means it's not something I'll enjoy reading.

I would recommend reading George Stewart's Earth Abides.


Jeff I totally agree. The style is clearly from the 50s. Even though I knew that I could not get over it. And I think he is incredibly naive in his thoughts on security.


Abc123 First of all, find a synonym for "aforementioned", please...


message 7: by Danielle (new) - added it

Danielle lol wut


Alissa Aw, taking the time to write bitchy comments on a goodreads review. How titillating for you!

Original username, btw.


message 10: by C.b. (new) - added it

C.b. Its nice you took the time to read and review the book, sorry you missed the entire point of the work.


Alissa You're right...it was a total literary doozy! The themes were so subtly drawn...the characters were so nuanced!


message 12: by Chris (new) - added it

Chris Personally I disagree with your opinion, feeling that the author was trying to convey the attitudes of the times rather than his personal beliefs.

However...I can't get too upset with you because you did what I rarely see negative reviewers do...you stuck with the book through its entirety. Though we may disagree, I say bravo for making an informed decision at least. You are one of the rare ones and I appreciate you gave the book a chance at least.


message 13: by James (new)

James It's the 50s... racism was common place and women were seen as lesser to men. If you had any semblance of common sense, you would have realised this before reading the book/writing your review.

How would it make any sense for the author to write a story in that time period, where blacks mixed freely with the whites? How would it make any sense to have women seen as equals to men in that time period? In the 50s, that simply is not how the world worked.


Alissa Common sense isn't my strong suit. I guess sarcasm isn't yours. I'll call it a draw.


message 15: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Messing The racism thing:

If the characters of the book held any level of internal racism, this would have been amplified in a post-apocalyptic moment when every individual is distrustful and focused on survival. It's sad but I think this behavior would still resonate in a disaster today. My opinion is that the author was trying to give a realistic view on what would happen in these circumstances, and racism is a piece of that.

It's been a while since I read the book, but the gang of people that actually ended up being dangerous...was race ever mentioned or implied? If not, maybe the authors point was to show that previously developed misconceptions in society were misleading when it came down to actual survival.


Simon Jones I agree with some others above. I was brought up with "To Kill a Mockingbird" and know that the pentagon was built with twice as many toilets as necessary due so that "coloureds" (sorry, Brit here) and "whites" could toilet separately. It's great you hold this view in a sense, I do too! Some of the characters' views and discussions are abhorrent! There would be no place for them today... well sadly some place still... but generally not.

The issue of "coloured" and "whites" was very prevalent in that age and I feel it was reflected perfectly. Pat Frank even adds some interesting messages within the text which I loved.

"There were two drinking fountains in Marines Park, one marked ‘White Only,’ the other ‘Colored Only.’ Since neither worked, the signs were meaningless."

Why were the signs meaningless if the coloured/white divide was so strong? My answer is that it wasn't. I feel Pat Frank was showing the breakdown of the divide and while some memories of segregation existed in their roles within the community, there was still a huge leap in how white attitude had changed on "the day" and would continue thereafter.

As someone else has said, don't judge the attitude of the author on the attitude of the characters. He was reporting the (admittedly bad) attitude of "whites" at the time, and how he felt the relationships would progress. And in my personal opinion, he had a far better outlook than many people, even politicians do today.


message 17: by Heather (new)

Heather Thanks for saving me from buying something that would irritate me. Unfortunately there's books that are famous and edgy at the time but fall into the category of things that make us cringe now. (Heinlein does that to me.)


Alissa Indeed. Not a fan of Heinlein either!


Michael Fosburg You did not read this work critically, and this review is the poorer for it.


Alissa It was really just supposed to be a funny review for friends, but now you internet strangers are all telling me I don't know how to analyze literature. I'm ok with that though. Have a cookie.


message 21: by Lily (new)

Lily Forsythe I completely agree with the OP!! I'm about halfway through right now, and while I realize it is important for the author to situate the book within its context, it seems to me that since Frank wrote it in 1959, the racism and sexism throughout is a result of HIS context, and not just apocalyptic '50's Florida. I find it horrifyingly fascinating actually, getting a glimpse into the thought process of the time.


Checkman Pat Frank was born and raised in Florida. He grew up in a time and place where segregation was the law. His views were considered progressive in the late 1950's. There is an old saying that today's liberal is tomorrow's reactionary.


message 23: by Debra (new)

Debra Ewwww racism!! Ewww sexism!! Grow up people, it's getting old.


Jordan Haste I would have to respectfully disagree. I feel like this book was timeless. Reading it, you wouldn't know it was written in the late 50s. One could mistake it for being written today about the late fifties. Yes, there is slight racism. But the main character is not racist. Beings as the time frame is the late 50s yes, he does mention things that were racist that actually happened in those times. That doesn't make it a racist book. It makes it realistic.
The book was very well written. And it was an awesome read!


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