By Pat Frank. It’s the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union when Randy Bragg receives a dire warning from his brother Mark, an officer in the U.S. Air Force.
I heard about this book when I moved to Florida many years ago. It is said that the small town of Fort Repose is based on Mount Dora since the author lived for many years in Central Florida. When I saw Will Patton read the audio book, I couldn’t resist. The message of this little book is as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1959. In fact, it was a little chilling listening to it in light of today’s headlines.
Randy Bragg enjoys a quiet life as an attorney in the small town of Fort Repose. He is shocked to receive a telegram from his brother Mark with the two words, “Alas, Babylon.” As young boys, the two had used the phrase from a biblical passage to indicate something bad had happened.
The phrase comes from Revelation 18:10, “Standing afar off for the fear of her torment saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city of Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come.’”
After listening to news of rising tension around the world, Randy has a brief meeting with his brother at Fort McCoy. Randy learns the armed forces fear a nuclear attack is imminent. Mark is sending his family to Randy because he feels they’ll be safer there than in Omaha, Nebraska, where he is stationed with the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base.
Randy begins stocking supplies and preparing for life during war. Like anyone else in this situation, he can’t keep himself from talking with several close friends about his news. Like him, they have no problem believing what his brother says.
The day after everyone is settled and there is a heavy air of waiting, the horrible prediction becomes reality. From their area of Central Florida, Randy and his family and friends can see and feel the effects of these horrific nuclear blasts at strategic Florida sites—Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Orlando.
When Orlando is hit, the devastation truly begins for Fort Repose. There’s no phone service or power. Since most of their groceries, pharmaceutical supplies, gasoline, and heating oil was delivered from Orlando, the town reverts to a long-ago time that they are ill-equipped to accept. They are forced to become a self-sustaining community.
Once the chaos and confusion settle down, Randy and his small band of survivors realize they are safe because of the fortunate direction of an eastward wind. Fort Repose is not polluted.
This is a gripping story that made me want to keep listening. In fact, a couple of evenings I left the television off and listened to the book for two hours. I was also drawn in by mention of familiar places like Tavares and other towns in our area, which certainly made it easy to picture the scenes in the book.
Pat Frank was very knowledgeable about the government and military operations, which added authenticity to the story. I’m sure both men and women will enjoy this book, especially, as I said, with the headlines we have today.
About the author
Harry Hart Frank (1908-1964), a journalist and government consultant, wrote his novels as Pat Frank. He grew up in Chicago but spent most of his adult life in Florida. His journalism career included working for the Office of War Information during World War II and the Korean War. The fear of a nuclear war was an obvious concern; it was the subject of his first novel, “Mr. Adam.” When he moved to science fiction, “Forbidden Area,” the story was about fighting a nuclear war in the distant future. After an assignment that took him to the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, Harry began contemplating what people would do in the event of a nuclear attack. “Alas, Babylon” came from those thoughts. The book’s realistic depiction is why it’s still avidly read today.