When they were young, brothers Mark and Randy Bragg enjoyed eavesdropping on Preacher Henry’s hellfire and damnation sermons, which were frequently punctuated with the lament “Alas, Babylon!” Now, as a member of the Strategic Air Command in Omaha at the height of the cold war, Mark warns his brother that, when the bombs are on the verge of launch, he’ll use their favorite childhood phrase as a warning .
So when Randy gets a call from Florence Wechek, the manager of the local Western Union, who reads him a telegram from his brother with a simple but perplexing (to Florence) closing line, he knows what’s coming.
And so begins the story of the Bragg family and the little town of Fort Repose, Florida. Surrounded by military bases, Fort Repose is a quiet refuge until a hotshot airman over the Middle East inadvertently starts mankind’s last war, and not long after, nuclear bombs start dropping across the United States, taking out Miami, Tampa, Homestead, Jacksonville, Orlando, and finally MacDill AFB, which is when Randy and his trusted friends realize their world has taken an irreversible turn not just back in time, but into barely controlled mayhem, ready to spurt carnage at the slightest push.
Written during the time period in which it takes place, modern readers will be shocked by the casual racism & sexism depicted throughout the story, but it reflects the mores of the late fifties and early sixties. Those features don’t detract from the book’s ultimate message — there’s no winner in nuclear war — and Alas, Babylon remains a classic amongst post-apocalyptic novels.