Alas, Babylon

The other day, Stick lent me Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. I’m not sure whether Stick remembered my penchant for post-apocalyptic novels, or if he just wanted me to stop kibbutzing his WarCraft game.

Alas, Babylon is yet another post-apocalyptic novel, written in 1959. Frank writes like he’s a military technical writer. (Stick: That’s because he is, Meggy) There is absolutely no metaphor in the descriptions. Nothing is “blue as the ocean”, it’s just blue. (If Frank were writing it today, he would have included the HTML color number) It’s not a “flowery description” unless the character in question is talking about horticulture. This is strangely effective because the author doesn’t give way to anything wild and crazy like a creative turn of phrase, but writes about nuclear holocaust as if it’s a trip to the store for lightbulbs, razor blades and soap.

Also, Frank has a weird fixation for listing things in threes, which Stick claims not to have noticed, but admits is direct military training (consider duty, honor and country, life, liberty and property and, blame my hippie parents, I can’t think of another one!).

But his dialogue is brilliant. His characters see nuclear war and the fall of civilization, and you suspend your disbelief because you don’t — even for a second — doubt what they’re saying.

Unfortunately, the author falls prey to Heinlein feminism. Heinlein feminism is best summed up when Mark tells his fiance “Darling, you are my right arm. Where I goeth you can go — up to a point” (pg 242) It’s when the protagonist pays lip service to the amazing strength of women, he doesn’t know where he’d be without them, etc., etc., but when there’s plot to be done, all the female characters are either swapping catty gossip or having hysterics.

I’m actually ok with dividing chores along the traditional gender roles because I don’t see one set of work as having any more inherent value than another. But even as the post-apolcalyptic horror puts an end to most of the race-assigned roles (and Frank espouses some pretty shocking ideas about racial equality), gender roles are competely inflexible, and they stay rigid even in the face of starvation. Which actually says quite a lot about race and sex in 1959.

Anyway, I’m glad I read it because it gave me and Stick something else about which to argue. He disagreed with almost everything I thought was important, which is typical of another round in the Stick Vs. Meg gender roles debate.

…but I can’t complain too much because he’s way too good at cleaning, laundry and bedmaking.

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