ALAS, BABYLON AND ON THE BEACH: ANTIPHONS OF THE APOCALYPSE
C. W. Sullivan III
Research for this chapter disclosed that very little in-depth critical attention has been paid to Pat Frank Alas, Babylon ( 1959) and Nevil Shute On the Beach ( 1957). Each was reviewed positively in numerous publications, both mainstream and science fiction, but neither has been dealt with to any great extent. 1 Mainstream critics have generally avoided anything approaching science fiction whenever possible (exceptions like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dune, and A Clockwork Orange notwithstanding), but the science fiction community should have paid Frank and Shute more attention. These two mainstream writers have quite clearly defined the boundaries of post-World War III fiction as have few purely science fiction authors. Perhaps it is precisely because they are not primarily science fiction writers that they have been able to do this (after all, anthropologists and sociologists have known for some time that outsiders can often look in and see more clearly than insiders). For whatever reason, it is possible to see all post-World War III fiction as bounded on the optimistic side by Alas, Babylon and on the pessimistic by On the Beach.
Because they deal with atomic war (as it was called in the 1950s) or, more specifically, the aftermath of such a war, both books have quite a few basic concepts in common. First, both authors spend very little time on the actual war. There is no mobilizing for war, no parading, and no "shipping out" in these