Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.

-- Revelation 18:8-10

Taking its title from the above passage, "Alas, Babylon" by Pat Frank, published in 1959, is a novel in which the residents of the small Central Florida town of Fort Repose first survive nuclear war and then must survive the aftermath, in which many of the accomplishments of human civilization, from running water to electricity to long-distance communication, have ceased to exist.

As the book begins, the residents are going about a normal Friday, pretty much ignoring the news on TV and on the radio about the Soviet Union launching another Sputnik and reports of trouble in the Middle East. Then prominent local lawyer Randy Bragg receives a telegram from his brother in the Strategic Air Command reading "Alas, Babylon," their private code phrase for an emergency.

The advance notice that something's up helps Bragg and his family prepare somewhat, but then he is awakened the next morning by an earthquake, and there's a glow in the southern sky, towards Miami; soon afterwards, a brilliant flash appears to the southeast. Soon that Saturday becomes known as The Day, and to say it changes the lives of all the book's characters would be an understatement.

"Alas, Babylon" is doubly creepy and discomforting for the reader because there's so much detail in it, from messages that come over the Western Union teletype ("PK TO CIRCUIT: BIG EXPLOSION DIRECTION JAX. WE CAN SEE MUSHROOM CLOUD") to the CONELRAD system in action on the radio, the predecessor to the Emergency Broadcast System. Even though it takes place in the late 1950s, it's not hard to either project yourself back to that time period or to project the characters forward 40-plus years to the present day.

It's triply creepy and discomforting when it's read for the first time in an eighth grade social studies class during the 1987-88 school year, with Ronald Reagan still in the White House, and although the Cold War seems to be waning, there's still a lot of uncertainty about just what's going on in the USSR.

It's quadruply creepy and discomforting, if such a thing is possible, when that class is taking place in Tampa, which is mentioned twice in the book: early on, a woman in Fort Repose watching Dave Garroway on "Channel 8, Tampa" turns him off because of the bad news. Later, the aforementioned flash in the southeast sky is explained as "That means Tampa."

Surprisingly, it turns out to be a fairly uplifting story, more so than other postnuclear works of fiction, such as "The Day After."