I’ve always held a healthy obsession with post-apocalyptic literature and dystopian novels. Everything from modern works like Wool by Hugh Howey, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, & The Giver by Lois Lowry, to older works like Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and 1984 by George Orwell.
The saddest work (in this genre) I’ve ever read, wasn’t something I read as a child but as an adult: On the Beach by Nevil Shute. But I wouldn’t have even attempted to read such an amazing novel without having first read Pat Frank‘s Alas, Babylon.
I first read this in 7th grade—I found an old paperback at a used bookstore with the cover half-torn off. The cover looked boring, but my father said it was a good book, which is high praise from him considering he doesn’t like or read fiction at all. I read this novel for a second time in 10th grade English class. The repeat read gained me a healthier appreciation for the nuances in the book, but that first read… What an eye opener!
I’d heard my father talk about the “drills” they had when he was in school, drills where the kids would take shelter under their desks from nuclear bombs (as if a flimsy flip-top desk would protect them), but I didn’t understand why. Thirteen-year-old me didn’t understand the effects of a nuclear bomb / radiation or why it was a threat. Even growing up in the 80’s with the continued Cold War, I was too young to understand what went on in the world around me. I remember when the Berlin Wall came down, but didn’t really care as a child. I didn’t understand. I only knew that people were celebrating and crying as if something wonderful had happened.
I can’t say that reading this book gave me instant knowledge or wisdom in regards to history (at least, not on the first read), but reading it did help me gain an appreciation for history. I spent hours looking up information and history so I could better understand what I read.
Now, my favorite novels are Blackout & All Clear by Connie Willis—two sci-fi novels that also double as historical fiction as they take place mostly in England during The Blitz. Reading Alas, Babylon helped me see history as a spring board for my own writing and helped me develop a love of the historical fiction genre.
I’m away this weekend at NorWesCon, but while I am and we’re speaking on this topic, anyone got a favorite dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel to share? Favorite historical fiction novel?
Want to read other Flashback Fridays? Click here to see the list in this series.
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