Another book from the ‘Dad always recommended it, and I should have gotten to it faster pile’. This generally gets classified as science fiction, though I have trouble doing that. It is a novel of ‘tomorrow’ (that tomorrow being 1959 at the time), like a lot of good science fiction, but really, it doesn’t feature anything that was not known at the time, it’s just events that could have happened and thankfully didn’t. As a book featuring military hardware, and WWIII, you could consider it a technothriller 30 years ahead of its time, but it isn’t that at all. The scenes dealing with military goings on are short, and are there merely to give you a real idea of how all this came to pass, and just how easy it can be to stumble into a war.

I’m not convinced on some of what is presented of the course of the war, but some of the problems do stem from it being written in the middle of the ‘missile gap’, a period where we thought we were significantly behind the Soviet Union’s ability to cause nuclear devastation from afar. A perception, that like so many in the Cold War proved to be illusory. I did have to look up Conelrad, which turns out to be the predecessor of the Emergency Broadcast System, which also dates things, as the Conelrad system worked fairly differently to its successors.

But never mind all of that, that’s not what the novel’s about. Welcome to Fort Repose, Florida, a small town that is about to be cut off and thrown on only its own resources when all else around it is destroyed, and the winds keep the fallout away during the critical first few days. Much of the point of the novel is certainly pointing up just how dependent on the rest of the world even a small town is, and this is merely in the electrical age; it’s all even more true is the electronic and internet age, though I think we might be a little more aware of that fact today, even if we’re just as used to everything else being there for us.

It’s a book that wants to make you think, and it does, though many of the things it wants to present have been picked up and done as well later. But this is one of (if not the) first serious literary look at what a post-holocaust world would look like, and does it very well, Pat Frank had definitely spent a fair amount of time thinking through the consequences. It also has one of the more balanced perspectives on the aftermath. Order breaks down, there is looting, gangs attacking people… and there are people who come together to take care of each other, conserve resources, and form a small community of their own.

Part of the accurate depiction of 1959 America involves, of course, the attitudes of the time. It’s obvious that Frank thinks well of blacks, and the main character does as well inside his cultural box as he can (and far better than most everyone else), there’s no equivalent progressivism for women here. It’s quite understandable, though a shame. Its a decided weakness, though the ‘thought experiment’ model of the book weakens more it from today’s perspective as it means that it doesn’t have a very strong, cohesive plot, and is somewhat episodic in its structure.

Sadly, this is yet another book converted to ebook format that needs another pass through edit. The bulk of it is in good shape, but the text starts coming apart near the end with a good number of errors that still need cleaning up.