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The term “cozy catastrophe’ was coined by British author Brian Aldiss, a popular writer of science fiction. Cozy catastrophes are stories in which the earth is wiped out by some sort of disaster, wether it be nonviolent, natural, biblical, nuclear, etc. and a select group of survivors better from the impended disaster. When one thinks of the apocalypse, normally a comfortable one is not the first kind that comes to mind, but there are many logical reasons why the cozy apocalypse is one that might fit into society such as a fresh start, a new purpose for life, a need to learn and use practical skills, a united background with fellow survivors, and a chance to do what one has always wanted to do.
Take for example Alas, Babylon’s main character Randolph “Randy” Rowzee Bragg.
Randolph Rowzee Bragg’s life really has no direction when author Pat Frank introduces him in the novel. Frank states “His taste meant living with as little exertion and strain as possible.
” (Frank, 7) He has a casual approach to life and mostly just worries about himself. Randy used to be in the military and was an aspiring politician. But after a lost election Randy for the most part gives up politics completely. After “The Day” however, Randy learns to care more about the well-being of the community, introducing the idea of collectivism vs individualism for the first time in the story.
Randy, being a military man with a love of politics, steps up when his little town of Fort Repose in Florida starts to disintegrate after America suffers a nuclear attack from Russia.
Randy ends up taking charge of the town when the old ways of American life begin to crumble right before societies very eyes. Food is becoming scarce, gasoline becomes gold, and money is ultimately worthless. Randy is determined to keep Fort Repose in good shape. This is our first example of collectivism vs. individualism. Randy Bragg, an unmotivated, uninvolved non contributing member of society becomes a leader when the time calls for it. He runs Fort Repose and even gets married after a little bit to his girlfriend Lib McGovern. This is also our first example of how life after the apocalypse can be a cozy one. Before the apocalypse Randy is basically doing nothing with his life, but after it he steps up to take the most vital role in any story – the leader, a position in which Randy has a natural affinity for. “So far as I know I’m the only active Army Reserve officer in town so I guess it’s up to me.” (250, Frank) Our second example of a life that gets better after “The Day” is Dan Gunn’s. Dan Gunn is the town doctor. He is a recently divorced man with a lot of debt and bills. The more Dan makes the more he has to pay to is wife in alimony. At heart, Dan is an idealist who wanted to spend his career treating the sick in faraway lands where the need for medicine is a great one. Dan is motivated by a desire to heal, not by the money or prestige that a medical career would offer him. Once the apocalypse hits Force Repose Dan gets to live out his dream because America basically becomes a third world country. Dan is freed from the financial burdens of his wife, and eventually gets re-married to Randy’s sister in law Helen. Dan’s personality change in the novel is not like the changes experienced by many of the other characters. Instead of becoming a tough, practical leader like Randy did, Dan recovers his sense of mission. He wanted to be a healer and he wanted to help people who were truly in need, and the apocalypse gives him that chance. He uses his medical knowledge to improvise medical instruments and treatments, and learns to do the best with what he has and with what he can find. Dan being a doctor, had a previous sense of collectivism and communalism that help him greatly to adapt to the apocalypse.
The apocalypse often does the job of weeding out the weak in society. One example of a character that doesn’t do so well once the apocalypse comes about is Edgar Quisenberry.
Quisenberry is a banker who ends up committing suicide once he finds out that the Russian’s have bombed the U.S. His life as a banker has no meaning now that money is meaningless.
“How could life go on if dollars were worthless? How could anybody live without dollars, or credit, or both? … This was the end. Civilization was crushed.” (Frank, 103) He has no relevant skills that would help him in the apocalypse and he is fat and particularly selfish. Quisenberry being an individualist with no relevant skills, knows that he will not be able to survive this attack, nor does he want to so ultimately he ends up killing himself.
Another character who doesn’t flourish in the apocalypse is Lib McGovern’s mother who is diagnosed with diabetes. Eventually, the supply and demand of medicine catches up to those who rely on it and because theres no more insulin, Lib’s mother dies. Edgar Quisenberry and Lib’s mother are two perfect examples of people who the apocalypse weeds out — the weak and the self centered, Individualists don’t make it in doomsday.
Similar to Dan Gunn, Alice Cooskey benefits in the apocalypse. Alice is the town Librarian and likes to gossip. Once the apocalypse hits, most sources of entertainment are inoperative, (television, the internet, radio) so the people of the town naturally flock to the library. As a result, she, like Dan, recovers her sense of purpose and mission, rising to the challenge of having a new and important relevant role in society. Alice is a forward-thinker. She finds a book on native plants that help the town to find food, and she finds Dan Gunn a book on hypnosis so he can preform surgery without anesthesia. Also, the bustle of all the people throughout the library gives Alice the opportunity to gossip more and more giving her a sense of fulfillment. Alice goes from being a boring gossip to a person of standing in the community. She isn’t a main character but we do see some character development as Alice finds her place in society after the apocalypse comes about.
Bill McGovern is Lib’s dad. He is a retired industrialist who moves to Fort Repose, Florida after early retirement. Bill didn’t particularly care for Randy, mostly because they had different points of views when it came to social, political, and economical issues. Bill also thought Randy was a lazy good for nothing man (which he was). But after Lib’s mother dies, Bill’s attitude toward Randy begins to change. Randy moves Bill into his house and the two men become friends quickly. This change in attitude seems to begin when Randy helps bury Lib’s mother. Bill starts to complaining that he might as well be the next to die because he feels he has nothing to contribute to the household. “I’m not such of a success am I… Randy I’m not going to impose myself on you.” (Frank, 169) Randy gets Bill to remember that he was not always a business man – he worked his way up from the bottom and he has mechanical skills, however rusty they may be. Bill sees that he does have something to contribute and becomes the neighborhood mechanic with Malachi Henry, Randy’s neighbor. After Malachi’s death, Bill has a vital role to play in the community. As a result, Bill rediscovers life and his sense of purpose. Bill McGovern goes from being a retired old man and an individualist to a community man who again, has found his place in the new society.
Lib McGovern like all of the other women in Alas, Babylon doesn’t have a huge role in the book. But she goes from being a pampered daughter of a rich industrialist to being a tough and reliable housewife to Randy whom she ends up getting married to. She has a very good sense of collectivism, as does Hellen Bragg. Hellen goes from being a basic army wife and mother of two, to Dan Gunn’s assistant and eventually wife, after Lib plays matchmaker. As the novel progresses, Helen has more opportunities to keep her cool under pressure. This gradually changes her and she becomes a leader and a powerful force in the Bragg house.
All these characters are examples of people who have dealt with the apocalypse. Some of them though, in fact, couldn’t deal. Edgar Quisenberry’s death shows us that being an individualist gets you nowhere, while Randy Bragg’s transition from deadbeat to leader shows us that with a little motivation and collectivism you can become a person of importance in the apocalypse no matter what you did in your life previously. The idea of a cozy apocalypse is also start over and get back to times where life was simpler and easier. Randy has taken a role he’s always wanted, Lib and Helen are happily married, Dan gets the opportunity to actually help people and gets to live a debt free life, Libs father gets something to do with his life instead of just sitting around in retirement, and Alice also gets a role where she can help people like Dan.
That is the essence of a cozy apocalypse. Yes, a disaster occurred, and yes, millions of people died, but for those remaining generally life gets better. And thats how it works for the townsfolk of Fort Repose, Florida – life goes on.
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