I just finished reading Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon. Written in the 1950s, it's a post-apocalyptic tale of a small Florida town after a nuclear war.
It's a good story, and for those interested in post-apocalyptic fiction, I do recommend reading it. Frank doesn't really offer any creative solutions for surviving TEOTWAWKI. In fact, the people were woefully ill-prepared, even in things that one would expect people who live in Florida to be prepared for. But the story was written in the 1950s, at the height of America's cheap energy orgy, and so to read the description of the family that sold everything they owned and had an energy-sucking (and dependent) home built to replace the one they'd sold up north, was not really a surprise.
What was interesting was when the main character bought three cart loads full of groceries, including a boat-load of meat, for less than $400. I'm thinking, Wow! We spend that much for a paltry week's supply of stuff we buy from the grocery, which never includes meat and only a very limited selection of produce (mostly potatoes and apples from local farms). Times sure have changed.
There were some things that bothered me, but they really were directly related to the fact that the novel was written from a male perspective by a man who lived in a male-dominated society at a time when women were still expected to be June Cleaver. One can not fault an author for being true to the time and place where he lives.
What struck me, though, is the one thing that always surprises me about these post-apocalyptic novels. It seems a common thread running throughout the whole genre that in the end, the one thing most people will really miss, because it's something we take for granted that someone else will do for us is music. In Frank's novel, in S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire, and in Jean Hegland's Into the Forest, when the power went down, they had no music. It was particularly problematic for the characters in Hegland's book, because for one of the girls, as a dancer, not having music was devastating (which, actually, made me think of the time my daughters were given the opportunity to take a ballet class in a really old fashioned dance studio where the music for the class was actually a live pianist - what an incredible experience to dance to LIVE music!).
That the loss of music is a continuing theme throughout these post-apocalyptic novels surprises me - every time, in fact - because music is such a huge part of my life. In fact, at this moment that I'm writing this, Deus Ex Machina, Big Little Sister, Little Fire Faery, and Precious are in the other room practicing with each other. There's an electric bass, an acoustic guitar, a violin, a piano, and a ukulele (Precious plays the last two, not at the same time, though ;) ).
It's music, and it's beautiful.
When my daughters first started taking music lessons, I used to tell them, half-jokingly, that if they could play an instrument with some degree of proficiency, they would never starve.
After reading so many of these stories, I realize how rich we are. Their lessons, the money invested in purchasing instruments or the time spent fixing found instruments, all of it is completely worth every penny we've spent, but I realize that it's not about the money, but about giving them this gift of music that - no matter what - they will always have.
When I was a Girl Scout many, many years ago we sang the song All things shall perish from under the sky. Music alone shall live. For my girls, come what may, we've made sure that the music will continue to live, through them.