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4/5 (77 valoraciones)
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473 página
8 horas
Editorial:
Publicado:
Jan 1, 1976
ISBN:
9780547593708
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

In a glorious new trade paperback complete with an original Introduction written by author Kim Stanley Robinson

First published in 1949 and a winner of the inaugural International Fantasy Award in 1951, Earth Abides went on to become one of the most influential science-fiction novels of the twentieth century. It remains a fresh, provocative story of apocalyptic pandemic, societal collapse, and rebirth.

The cabin had always been a special retreat for Isherwood Williams, a haven from the demands of society. But one day while hiking, Ish was bitten by a rattlesnake, and the solitude he had so desired took on dire new significance. He was sick for days—and often delirious—waking up to find two strangers peering in at him from the cabin door. Yet oddly, instead of offering help, the two ran off as if terrified. Not long after, the coughing began. Ish suffered chills and fever, and a measles-like rash on his skin. He was one of the few people in the world to live through that peculiar malady, but he didn't know it then.

Ish headed home when he finally felt himself again—and noticed the strangeness almost immediately. No cars passed him on the road; the gas station not far from his cabin looked abandoned; and he was shocked to see the body of a man on the roadside near a small town. Without a radio or phone, Ish had no idea of humanity’s abrupt demise. He had escaped death, yet could not escape the catastrophe—and with an eerie detachment he found himself curious as to how long it would be before all traces of civilization faded from Earth.
Editorial:
Publicado:
Jan 1, 1976
ISBN:
9780547593708
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

GEORGE R. STEWART (1895–1980) taught for more than fifty years at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Pickett's Charge, Earth Abides, and numerous other books of history, biography, and fiction.

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Earth Abides - George R. Stewart

Contents


Title Page

Contents

Copyright

Epigraph

Dedication

Introduction to Earth Abides

World Without End

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Quick Years

The Year 22

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Quick Years

The Last American

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

About the Author

Connect with HMH

First Mariner Books edition 2020

Copyright © 1949 by George R. Stewart

Copyright renewed © 1976 by George R. Stewart

Introduction copyright © 2020 by Kim Stanley Robinson

All rights reserved.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

hmhbooks.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Stewart, George R., 1895–1980, author.

Title: Earth abides / George R. Stewart.

Description: First Mariner Books edition. | Boston ; New York Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020022435 (print) | LCCN 2020022436 (ebook) | ISBN 9780358380214 (pbk.) | ISBN 9780358447733 | ISBN 9780358447894 | ISBN 9780547593708 (ebook)

Classification: LCC PS3537.T48545 E27 2020 (print) | LCC PS3537.T48545 (ebook) | DDC 813/.52—dc22

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020022435

LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020022436

Except for an occasional reference which some of my friends may recognize, the people and incidents and consequences of Earth Abides derive from the imagination and are not to be identified with any living or dead person or any actual occurrence.

Cover design by Christopher Moisan

Cover photographs © Jack Sooksan/Shutterstock (rainforest); © Aleksandr Pobedimskiy/Shutterstock (sledgehammer)

Author photograph courtesy of Edward D. Stewart

v9.0920

Men go and come, but earth abides

ECCLESIASTES, 1, 4

to Jill

Introduction to

Earth Abides

BY KIM STANLEY ROBINSON

This novel, George Stewart’s masterpiece, is exceptionally ambitious, wide-ranging, graceful, and wise. It’s one of the greatest novels in the subgenre of science fiction now called post-apocalyptic (in Stewart’s time it might have been called an after the fall novel), and very worthy of the permanent place in science fiction and in American literature that it has achieved. This edition is the latest of many reprintings, and the book is still widely read and often written about. The winner of the first International Fantasy Award in 1951, Earth Abides is also, at the moment I write (April 2020), in extremely high demand on the internet for its perceived relevance to the pandemic we are now experiencing. The book may be more popular than ever, and a recent excellent biography of Stewart by Donald Scott has brought Stewart’s entire life and work back into the conversation as well. So, its time has come.

First published in 1949, Earth Abides was not Stewart’s first book, nor his only excellent one, but rather a culmination of all his interests and achievements up to that point in his life. Born in 1895, Stewart earned degrees from Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Columbia, where he got his PhD in English literature. From 1923 on, he taught in the English department at UC Berkeley and lived above campus in the Berkeley Hills, very close to where much of Earth Abides takes place. Among other books of his relevant to this one, he had written a famous book about the Donner Party, Ordeal by Hunger (1936), and what I think of as a trilogy or triptych of novels in which non-human actors are featured as the protagonist—a bold formal move on Stewart’s part that was far ahead of most literary thinking in his time, although it also hearkened back to the IT narratives of the eighteenth century—Storm (1941), Fire (1948), and Doctor’s Oral (1939).

Storm tells the story of a Pacific storm striking central California. Stewart gives the storm the central role in the story, but also describes its effects on the land, infrastructure, animals, and people, especially those people charged with dealing with the damage caused by the storm. The people are mostly named by their functions, like Junior Meteorologist or Load Dispatcher, in what might be a nod to a similar gesture in H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895); the point of these names-by-function (one of Stewart’s abiding interests was names) is that although individuals perform roles, this story is going to be about the roles, not the individuals. The storm in Stewart’s novel is the one given a name, Maria, in an early instance of the practice of naming big storms; the damage it causes serves to show what civilization consists of at the infrastructural level and what that infrastructure needs in terms of human efforts to keep it going. Fire pursues these same narrative strategies, with the eponymous fire, also a permanent feature of the American West, serving as the novel’s protagonist and organizing principle. It’s a comic touch, at least to me and perhaps for Stewart as well, that the third in this triptych of narratives about inhuman processes was the academic orals exam described in Doctor’s Oral.

Another earlier book of his that undoubtedly helped prepare Stewart for Earth Abides was Man: An Autobiography (1946). This, too, is one of Stewart’s experiments in form: its protagonist being the human species as such, speaking as narrator and describing its beginnings and early evolution, first physical and then cultural. Here I’m reminded of Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men and Star Maker, except in this case Stewart narrates humanity’s past rather than its future; but the method is much the same. As in many of Stewart’s experimental novels, the focus is on civilization more than individuals. This focus can make a novel seem more like a prose poem or an extended historical speculative essay than a novel as usually written and understood—this is certainly the case with Stapledon’s great works—but the novel is a very flexible and capacious form, capable of handling all kinds of shifts in focus and methods. Often when this shift to a larger perspective happens, the resulting text will be understood, and perhaps even labeled, as science fiction. And given Stewart’s habit of incorporating scientific results from meteorology, fire science, engineering, history, geography, and anthropology into his novels, it could be argued that Stewart was writing various kinds of science fiction all along.

Stewart’s tendency to try narrative experiments continued in the books he wrote after Earth Abides. Sheep Rock (1951) focuses its story on a single place; U.S. 40 (1953) follows a line across the continent, as does The Opening of the California Trail (1953). Pickett’s Charge (1959) tells the story of the Civil War by concentrating on a single hour of it. To California By Covered Wagon (1954) again traces a line, retelling as a children’s book an incident Stewart had discovered in his historical research, in which a young man was left behind by his traveling party to winter alone in the Sierra Nevada. Stewart may have known Mose Schallenberg’s story before writing Earth Abides, in which case it no doubt influenced his novel. Schallenberg survived the snowy Sierra winter at age seventeen, with nothing but a log shelter, a gun, matches, and a copy of Byron’s poems; this is quite reminiscent of parts of Ish’s experiences early in Earth Abides.

Stewart’s later book Not So Rich as You Think (1968) is an environmentalist text that joined an ongoing movement in American intellectual life that was becoming very active in California’s Bay Area during those years, and it’s also a continuation of the ideas Stewart explored in Earth Abides. Place influences people, as Stewart often asserted, and it seems inevitable to me that he was aware of the Sierra Club’s projects, David Brower’s work, and the newspaper columns and radio shows of Kenneth Rexroth, another wide-ranging scholar with a global vision. These and many others were part of a generation of California intellectuals who created a distinctively environmentalist West Coast postwar culture, which was in many ways more advanced and worldly than the East Coast literary culture dominated by New York and Washington, DC.

What all this adds up to is a very well-educated historian and novelist, whose interests ranged widely, but always came back to inquiries into the nature of civilization, how individuals are formed by their societies, and how societies fit into their landscape. All these concerns naturally led him to science fiction, and Earth Abides was yet another experiment in form: this time he would set a story in the future, and in that experimental space put civilization through a kind of engineer’s test to destruction.

It was the greatest experiment of his life, in terms of its result. Whether Stewart was aware of the commercial genre of science fiction as it existed in the 1930s and ’40s isn’t known to me—the novel itself shows no evidence of that—but it doesn’t really matter. People are always inventing science fiction from scratch to serve their purposes, even if they happen not to be aware of its existence as an ongoing genre. When thinking about history, one’s thoughts often project into the future, as a kind of what-if speculation; at that point science fiction as a literary space is always there waiting to be put to use. And when trying to discuss the relationship between people and planet, science fiction becomes the inevitable and even necessary genre.

In this case, it was the perfect vehicle for Stewart’s ideas. Earth Abides is his masterpiece precisely because science fiction allowed him to pull together all his concerns into a single story with a bold, iconic, and timeless central idea: the near-extinction of humanity, the fall. This scenario has resonances tracing back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and indeed there is now good evidence from archeology, earth sciences, and genetics indicating that humanity was once almost wiped out as a species, around seventy thousand years ago, probably after a volcanic eruption caused a decades-long winter. There may have been as few as two thousand people alive on the planet at the time, and memories of that experience might have endured in myths ever after. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) is one of the most well-known novels written on this theme, and in the years following World War II, it was very natural for the theme to come to mind again. Typically, the enabling device for ending civilization during those years was an atomic war, but by choosing a pandemic, Stewart hit on a danger that both preceded, and may outlast, the nuclear threat.

Perhaps because the experiment for Stewart in this novel was the science fictional element of setting his story in the future—and also erasing most of the human race—his choice of a protagonist was, for him, unusually conventional. The novel stays tightly focused on a single character, with a typical array of secondary characters. This is not to say these characters are vague; they are quite distinct and well-drawn. Ish may be a kind of everyman, but his thinking and emotional life are clear and absorbing. He stands up well as a character even when compared to those in the mainstream novels of the 1940s that feature a hyperintense focus on a single consciousness. Ish’s interior life is lively, serious, intelligent, and believable. His angst over marrying a person of color looks antiquated now, but was in keeping with the culture he was raised in, and a sign of how he has to change. His grief over the loss of a child is powerfully evoked, reminiscent of Emerson’s loss of a son at a similar age. And his early decline, even his onset of dementia, is conveyed in a deft and moving way.

In this matter of characterization, Stewart reminds me of Daniel Defoe. The two writers share many qualities: a wide-ranging education, curiosity about how societies work, and a clear evocative style. Defoe even wrote a book called The Storm (1704), which places a hurricane that hit England in 1703 at the center of the story. As an English professor in the mid-twentieth century, it’s certain that Stewart would have been well-versed in Defoe’s work. Earth Abides shares characteristics with Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Journal of the Plague Year (1722), to the point where these books might even have been inspirations for Stewart when conceiving his science fictional story of plague, solitude, survival, and renewal. And just as Defoe rises to the occasion when describing a crisis in the inner life of Crusoe or Moll Flanders or Roxana, Stewart does the same with Ish. He took his title and epigraph from Ecclesiastes, and in his prose style there is some of that King James Bible simplicity and eloquence. Form fits content, and given Stewart’s topic, his style wears well the test of time.

Reading Earth Abides in the spring of 2020, it cannot help but speak to the situation of the pandemic that now has civilization locked down. Even in Stewart’s time this kind of epidemic was a known possibility, as the head note to his book makes clear. The nuclear doom became more commonly depicted in the 1950s, but these all followed Stewart’s novel; Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957), Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon (1959), and Walter Miller’s A Canticle For Leibowitz (1959) are three of the best-remembered of these novels, but there were many more. Earth Abides adds an ecological slant to these end-tale warnings, reminding us that we always live immersed in a sea of living or half-living creatures, making a network that we can throw out of balance to the point where we get attacked by other elements of the system in devastating ways. This message is now obviously relevant, and it always will be.

A few passages late in the book struck me with particular force. At one of the lowest points in the novel Stewart writes: When he could think more calmly, the irony of all things impressed him more and more. What you were preparing against—that never happened! All the best-laid plans could not prevent the disaster against which no plans had been laid. This is always true, and we’re seeing it again now.

Later, regarding people much younger from the murky depths of old age, Ish observes, though the language itself had not changed more than a little, yet there were ideas and differences that had gone out of people’s thought. No longer perhaps did they make that sharp distinction between pleasure and sorrow that people had once made in the times of civilization. Perhaps other distinctions too had faded out. This observation evokes Raymond Williams’s concept of a culture’s structure of feeling, an agreed-upon and constructed social arrangement which organizes and defines our basic animal emotions into different forms at different times. Williams described this concept in the 1960s, but Stewart was already thinking along these lines. In this instance, and in his novel’s account of the rise of state power out of earlier forms, and in his description of the difficulties of enforcing laws and establishing religions, Stewart is often startlingly prescient.

Another change in humanity’s structure of feeling is sketched out in one of the very last scenes, almost incidental but nevertheless strangely moving: A small group of people accompanying Ish to his final resting place encounter a mountain lion. They confront it, discuss what to do, and then take a different route to their destination, all as if dealing with an equal of theirs. This is another striking example of Stewart thinking and feeling far ahead of his time, and on a crucial matter.

And so this book still lives quite vibrantly, and might go on living for a long time. Ish himself would probably laugh at that thought, given all that he sees and thinks while inside UC Berkeley’s shuttered and abandoned library, a kind of mausoleum for civilization and its ideas. So little literature survives, even if civilization carries on, much less if it crashes. Even if literature does persist, what can it say to those who follow? How will people in times to come understand any text from the past? For Ish this is a pressing issue, a felt struggle against despair, which was also very relevant to Stewart himself, writing in the postwar period, after the immense shock and trauma of the recent global war. Civilization had just been torn apart and these matters were very much on people’s minds. Whether literature endures or whether it ever matters are permanently live questions. But we still read Defoe, and we still read George Stewart. Copies of this book are flying off the digital shelves in 2020, and now it’s being reprinted in this new edition. Seventy years after first publication it’s still bringing needed news about the importance of seeing things whole and taking the long view. It’s become a classic, a science fiction novel securing a deserved place in the canon. And if it leads curious readers to Stewart’s other books, they will be well-rewarded. He was a twentieth-century philosopher of history like Arnold Toynbee or Fernand Braudel or William McNeill, and he adds to their scholarly inquiry the pleasures of a good novel well told. Enjoy.

1

World Without End

If a killing type of virus strain should suddenly arise by mutation . . . it could, because of the rapid transportation in which we indulge nowadays, be carried to the far corners of the earth and cause the deaths of millions of people.

—W. M. Stanley, in Chemical and Engineering News,

Dec. 22, 1947.

Chapter 1

. . . and the government of the United States of America is herewith suspended, except in the District of Columbia, as of the emergency. Federal officers, including those of the Armed Forces, will put themselves under the orders of the governors of the various states or of any other functioning local authority. By order of the Acting President. God save the people of the United States. . . .

Here is an announcement which has just come in from the Bay Area Emergency Council. The West Oakland Hospitalization Center has been abandoned. Its functions, including burials at sea, are now concentrated at the Berkeley Center. That is all. . . .

Keep tuned to this Station, which is the only one now in operation in northern California. We shall inform you of developments, as long as it is possible.

Just as he pulled himself up to the rock-ledge, he heard a sudden rattle, and felt a prick of fangs. Automatically he jerked back his right hand; turning his head, he saw the snake, coiled and menacing. It was not a large one, he noted, even at the moment when he raised his hand to his lips and sucked hard at the base of the index-finger, where a little drop of blood was oozing out.

"Don’t waste time by killing the snake!" he remembered.

He slid down from the ledge, still sucking. At the bottom he saw the hammer lying where he had left it. For a moment he thought he would go on and leave it there. That seemed like panic; so he stooped and picked it up with his left hand, and went on down the rough trail.

He did not hurry. He knew better than that. Hurry only speeded up a man’s heart, and made the venom circulate faster. Yet his heart was pounding so rapidly from excitement or fear that hurrying or not hurrying, it seemed, should make no difference. After he had come to some trees, he took his handkerchief and bound it around his right wrist. With the aid of a twig he twisted the handkerchief into a crude tourniquet.

Walking on, he felt himself recovering from his panic. His heart was slowing down. As he considered the situation, he was not greatly afraid. He was a young man, vigorous and healthy. Such a bite would hardly be fatal, even though he was by himself and without good means of treatment.

Now he saw the cabin ahead of him. His hand felt stiff. Just before he got to the cabin, he stopped and loosened the tourniquet, as he had read should be done, and let the blood circulate in the hand. Then he tightened it again.

He pushed open the door, dropping the hammer on the floor as he did so. It fell, handle up, on its heavy head, rocked back and forth for a moment, and then stood still, handle in the air.

He looked into the drawer of the table, and found his snake-bite outfit, which he should have been carrying with him on this day of all days. Quickly he followed the directions, slicing with the razorblade a neat little criss-cross over the mark of the fangs, applying the rubber suction-pump. Then he lay on his bunk watching the rubber bulb slowly expand, as it sucked the blood out.

He felt no premonitions of death. Rather, the whole matter still seemed to him just a nuisance. People had kept telling him that he should not go into the mountains by himself—Without even a dog! they used to add. He had always laughed at them. A dog was constant trouble, getting mixed up with porcupines or skunks, and he was not fond of dogs anyway. Now all those people would say, Well, we warned you!

Tossing about half-feverishly, he now seemed to himself to be composing a defense. Perhaps, he would say, the very danger in it appealed to me! (That had a touch of the heroic in it.) More truthfully he might say, I like to be alone at times, really need to escape from all the problems of dealing with people. His best defense, however, would merely be that, at least during the last year, he had gone into the mountains alone as a matter of business. As a graduate student, he was working on a thesis: The Ecology of the Black Creek Area. He had to investigate the relationships, past and present, of men and plants and animals in this region. Obviously he could not wait until just the right companion came along. In any case, he could never see that there was any great danger. Although nobody lived within five miles of his cabin, during the summer hardly a day passed without some fisherman coming by, driving his car up the rocky road or merely following the stream.

Yet, come to think of it, when had he last seen a fisherman? Not in the past week certainly. He could not actually remember whether he had seen one in the two weeks that he had been living by himself in the cabin. There was that car he had heard go by after dark one night. He thought it strange that any car would be going up that road in the darkness, and could hardly see the necessity, for ordinarily people camped down below for the night and went up in the morning. But perhaps, he thought, they wanted to get up to their favorite stream, to go out for some early fishing.

No, actually, he had not exchanged a word with anyone in the last two weeks, and he could not even remember that he had seen anyone.

A throb of pain brought him back to what was happening at the moment. The hand was beginning to swell. He loosened the tourniquet to let the blood circulate again.

Yes, as he returned to his thoughts, he realized that he was out of touch with things entirely. He had no radio. Therefore, as far as he was concerned, there might have been a crash of the stockmarket or another Pearl Harbor; something like that would account for so few fishermen going by. At any rate, there was very little chance apparently that anyone would come to help him. He would have to work his own way out.

Yet even that prospect did not alarm him. At worst, he considered, he would lie up in his cabin, with plenty of food and water for two or three days, until the swelling in his hand subsided and he could drive his car down to Johnson’s, the first ranch.

The afternoon wore on. He did not feel like eating anything when it came toward supper-time, but he made himself a pot of coffee on the gasoline stove, and drank several cups. He was in much pain, but in spite of the pain and in spite of the coffee he became sleepy. . . .

He woke suddenly in half-light, and realized that someone had pushed open the cabin door. He felt a sudden relief to know that he had help. Two men in city clothes were standing there, very decent-looking men, although staring around strangely, as if in fright. I’m sick! he said from his bunk, and suddenly he saw the fright on their faces change to sheer panic. They turned suddenly without even shutting the door, and ran. A moment later came the sound of a starting motor. It faded out as the car went up the road.

Appalled now for the first time, he raised himself from the bunk, and looked through the window. The car had already vanished around the curve. He could not understand. Why had they suddenly disappeared in panic, without even offering to help?

He got up. The light was in the east; so he had slept until dawn the next morning. His right hand was swollen and acutely painful. Otherwise he did not feel very ill. He warmed up the pot of coffee, made himself some oatmeal, and lay down in his bunk again, in the hope that after a while he would feel well enough to risk driving down to Johnson’s—that is, of course, if no one came along in the meantime who would stop and help him and not like those others, who must be crazy, run away at the sight of a sick man.

Soon, however, he felt much worse, and realized that he must be suffering some kind of relapse. By the middle of the afternoon he was really frightened. Lying in his bunk, he composed a note, thinking that he should leave a record of what had happened. It would not be very long of course before someone would find him; his parents would certainly telephone Johnson’s in a few days now, if they did not hear anything. Scrawling with his left hand, he managed to get the words onto paper. He signed merely Ish. It was too much work to write out his full name of Isherwood Williams, and everybody knew him by his nickname.

At noon, feeling himself like the ship-wrecked mariner who from his raft sees the steamer cross along the horizon, he heard the sound of cars, two of them, coming up the steep road. They approached, and then went on, without stopping. He called to them, but by now he was weak, and his voice, he was sure, did not carry the hundred yards to the turn-off where the cars were passing.

Even so, before dusk he struggled to his feet, and lighted the kerosene lamp. He did not want to be left in the dark.

Apprehensively he bent his lanky body down to peer into the little mirror, set too low for him because of the sloping roof of the cabin. His long face was thin always, and scarcely seemed thinner now, but a reddish flush showed through the sun-tan of his cheeks. His big blue eyes were blood-shot, and stared back at him wildly with the glare of fever. His light brown hair, unruly always, now stuck out in all directions, completing the mirror-portrait of a very sick young man.

He got back into his bunk, feeling no great sense of fear, although now he more than half expected that he was dying. Soon a violent chill struck him; from that he passed into a fever. The lamp burned steadily on the table, and he could see around the cabin. The hammer which he had dropped on the floor still stood there, handle pointed stiffly upwards, precariously balanced. Being right before his eyes, the hammer occupied an unduly large part of his consciousness—he thought about it a little disorderedly, as if he were making his will, an old-fashioned will in which he described the chattels he was leaving. "One hammer, called a single-jack, weight of head four pounds, handle one foot long, slightly cracked, injured by exposure to weather, head of hammer somewhat rusted, still serviceable." He had been extraordinarily pleased when he had found the hammer, appreciating that actual link with the past. It had been used by some miner in the old days when rock-drills were driven home in a low tunnel with a man swinging a hammer in one hand; four pounds was about the weight a man could handle in that way, and it was called a single-jack because it was managed one-handedly. He thought, feverishly, that he might even include a picture of the hammer as an illustration in his thesis.

Most of those hours of darkness he passed in little better than a nightmare, racked by coughing, choking frequently, shaking with the chill and then burning with the fever. A pink measles-like rash broke out on him.

At daybreak he felt himself again sinking into a deep sleep.

"It has never happened! cannot be construed to mean, It can never happen!—as well say, Because I have never broken my leg, my leg is unbreakable, or Because I’ve never died, I am immortal." One thinks first of some great plague of insects—locusts or grasshoppers—when the species suddenly increases out of all proportion, and then just as dramatically sinks to a tiny fraction of what it has recently been. The higher animals also fluctuate. The lemmings work upon their cycle. The snowshoe-rabbits build up through a period of years until they reach a climax when they seem to be everywhere; then with dramatic suddenness their pestilence falls upon them. Some zoologists have even suggested a biological law: that the number of individuals in a species never remains constant, but always rises and falls—the higher the animal and the slower its breeding-rate, the longer its period of fluctuation.

During most of the nineteenth century the African buffalo was a common creature on the veldt. It was a powerful beast with few natural enemies, and if its census could have been taken by decades, it would have proved to be increasing steadily. Then toward the century’s end it reached its climax, and was suddenly struck by a plague of rinderpest. Afterwards the buffalo was almost a curiosity, extinct in many parts of its range. In the last fifty years it has again slowly built up its numbers.

As for man, there is little reason to think that he can in the long run escape the fate of other creatures, and if there is a biological law of flux and reflux, his situation is now a highly perilous one. During ten thousand years his numbers have been on the upgrade in spite of wars, pestilences, and famines. This increase in population has become more and more rapid. Biologically, man has for too long a time been rolling an uninterrupted run of sevens.

When he awoke in the middle of the morning, he felt a sudden sense of pleasure. He had feared he would be sicker than ever, but he felt much better. He was not choking any more, and also his hand felt cooler. The swelling had gone down. On the preceding day he had felt so bad, from whatever other trouble had struck him, that he had had no time to think about the hand. Now both the hand and the illness seemed better, as if the one had stopped the other and they had both receded. By noon he was feeling clear-headed and not even particularly weak.

He ate some lunch, and decided that he could make it down to Johnson’s. He did not bother to pack up everything. He took his precious notebooks and his camera. At the last moment also, as if by some kind of compulsion, he picked up the hammer, carried it to the car, and threw it in on the floor by his feet. He drove off slowly, using his right hand as little as possible.

At Johnson’s everything was quiet. He let the car roll to a stop at the gasoline-pump. Nobody came out to fill his tank, but that was not peculiar, because the Johnson pump, like so many in the mountains, was tended on a haphazard basis. He blew the horn, and waited again. After another minute he got out, and went up the rickety steps which led to the room serving as an informal store where campers could pick up cigarettes and canned goods. He went in, but there was nobody there.

He had a certain sense of surprise. As often, when he had been by himself for a while, he was not exactly sure what day it might be. Wednesday, he thought. But it might be Tuesday or Thursday. Yet he was certain that it was somewhere in the middle of the week, not a Sunday. On a Sunday, or even for a whole weekend, the Johnsons might possibly shut up the store and go somewhere on a trip of their own. They were easy-going, and did not believe too strongly in letting business interfere with pleasure. Yet they were really dependent to a large extent upon the sales which the store made during the fishing season; they could hardly afford to go away very long. And if they had gone on a vacation, they would have locked the door. Still you never could tell about these mountain people. The incident might even be worth a paragraph in his thesis. In any case, his tank was nearly empty. The pump was unlocked, and so he helped himself to ten gallons of gas and with difficulty scrawled a check which he left on the counter along with a note: Found you all away. Took 10 gal. Ish.

As he drove down the road, he had suddenly a slight sense of uneasiness—the Johnsons gone on a weekday, the door unlocked, no fishermen, a car going by in the night, and (most of all) those men who had run away when they had seen another man lying sick in his bunk in a lonely mountain cabin. Yet the day was bright, and his hand was not paining him much; moreover, he seemed to be cured of that other strange infection, if it was something else and not the snake-bite. He felt almost back to normal again. Now the road wound down restfully between open groves of pine trees along a little rushing stream. By the time he came to Black Creek Powerhouse, he felt normal in his mind again also.

At the power-house everything looked as usual. He heard the whir of the big generators, and saw the streams of foaming water still bursting out from beneath. A light was burning on the bridge. He thought to himself, I suppose nobody bothers ever to turn that out. They have so much electricity that they don’t need to economize.

He considered going across the bridge to the power-house, just to see somebody and allay the strange fears which he had begun to feel. But the sight and sound of everything running normally were reassuring, signs that after all the power-house was working as usual, even though he saw no people. There was nothing remarkable about not seeing people. The process was so nearly automatic that only a few men were employed there, and they kept indoors mostly.

Just as he was leaving the power-house behind, a large collie ran out from behind one of the buildings. From the other side of the creek, it barked loudly and violently at Ish. It ran back and forth excitedly.

Fool dog! he thought. What’s it so excited about? Is it trying to tell me not to steal the power-house? People certainly tended to overestimate the intelligence of dogs!

Rounding the curve, he left the sound of barking behind. But the sight of the dog had been another evidence of normality. Ish began to whistle contentedly. It was ten miles now until he came to the first town, a little place called Hutsonville.

Consider the case of Captain Maclear’s rat. This interesting rodent inhabited Christmas Island, a small bit of tropical verdure some two hundred miles south of Java. The species was first described for science in 1887, the skull being noted as large and strongly built, with beaded supra-orbital edges and the anterior edge of the zygomatic plate projecting forward conspicuously.

A naturalist observed the rats as populating the island in swarms, feeding upon fruit and young shoots. To the rats the island was as a whole world, an earthly paradise. The observer noted: They seem to breed all the year round. Yet such was the luxuriance of the tropical growth that the rats had not attained such numbers as to provide competition among members of the species. The individual rats were extremely well nourished, and even unduly fat.

In 1903 some new disease sprang up. Because of their crowding, and also probably because of the softened condition of the individuals, the rats proved universally susceptible, and soon were dying by thousands. In spite of great numbers, in spite of an abundant supply of food, in spite of a very rapid breeding rate, the species is extinct.

He came over the rise, and saw Hutsonville a mile away. Just as he started to slide down the grade, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of something which turned him inwardly cold. Automatically he tramped hard on the brake. He walked back, scarcely believing that he had really seen it. Just there at the side of the road, in full view, lay the body of a fully clothed man; ants were crawling over the face. The body must have lain there a day or two at least. Why had it not been seen? He did not look closely or long, obviously the thing to do was to get into Hutsonville, and tell the Coroner as soon as possible. He hurried back to the car.

Yet as he started again, he had a deep feeling inside him somewhere, strangely, that this was not a case for the Coroner, and that possibly there would even be no Coroner. He had seen no one at the Johnson’s or at the power-house, and he had not met a single car on the road. The only things that seemed real from all the old life had been the light burning at the power-house and the quiet hum of the great generators at their work.

Then, as he came to the first houses, he suddenly breathed more easily, for there on a vacant lot a hen was quietly scratching in the dust, a half-dozen chicks beside her, and a little farther on, a black-and-white cat wandered across the sidewalk as unconcernedly as it would have done upon any other June day.

The heat of the afternoon lay heavy on the street, and he saw no one. Bad as a Mexican town, he thought, everyone taking a siesta. Then suddenly he realized that he had said it as a man whistles to keep up his courage. He came to the business center, stopped the car by the curb, and got out. There was nobody.

He tried the door of a little restaurant. It was open. He went in.

Hi! he yelled.

Nobody came. Not even an echo spoke back to reassure him.

The door of the bank was locked, although the hour was well before closing time, and he was sure (the more he thought of it) that the day must be Tuesday or Wednesday or possibly Thursday. What am I anyway? he thought. Rip van Winkle? Even so, Rip van Winkle, though he had slept twenty years, had come back to a village that was still full of people.

The door of the hardware store beyond the bank was open. He went in, and again he called, and again there was not even an echo coming back for answer. He looked in at the bakery; this time there was only a tiny noise such as a scuttling mouse could make.

Had the people all gone to a baseball game? Even so, they would have closed the stores. He went back to his car, got into the seat, and looked around. Was he himself delirious, still lying on his bunk, really? He was half inclined merely to drive on; panic was rising up inside

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  • (3/5)
    Under-developed characters, a bit pedantic, but an interesting take on a post-apocalyptic America.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent post-apocalypse story that should have had a sequel. Originally published in 1949, but I somehow missed it. I'm glad I discovered it now. Highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Classic Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.I really enjoyed it. It holds up really well.I liked the parts that talk about what is happening in nature, to the dogs, the cats, the cities. It reminded me of the world with out man video I saw.
  • (4/5)
    Fantastic book, though a bit dated in tone. This is not the post-apocalyptic book you might think it would be, considering the route so many take with the scenario proposed by the author. Read it if you want to be led on a speculative, imaginative investigation of how life might really go on following a great tragedy.
  • (4/5)
    I thought about giving this 5 stars as it is one of the best & earliest of the modern, serious apocalyptic SF novels. Written in 1949, it is a bit dated in some ways (the use of chemicals, lack of panic, & some equipment) but overall, it held up very well over the years. I don't agree with some of the specifics, but the story is not so much about specific technology, but about humanity & I think he presented a very interesting set of ideas.

    If you're looking for action & adventure, this book isn't for you. It is more thoughtful, posing interesting questions about the human condition. It does this by following one man who survives the end of our civilization & sees what happens to several generations of his descendents. How the rest of the world fares is briefly addressed, sometimes quite personally, but always in a perfunctory manner. I don't think this harmed the story at all, though. Any more detail would have bogged it down & not helped the central themes.

    I'm not sure if I read this before, but parts seemed familiar, especially the end. Does anyone know if there was ever a short story done of this or did part of it appear as a novella or something?

    Our civilization dies quickly & quietly due a plague that kills off all but a handful of people in weeks. To give an idea of numbers, in an entire city, he might find traces of less than a dozen. Stewart presumes that very little of the infrastructure is disturbed. Electricity runs for months, city water for years. The roads aren't jammed with cars. So what happens to the survivors & their descendents?

    Stewart supposes that they become scavengers & revert to barbarism. There are plenty of canned goods, guns, bullets, gas & housing for everyone to live comfortably for decades. There are no other people around to cause many problems, so there is no reason for the survivors to strive for anything. The original survivors give birth to a completely separate generation that grows up scavenging amongst a treasure trove. They have no reason to learn to read or any of the old technology.

    In order to repopulate & protect themselves against extinction, children were encouraged to marry early, so the following generation were children raised by children. Even less knowledge of the old world was passed along & rank superstition arose. By the time Ish, our hero, dies, mankind has returned firmly to hunter/gatherers & the technology of the past is merely a curiosity.

    Is this a good or bad thing? Ish isn't sure & either am I - this is the basic question that the book leaves us with. The people are happy enough. Much of what we once had, they don't - either the good or the bad.

    It's an interesting question & well posed.
  • (5/5)
    This novel is listed in Abe's 50 essential science fiction novels as well as Pringle's 100 best science fiction novels, it is also published in the SF masterwork series. It has many excellent reviews on LT and so my expectations were high. I was not disappointed. Published in 1949 it has claim to be one of the first dystopia novels and if not the first it is certainly one of the best that I have read. This is the sort of science fiction novel that if you chanced upon it in the 1960's it would probably make you a science fiction fan for a long time to come and it still reads well today; as long as you allow yourself to view things from a 1940's perspective. This is particularly important for this novel because civilization is basically halted in its tracks when a mysterious plague wipes out most of the human race in little over a week. There are only very few people that survive and the story is told from the POV of one of the survivors: Isherwood Williams (Ish for short)The 1940's were in some respects more gentle times than today and this is reflected in Stewarts view of a world where survival is the key to existence, but there are no gangs of motorcycle warlords roaming the streets as you might find in a Mad Max film, people are more inclined to help each other than shoot each other on sight or torture each other to death. Ish is an academic with a few practical skills, who at times prefers his own company and feels uncomfortable in certain social situations, but he has a good heart and a will to keep going when faced with a devastating situation. He had been up country in a log cabin when he had suffered a rattlesnake bite, he survived but was laid up for a week, when he came back down to civilization he found he was possibly the only person left alive following a great plague. Stewart grips the reader from the start with Ish's predicament and his search for fellow survivors, there are very few of these and most of them have been driven insane or just given up at the prospect of being alone in the world, however Ish does find a few individuals and they band together realising it is their best chance to survive. Ish's story is the story of this small community, who get around to calling themselves the Tribe when babies start to be produced.Stewarts master stroke is to make this group a very ordinary collection of individuals, there are no obvious leaders of men, no one has more than the most everyday practical skills and no one is a scientific genius, their time is spent trying to adapt to their new situation, certain rituals are established, although religion is largely avoided. Stewarts big theme is the how quickly civilization would disappear for a group like this, who do not have the man power or the skills to keep even the electricity supply functioning. When the lights go out the group resort to gas lamps and candles only dimly aware that when these run out they cannot be replaced. Ish is the only one of the group who thinks about the future and attempts to halt the groups slide into ignorance and perhaps barbarity as they soon become little more than hunter gatherers. There is however an underlying humanity in the Tribe and this is what makes the reader care about them and about Ish.Stewart intersperses his narrative with some ideas of how the natural world would adapt following the near demise of man, this is evident within the story itself as machinery no longer works, vegetation re-establishes itself everywhere and concrete and steel deteriorate, but the little asides are fascinating and are brief enough not to get in the way of the narrative. For the most part the book is well written although there is some annoying repetition when Stewart forces his point across, and I wanted to say to him that his readers may not be as dumb as many of the people in the Tribe.I did not have to suspend belief in this story and could well imagine a similar situation for a group of individuals who survive a plague in the 21st century, for example what would they do when their cell phones stopped working. Great science fiction and a very good novel which I would rate at 4.5 stars.
  • (4/5)
    Not a bad read, but why were all the early scifi writers so damned pessimistic? Another calamity, this time most of humanity is wiped out by a plague. Alas, no zombies, but a really intriguing look at how one small tribe of people claw their way back to community.
  • (4/5)
    This book chronicles the experiences of Isherwood Williams, who returns home from a research trip in the mountains to find that humanity has all but died out from a mysterious disease. Banding together with a few other survivors, he tries to survive in the ruins of civilization, while dreaming of one day rebuilding it.I quite enjoyed this book. While I was not overly fond of the main character, as I found him a bit too arrogant and inefficient, the story as a whole was quite interesting. I should admit that my ambivalence towards Ish might come from being hit a bit too close to home, though.I particularly enjoyed the little segments on what happened to the things Man left behind, the plants and animals and constructions. Especially in the first segment of the book, these observations on how the natural world would change without people there to keep it in the mould we've built for it, were much more fascinating than Ish himself. Possibly, the author thought so too, as the first part of the book is mostly Ish driving around to observe the effects of the calamity, rather than taking any active part in events. In the second segment, when Ish and some other survivors have banded together to form their little tribe, these little asides become rarer, but it doesn't matter much, as the formation of the new society becomes the interesting part. The books characters aren't really all that much to shout about, many of them can be described in a single word, and several of them never get any more characteristics beyond a name. At this point, the story is much more about the character of the emerging society than of its individual members. It is really only Ish and his wife who are more than background, yet it is the background that is interesting, the rites and customs that emerge in the little tribe, like the New Year ritual they develop. As the survivors age, the tribe becomes numerically dominated by their children, who never knew the old world, and who have original ways of seeing the past. The reverence they have for Ish's hammer, which has acted as a sort of safety blanket for him, was a touch I really liked.Overall, I wish we had seen more of the culture and mythology of the tribe, especially in the third part of the book, when Ish is old and dying as the last of the Americans, and the tribe consists entirely of people who have never known any life but the one they lead. Since Ish is the focus point, and at this point in the story, apparently senile, we get only fleeting glimpses. I would dearly have loved to see the story continue beyond where it ended, to have a look at the new world when the old was truly gone.Overall, this story is enjoyable chiefly for its plot, rather than its characters. The plot is very interesting, and while the characters might not be the most developed personalities, they do not detract from the enjoyment. It was well worth the read.
  • (3/5)
    This is a classic. Will civilization die with a whimper as the author suggests. He makes a convincing case.
  • (3/5)
    Only a few survivors are left after most of humanity suffers an apocalyptic fate. The societies the remaining humans create are fascinating, but what sticks in my mind to this day is the rapid loss of knowledge. When just surviving takes up all one's energy, each successive generation is taught less and less about the greater world. Only a few generations later, humanity has lost science, history, and literacy. To this day the book catches at my heart.
  • (5/5)
    Very touching story. One to make you think.
  • (3/5)
    I had such high expectations for this book - yet another post-apocolyptic story. Isherwood is enjoying time alone in the mountains. When he ventures into town, he discovers that the world as he knew it is gone. From there Isherwood attempts to build a life in the new world, while maintaining the old ways. I found that the book jumped around a lot and that Mr. Steward didn't give enough description or detail for me to get a true sense of anything. Could be that was the writing style of the time but, when I was done with the book, I really didn't feel as though I had been a part of Isherwood's world (as I feel with most books I read).
  • (4/5)
    I have to go back and write a little something about this one because I find myself still thinking about it. That's kind of a surprise, as I wasn't completely blown away by it when I read it, but I did enjoy it.
    The book comes across as a pretty simple "end of the world" story but I'm finding that it has really stuck with me. I really felt the emotional changes the main character goes through as he adapts to the new world and grows old. I read "Alas Babylon" at almost the same time, and while it was entertaining it didn't have the impact this did for me.

    On a side note; Several reviewers have mentioned that they had trouble with it because things in the story were dated. I can't comprehend this line of thinking. Let me try and help;

    1. The book was written in the past.
    2. The story takes place in the past. (fictional, everyone on earth didn't really die in the 50's, see definition of "fiction")
    3. We are not in the past, we are in the present.
    4. Some things are different now (the present) than they were then (the past).
    5. Some books were written in the past, yet are somehow still pretty good, even though the writers couldn't see into the future to make the setting more comfortable for you, so it doesn't hurt your brain and all.

    Do these people only read books set in the now? How old is too old, is a year OK? How about in other countries? Some books actually have time periods and settings that are TOTALLY MADE UP! WTF?!? Yes, they were stupid for writing about old, boring stuff instead of cool, shiny stuff we have now. I mean, how can you read Dickens when no one in the stories even has a iPhone? How did they text? Who could read a book with a setting that's different from their own life, how weird would that be?

    I'm gonna stop now before I say something mean.

  • (5/5)
    A true classic. While it is in the genre of "science fiction" and is based in a post-apocalyptic society, this book transcends those categories to become something much bigger. It is a philosophical story that closely examines the role of humans/society as they relate to earth. Additionally, it is told in an entertaining, relatable way. Highly recommended, even if you tend to avoid "science fiction." This book will change the way you think.***SPOILER****Some people have criticized this book because the main character does not teach his offspring to read. Such a criticism is completely unfounded and makes me think that those people did not understand this book at all. Ish spends about 3/4 of this book struggling with that exact dilemma. He wants to educate them. However, the MAIN point of the book is his internal conflict with that personal desire versus the reality that it is unnecessary. The beauty of this book is how Stewart is able to convince the reader that ultimate choice is the right one (for him). You may not agree, but the process that he takes to get there is what makes this book a classic.
  • (5/5)
    A lyrical, poetic look at the aftermath of the end of the old world to a plague of Biblical proportions. This is allegory and poetry; the nuts and bolts of such a massive collapse are not in this novel, and the characters represent large aspects of humanity.
  • (3/5)
    I have mixed feelings about this book. It is very well-written and introduces an interesting post-plague world. However, I was disgusted (and didn't find it plausible) that the adults did not teach the children to be literate, or anything about world history. After decades of scavenging, Ish still has trouble convincing the Tribe that they must learn to farm and sustain themselves. You would think that the Old Ones who were fortunate enough to survive such an ordeal would grab life by the reins and learn the harsh lessons of the past. I was annoyed that they seemed so lazy and incurious about the rest of the world. Even when the young men trek across the country, this part of the story falls flat, with no great result. I appreciate that this book is considered a major forerunner of post-apocalyptic writing, but I was a bit disappointed.
  • (3/5)
    Disappointing. Why didn't he at least read to those kids?
  • (4/5)
    Intelligent, intense and poignant (even if did pull me out of the narrative more than a few times with its 1948 attitudes to gender and race). Definitely worthy of being included in the SF Masterworks series.
  • (3/5)
    Buying and re-reading this after about 30 years reminds me that you can never go back to your childhood. This was one of the few books I remember really liking of the many I read as an early teen. I am afraid now that my enjoyment of the scope and the ambition of this post-apocalyptic classic has been spoiled when reading it with a mature eye. Not just the casual racism and sexism (though at least he was trying to fight the latter) but his intellectual snobbery and his wooden, apathetic characters. In fact as I read I realised it has all the appeal and limitations of another "big idea" book - Atlas Shrugged. That one at least I had the sense to be repelled by as well as fascinated by it even when I read it first...
  • (4/5)
    I did not finsih this book, but I loved it up through 60%. This book details a post apocalpytic event that wipes out a huge portion of the world's population and destroys civilization. The internal dialogue of the main character is fantastic, very interesting. Through the post apocaplyptic event and post maybe 20 years I would give this book 5 stars. The racial and gender commentary was bothersome, yet I do feel like the author was attempting to overcome racial stereotypes and break free of America's racial beliefs that existed in the late 1940s. As to the gender comments, I do not think the author was attempting to overcome his biased beliefs but instead find a special place that women and men each occupied because of their biological differences. Irritating, but I am willing to figure an author writing in the 1940s this bias. The reason I am stopping is that I find it very aggrivating that after 21 years the tribe is just scavangers. Really not even domesticating cattle or chicken of which there are plenty? Not able to start a bon fire on their own without wood from a lumbard yard and matches? I loved how the author detailed how people could surivive in the remains of a large US city, I just find it unbelievable that a group of people who be so apathetic and unmotivated especially when they keep reproducing like these folks do. Great book even with my criticisms, I would defintiely recommend the first 60%. Even though I am stopping here, I do not feel like I am missing out on anything. I listened to the audio, the narration is very good.
  • (4/5)
    Making his way home to San Francisco from a mountain retreat, a graduate student discovers that a plague has wiped out most of humanity. With plentiful supplies everywhere, and power and running water still functioning, Ish drives to the East Coast and back to determine what has happened in other parts of the country. Along the way he meets a very few others, living alone or in groups of two or three, but most of these have been driven mad by the "Great Disaster". It isn't until he's been back in California for several months that he meets another survivor in the area, a woman 10 years his senior, with whom he begins a new life. A few other survivors find them, and the Tribe forges a life, having children and trying to keep humanity from dying out altogether. The story is told through Ish's eyes and follows him for the rest of his long life, during which he successfully guides the Tribe so that by his death there are several hundred in the group. Ish is a worrier, and through his internal struggles we see how a future with only a handful of humans remaining might unfold and what human life might change to be. Most interesting are the issues of passing along the history, curiosity, imagination and technology of the modern world. Is there a point in trying? How would a new generation relate to a world of which only a few aging adults have any memory and whose successes are impossible to use? What would be the best way to prepare them to survive, and what role and value would there be for old morality, superstition, and law? These are fascinating questions, and Stewart gives the reader a huge amount to think about. Published in 1949, the novel has many mid-century quirks. And anyone who has read Kim Stanley Robinson knows how internal dialogues can see interminable. But, as with Robinson, if the reader forges ahead there are wealth of insights to be had, and this can be very rewarding indeed.
  • (3/5)
    I realize this is a 'classic' of science fiction, but I couldn't find it in me to really love it. It''s good, but sooo dated in many respects. And frankly, I never really connected with Ish, the main character. Still I am glad I read it, because of its enduring status.
  • (5/5)
    This is a slow moving, intensely beautiful book. It is ordinary, and it is repetitive, and it is off the mark and on the mark and subtle and brilliant. I am so glad I finally read Earth Abides.
  • (4/5)
    I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Ish is a little weird, and I don't know that I ever really liked him, but I did enjoy his perspective on the rebuilding of civilization / society.
  • (4/5)
    Isherwood Williams is "Ish" to himself and to most who know him. Ish, a graduate student in geography, out in the wilderness of northern California doing fieldwork, is bitten by a rattlesnake on the opening page of Earth Abides. As he's fighting fever and delirium alone in his cabin, an even larger battle is being waged in the greater world, a battle of which Ish is unaware and which will be lost before he even regains consciousness. A deadly and extraordinarily fast-acting virus, of unknown origin but transported to the far corners of the world by air travelers, is killing off humanity, nearly to the point of extinction. When Ish emerges from his fever days later and descends the mountain, he discovers that the world as he knew it is gone forever.His reaction, perhaps as a defense mechanism, is detached and unemotional; a reaction of detachment, Ish tells himself, is right and fitting for the scholar and philosopher that he is. He decides to travel across the country taking stock, looking for other survivors, and making note of how the earth is reacting. His journey, always one of observation and study, takes him all the way from the Bay Area of San Francisco to New York and back again, to the house in which he grew up. Along the way, scattered amidst the vast stretches of an America mostly devoid of people, he will meet occasional survivors, all in a state of shock at being alone in such a big world, but none any more interested in him than he is in them.Disinterested. Apathetic. Passive. These words describe the attitude of Ish and the rest of humanity's survivors for most of the book. They are content merely to live off the leavings of the civilization that came before rather than trying to rebuild or create a new one. It is a frustrating attitude for Ish--particularly when he begins to see it in himself, over and over--but is even more frustrating for the reader. Dig a well! you scream to yourself, long before Ish even idly turns over the idea, before lazily discarding it. Plant a crop! Tend the herds of cattle that have gone feral and roam the countryside! Teach the children to read and write! Build a government!But it is not until the last pages of Earth Abides that we see a new society arise, and then it is not so much from the ashes of the civilization that ended so abruptly and so finally, but organically, as if from the earth itself. Perhaps George R. Stewart saw a complacence in people of the post-war world of 1949 in which he wrote this book. Perhaps he felt that the only way to build a new civilization would be to see the old one utterly forgotten except in myth and legend. Whatever his reason, Earth Abides is maddening and inspiring in equal measure, and well worth more than one read.
  • (3/5)
    Seemed like an exciting premise - mankind is wiped out, survivors start a small tribe and begin again. Unfortunately, it lacked excitement. The details of things weren't incredibly detailed (it seemed that Stewart didn't do any scientific research to explain what would/was happening to a world without man). Instead, it read like the thoughts of a very bright individual contemplating what would happen. I didn't really care for the characters either. Overall, it was light. The only thing I absolutely loved was the title. If the rest of the book was as brilliant, it would be among my favorites instead of stuck toward the lower-middle.
  • (3/5)
    A classic of the post-apocalyptic genre, I was prepared to adore this book. It starts out well, with some engaging differences from the fare I've read thus far.Warning: this review is fairly spoilery.After a disease takes out most of humanity, civilization is not left in chaos. Instead, most of the dead are buried, the cars are parked neatly by the sides of the road, the electric stays on for months, and the water runs for years.The protagonist isn't eager to throw his lot in with (or to sleep with) the first folks he comes across. He travels the country, seeing what's happened, where people are left alive, and chooses his company deliberately.The details of aftermath aren't ignored - parts of this book read like a fictional (if flawed) version of The World Without Us. We see nature rise up to take back man's land. We see populations of species rise and fall as they struggle to new equilibrium. We acknowledge that we fight not only time and ourselves for all those canned goods, but also rats and mice and hungry dogs. It's interesting.And then comes the part where he settles down with people. Earth Abides was first published in 1949, and so I was prepared to deal with some fair degree of racism and sexism - there is inevitably some, and I don't typically have a problem taking a book as a product of its times. This is the first book in a very long time that I have been tempted to chuck across the room for its particular viewpoints.It's not just the racism - which is thickly present - or the sexism - which is likewise. It's Stewart's apparent belief that in the face of crisis, most humans would be happy to lose all culture, all sense of the past, all technology, all /everything/, because really, no one wants to strive for anything.His humans not only resist the development of society and laws, they also pointedly show no interest in teaching their post-disaster children to read, in learning to farm, in providing water for themselves, in being creative, in exploring, in understanding, in questioning, in doing /anything/ that makes us human. In fact, they actively resist all of the above (and nevermind whether it's at all feasible to survive 25 years without learning some of the above). Apparently Stewart's protagonist is the only actual human being who survives.Earth may abide, but I have a damned hard time believing that, given a dozen in the same place, humanity wouldn't at least struggle to do the same. If there is nothing else consistent in the human story, it is the will to not only survive, but to improve.I love apocalypses, but Stewart's is too cynical for even me.
  • (5/5)
    This book has to go down as one of the best books I have read. Amazing how this was written in 1949 and how it fits in with overpopulation and disease that we see today. Great how the author discribes how society falls and how through a group of strong individuals how they can rebuild. Has bright spots and sad spots within the book. Enjoy.
  • (5/5)
    This was a really quick read and I actually read it for an English class. It's a post apocalyptic story followin one survivor and the issues he needs to deal with and think about.I'm usually not too keen on these types of stories but this one caught my attention because of the timelessness in regards to survival and ecology.Stewart addresses questions like if you were one of the few survivors on earth what would be some of the things you would have to think about all the time.What kinds of events would you have to endure.Could you put aside everything you've been taught on how things should be regarding marital relationships and religion etc.Also what kinds of repercussion would happen when man is no longer there to control things like rat investations etc. It goes into a very believable sequence of events for mother nature taken over when man is gone.I don't want to give away too much but it was a very good book and a fast read.
  • (4/5)
    It is much better than a lot of books from its era, but there is still some noticeable sexism, racism and "intellectual-ism" in the book - in fact, the last half of the book is pretty much based on the fact that only the main character and one of his many children are smart enough to go beyond the mandatory day-to-day living tasks. Everyone one else is stupid.Fundamental behaviors are overlooked - in 21 years they (meaning the main character because nobody else was smart enough to even want to) didn't start or enforce a "school" and then at year 22, regretted this. This is a problem because while it's clear that the author wanted to pass along a moral, realistically, the educating would have started from day one; the progenitor of the "new world" wouldn't have sat around for 22 years before realizing all of a sudden that he hadn't educated anyone.It's better than some other dated apocalyptic tales (On the Beach or The Plague) but it leaves you too aware that it was written in 1949 by a university-educated urban white male.