Earth Abides

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Earth Abides is a post-apocalyptic novel about a pandemic that has wiped out the majority of humankind. It won the International Fantasy Award in 1951.

The protagonist is aptly known as Isherwood Williams or Ish. This is an anthropological reference to Ishi, the last member of the Yahi Indian tribe who emerged from the California wilderness in 1911. Ishi, in turn, was named from the Hebrew word for man, because saying one’s own name was considered to be taboo in his tribe.

While on an extended camping trip, Isherwood Williams is bitten by a rattlesnake who’s bite provides immunity to the plague. He returns to civilization only to find that entire towns have been abandoned as people either died or moved towards larger cities in search of medical care.

In these larger cities, Ish comes across small groups of people who have survived. Some have gone insane, turned to alcohol abuse, and/or simply given up their will to survive. Others have attempted to carry on in whatever way that they can, and this is what Ish decides to do.

He travels across the United States and eventually meets Em, the woman who will become his companion. He also gathers several others, and they form a tribe and begin their attempt at rebuilding the human race.

What makes this novel interesting is the lack of initial struggle that occurs for survivors during the time following the plague. Electricity continues to function for a short period, and water supplies travel through the plumbing system for even longer. There are an ample amount of supplies available, including enough canned goods to feed the remainder of the human race for years. Unfortunately, this leads to a certain amount of apathy.

Earth Abides envisions the slow and inevitable decay of the human race as nature ebbs and flows with the collapse of technology and human control. It also chronicles the struggle that occurs within Ish’s own mind about how to maintain knowledge and culture while his companions are comfortable living on the remains of the previous society.

Published in the same year as 1984, this novel is really quite brilliant. I’m surprised that it doesn’t have the same sort of following as Orwell’s dystopian scenario. Earth Abides is every bit as well written, and it presents a compelling and believable story about the end of mankind… It also says volumes about human nature.


moif said...

You read 'The War of the Worlds'?

Cyan said...

I just finished it last night, and I haven't had a chance to post about it yet. I loved it. :)