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Earth Abides (1949)
by George R. Stewart
Best Dystopias (74)
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Books Read in 2020 (2,214)
SF Masterworks (13)
SF Masterworks (46)
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Books Set in California (111)
see Storm, also by Stewart ( )
Earth Abides is a gentle glide from the stagnation of civilisation to it's feeble, but comfortable, reignition.
I often found myself disagreeing with Ish, the narrator and protagonist, and wondering how I would react in a situation like this. It provoked some interesting thoughts and scenarios, and honestly immersed me in the world more deeply than if I had agreed with him at every turn.
I found that this novel could be put down at any time and returned to any time later without much loss of clarity, espescially during Part II: The Year 22. Some may see this as a negative, but I honestly found it to be a significant positive as I have a habit of putting books down and not picking them up again for months, only to have completely forgotten everything.
This is an intriguing, realistic, and frankly desirable look into a potential post-apocalypse humanity that is, to me at least, leagues above every piece of post-apocalyptic media that catastrophizes about humanity's 'evil nature' and the 'devolution' we might face in such a scenario.
Well written and compelling story. Though it was written in 1949, there is little to give that fact away.
Earth Abides has long been one of my all-time favourites. Until I listened to the audiobook this week. And, oh dear, am I conflicted about this book now.
I've always been aware of (and annoyed by) the sexism and the racism and the capital punishment. But somehow for me, the strength of the story outweighed the (ahem) uneducated aspects. Alas, not so this time around.
This book is told in two threads. The primary thread follows Ish, an academic and intellectual, who finds himself amongst the last survivors of a great pandemic. The secondary thread follows the earth itself and the changes that play out following the loss of humanity (to a significant extent).
The secondary thread is, in my opinion, the most interesting one. The environmental, geographic, and biological changes are fascinating. The insight into what we would now call PTSD and survivor's guilt makes for compelling reading.
The primary thread is underpinned by a white supremacist, heteronormative, misogynistic thread. The storytelling is masterful and the (white male) characters are well fleshed out and interesting. The female lead, Em, is a black woman. She's also quite a good character and, while Ish and Em's relationship would have been seen as shocking and progressive at the time of publication, it's sort of implied that she's some sort of exception to blackness rather than simply because she's a good person.
Also, the descent into hunter-gatherer society over the course of the book just seems so avoidable and unnecessary. Why don't they try harder to retain knowledge and instil it in the next generations?
There's a lot to love about this book – and unfortunately, a lot to hate too.
Maybe revisiting old favourites isn't always a brilliant plan.
This wasn't at all what I expected. A post virus world where nearly everyone is wiped out. Not enough people to form an army (looking at you Swan Song!) but barely enough for humanity to survive at all. It's quite a cosy catastrophe really - I kept expecting the ravening motorcycle gangs etc but nothing like that ever happens. Because there are just not enough survivors.
It's also an environmental book before that was a thing. Lots of sections about world changing, animals breeding and dying as the effect of man wanes. (the section about the rats gave me the habdabs!). Ish is an introverted academic and often thinks deeply about things and what the future holds. I liked it a lot but it is a slow contemplative book - don't expect the motorbike gangs - they aren't here.
Belongs to Publisher Series
Heyne Science Fiction & Fantasy (3071/3072)
Science Fiction Book Club (3676)
SF Masterworks (12)
Is contained in
The Day After Doomsday; Earth Abides; I Am Legend; On The Beach; Alas, Babylon; Lucifer's Hammer (Leather Bound)(5 Vol Set) by Easton Press
Has as a reference guide/companion
An instant classic upon its original publication in 1949 and winner of the first International Fantasy Award, Earth Abides ranks with On the Beach and Riddley Walker as one of our most provocative and finely wrought post-apocalyptic works of literature. Its impact is still fresh, its lessons timeless. When a plague of unprecedented virulence sweeps the globe, the human race is all but wiped out. In the aftermath, as the great machine of civilization slowly, inexorably, breaks down, only a few shattered survivors remain to struggle against the slide into barbarism . . . or extinction. This is the story of one such survivor, Isherwood "Ish" Williams, an intellectual loner who embraces the grim duty of bearing witness to what may be humanity's final days. But then he finds Em, a wise and courageous woman who coaxes his stunned heart back to life and teaches him to hope again. Together, they will face unimaginable challenges as they sow the seeds of a new beginning. "One of the finest of all post-holocaust novels." -- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.52Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1900-1944
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