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January 26, 2008

Earth Abides - George R Stewart

Earth Abides, by George R Stewart, is the story of one man, Isherwood Williams, who survived a viral apocalypse that wiped out most of mankind. Except it's not just the story of Ish, it's the story of a tribe that forms around him.

It took me a while to get into the book. The character seemed cold and distant, scientific and analysing. I wanted to know why he didn't panic more, fear more. And yet the story ends with intense emotion, Ish being a character that I deeply cared about, and the journey that Ish takes to get there is wonderful.

In many ways it's a great complemetary novel to Alas, Babylon, which tells the story of a year after an nuclear war, as opposed to a lifetime after a disaster. It's interesting to see how the focus can shift when the time length of the novel is elongated. Also in Earth Abides, there are fewer survivors in a larger city, which affects the populations survival methods quite drastically. There's a single sentence that mentions how (in later years) everyone has a tin opener, which is a lovely restrained way of making the reader realise how the scavenging becomes a normal way of life.

The story left me with hope, but also feeling a strange flavour of depression: that questioning feeling, the wondering of what is this all for. Jobs, houses, money, cars. The world. Life. It's a book that has set me off thinking deeply, and feeling deeply.

There are so many questions dealt with in the novel, and maybe they are not original, or even mind blowing on their own, but they accumulate throughtout the story, build and build, until by the end I was left longing for a simpler life.

Truly brilliant. Stay with it through the detached start of the story, it's part of the masterplan, and you will be rewarded.

3 Comments

A new apocalypse book! I shall check it out when I finish the huge pile in my room. Thanks for the opinions!

Oh, I just love this book! It's beautiful and lyrical and though I don't like using this word, it's just lovely in places. There's an almost-biblical quality to it in places, particularly Ish's disaffected interaction with the others, and the way things turn out with the "Child of Promise." A lot of images were just haunting and stayed with me for years after I read it - the empty cities, the dogs still guarding their heards of cattle and sheep. I loved the almost-glacial progression of the story, which made it almost hypnotic to me. A wonderful book, strongly, strongly reccomended.

One of my all time favorite books and one of the few that I read over every few years. The formation and growth of The Tribe sinks powerful emotional hooks into you, even at times when things seem detached and analytical, you can not help but empathize with Ish and The Tribe. There are so many elements to him that we find within ourselves. One of the greatest novels of all time.