Earth Abides by George R Stewart tells the story of one solitary man who survives a global, but short-lived plague by pure chance. The novel chronicles his life from that point until his eventual death and is filled with both adventure and introspection. At times the main character, Ish, is hard to like simply because his reactions are so human it’s disturbing. He’s no hero, and in the post-Heinlein flood of heroic SciFi novels you could be forgiven for calling this novel slow.
Earth Abides reaches the lofty height of number 3 despite the fact that it DID NOT win either the Hugo or the Nebula Award, in fact it wasn’t even nominated. Instead I award it this honor because it is the most brilliant example of the post-holocaust theme I’ve ever encountered, and that theme is a huge one in the Speculative Fiction genre. This is THE BAR, and no one has raised it in 50 years.
Summary: Superbly poetic and graceful, Earth Abides is undeniably honest, realistic and human it’s long, diary-like journey from start to finish. I could easily see myself as Ish… which is both a revelation and scary thought at the same time.
This novel has been read by just about everyone I know from my geeky friends and their non-geeky spouses to my mother, brothers, wife and father (who rarely reads novels). The praise is nearly unanimously, overwhelmingly, positive and it’s a book that we merely need to mention the title to have everyone in the room nodding with nostalgia.
My favorite passages were centered around watching the Earth adapt to fill in the void that Man leaves behind. The rest of Earth’s life rebounds in very plausible ways. Reading the casual observations by the main characters, and the truth within aptly illustrated just how much of an impact we’ve had on our planet and it’s ecosystem. Sure it’s “just” fiction, but keep in mind this was written and published long before any sort of environmental movement started. Who Knows? It may even be more powerful today than the day it was written.
A book this unforgettable is one you simply cannot miss, and since it’s never been out of print in over 50 years it shouldn’t be too hard to find either.
If I could, I’d give it a 6 on my scale of 1 to 5, but that’s just silly.