Book Reviews

Earth Abides – by George R. Stewart

757009From the series of post-apocalyptic novels like Emergence, Survivors and The Stand, comes a 1949 classic – Earth Abides.
Different but still the same, the main difference in the disease outbreak survirvor comes in his easy detachment through which he looks at the world. He is a solitary being, used to observing events, not prone to strong passions.
The book follows the life of Ish, a geology student who was bitten by a snake when a deadly plague ran free among humans.
As described in the Stand, there are two stages to any plague –

  • when the plague kills 99% of the population
  • when the survivors start killing each other or they die of common causes like an untreated cold, broken feet and suicides caused by depression.

I thought that the hero of the story was a bit aloof, not quite affected by the disaster surrounding him and his desire to go on a road trip to find other people seemed true to his character – preferring to be on the move rather than get affixed to any group.

When the 11 year old girl in Emergence figured out that the best way to survive is to make a farm with fresh produce and go back to agriculture, she was only 3 months in the new world. It took Ish almost a year and a new wife to try to make a garden which he describes in a comedic way as not very successful and often attacked by deer, insects, crows, rabbits and other beings with a desire for his salad.

The story goes quickly over the next 20 years post-epidemic, each year marking a new event – the ariving of a new child, more people, more children, a few deaths, more children, a marriage and grandchildren.

Only in the 22nd year it occurs to him that they are not improving, they are scavangers still and not producers. They cannot build the new world. They are under-educated and more tribe like than he would like to admit. Again, compared to Emergence.. it took him way to long to get to this conclusion.


But looking back at the time it was written, it was a very good effort. I loved the way he looked at causes and effects, how he saw the tidal rise of rats followed by cannibalism and then the near-extinction of a species. He makes this point again with the rise of the population of the mountain lions, locusts and cattle.

Like them, man has over-bred and the nature has found a way to create population control – a new plague, a disease to keep the species number under control. After each increase, there will be an equivalent decrease and if the number drops under a critical point, the species is doomed.

I liked that he looked at all things (much like Discovery channel have done in their documentaries) and even the common head lice have a space in this wonderful book. Deprived of their main source of food, an entire species of lice (head and body) disappear.

They would pay the penalty which in the history of the world, he knew, had always been inflicted upon organisms which specialized too highly.

He looks at his children and only Joey, the one that liked to read looks promising enough to carry the fate of the world. What a burden to put on his 9 year old shoulders! If you ask me, he waited too long. Instead of breeding every year and scavenging, they could have been reading books and working together to get the lights working, the water flowing, the town active again. They do it in The Stand and they do it in Planet of the Apes..

But it’s just me! The book is good and though it has some poignant racism here and there, we need to remember this was written before the time of liberation and civil freedoms.

A must read (4/5)

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