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Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Published: 1949
Review Posted: 6/16/2007
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart

Book Review by Benjamin Boulden

Have you read this book?

Earth Abides is lauded as one of the most noteworthy post-apocalyptic novels ever written. It was originally published in 1949, and its author, George R. Stewart, was better known as a writer of nonfiction than fiction, but Earth Abides is easily his most recognized work. It has been in print off and on for nearly fifty.

Isherwood (Ish) Williams is a graduate student working on his thesis at The Ecology of the Black Creek Area in the wilds of northern California when a virulent virus destroys humanity. When Ish returns to civilization he finds emptiness. There are no bodies littering the streets, no signs of struggle, nothing except the surreal stillness of empty towns, streets, businesses and homes. Everything is gone, and Ish doesn't understand what has happened until he reads the bleak, desperate headlines of the last issue of a newspaper in an abandoned magazine shop.

Earth Abides is the story of how Isherwood Williams survives the death of humanity, and with it, modern civilization. He is man of intellect. He mourns the passing of knowledge and can visualize the future not as an abstract idea, but as it very well may be. Ish chronicles the remnants of humanity as they form themselves into small tribes. They live off what the old ones left. They open cans for food; they raid sporting goods stores for firearms and ammunition, and miraculously they survive and grow. Ish begins his journey as an observer, but he quickly finds himself a participant of this new world.

Earth Abides is one of the most troublesome novels I have read. It is troublesome for two reasons. The first is the writing style, narrative, and plotting drove me batty. In a matter of pages it would cycle from being an immensely powerful and energetic story to a dull, over analytical and tiresome diatribe. One of the reasons for this wild and frequent swing was the frequent, every few pages, interruption of the narrative with an omniscient perspective spoiler: It was italicized and, in a very technical and academic style, told exactly what was going to happen in the next few pages. It interrupted the flow of the prose, and generally annoyed the hell out of me.

Secondly, it was a very unflattering look at just how terrible it would be to survive the death of civilization. There is nothing romantic, or eerie, or wholesome, or evil, as in many other popular post-apocalyptic stories but rather it showed the difficultly, the loneliness and down right miserable aspects of surviving past modern civilization. It read very realistic, the way it would be if our neighbors suddenly died and one or two of us were left holding the bag: suicides, drugs, alcohol and insanity all the flavor of the day.

This aspect of the novel was its strength. Mr. Stewart's visions of desperation were apt and vivid. One example of this is when Ish returns to an empty world, and drives through town after town honking his horn, and then waiting for the answering honk that never comes. Ish's loneliness and desperation is palpable, and completely understood by the reader.

Earth Abides was a roller coaster ride. I enjoyed it yes, but I also disliked it. It is a novel filled with ideas, but its impact is lessened with the over-evaluation of those ideas. If you enjoy a good post-apocalyptic novel Earth Abides may be the answer, but tread warily, because some of its impact and importance has worn away with the passing years since its first publication.
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Comments on Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart
Posted by David Keener on 10/28/2012
A true classic, and justifiably still in print after more than 60 years. It's a story about survival after an apocalypse, but it's also about the total loss of advanced civilization...there aren't enough survivors with enough skills to rebuild from what's left. Poignant on many levels.
Posted by Jez Lewis on 8/7/2011
Not really SiFi. Fiction and Apocalyptic yes, but after a very few chapters to grab your interest, author drifts off into non-related daydreaming, repetition and his personal philosophy on various character's lives. I'm betting that he was a self proclaimed authority and certainly a pipe smoker.
No science, little innovation, but it goes on and on. You keep hoping it will get better, but unfortunately, it doesn't. How it won any award remains a mystery to me. If you are looking for an exciting science fiction work, sorry, but this isn't it.
Posted by Greg C on 3/10/2011
I don't know what you people are talking about.
Other than some really interresting facts thrown out here and there, Earth Abides is one of the very best reads I've had. I've read 1000's of novels, some Fantastic, some miserable and many in between. My fav' genre is end of the world stuff. This book rocks.Period.