Scott's Reviews > Earth Abides

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favourites, science-fiction

Bands of cannibal raiders. Hordes of flesh-starved zombies. Radioactive wastelands stalked by vicious mutants.

If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction you've encountered all these scenarios, often blended together. You're familiar with the best ways to dispatch the walking dead, why you should keep away from isolated farmhouses with locked cellars and what lies outside the vault/silo. What you most likely haven't encountered is an end-of-the-world vision like the one George R. Stewart spins in Earth Abides - a zombie-less, nuke-less, cannibal-less world that is all the more compelling in its quiet realism.

Earth Abides is a gentler, slower story of the end of civilization than most of its peers. The story begins with a virus that wipes out most of humanity in the late 1940s, leaving only a tiny percentage of the population alive. You've seen this setup before (Stephen King's The Stand was inspired by this book), but where Earth Abides goes from here is both fascinating and original.

The remaining people clump together where they can, and Isherwood Williams - who survives the plague somehow due his being bitten by a rattlesnake when the disease strikes - joins a group in a now empty San Francisco. There are no rocket scientists, no survivalists, no surgeons in this group. They are ordinary people, with ordinary skills and they don't form a conquering army or create a post-civilisation Dystopia. Hell, they don't even try to restart civilisation, preferring instead to settle into the debris left behind, using tapwater and electricity until the utilities finally fail, eating the near limitless supplies of canned food left in untouched supermarkets and generally avoiding the reality of their situation. In short, they behave as many ordinary people would in such a situation.

What eventuates is a slow reprimitivising of human society as knowledge is lost, superstitions reappear and old, hunter-gatherer patterns of life begin to re-emerge. Isherwood, a man of science and reason, rails against this slow slide away from modernity and does his best to both limit the loss of knowledge and educate the children of his community. His desperate struggle against the inertia of his de-skilled community makes for gripping reading.

Earth Abides is a masterful work of post-apocalyptic fiction, and it really resonated with me. Where other novels are fuelled by Walking Dead style battles over resources, or mimic The Stand's good-vs-evil paradigm Earth Abides focuses on ordinary people surviving but failing to maintain modern civilisation in the aftermath of societal collapse. In the post-fact era of 2016, where the entirety of human knowledge is a swipe away, yet is usually completely ignored in favour of leisure, emotion and unfounded opinion Stewart's depiction of post-disaster decline feels ever more prescient.

In my opinion Earth Abides is a standout champion of its genre, as gripping and memorable as the best of its ilk. Stewart's unique take and striking ending have stuck in my mind longer than a dozen of his book's mutant-and-dystopia competitors.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 18, 2014 – Shelved
December 5, 2014 – Shelved as: favourites
September 9, 2015 – Shelved as: science-fiction

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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Denny Great review of a beautifully written book that I think has never been out of print since first written.


message 2: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo Thanks for putting this on my radar Scott, this sounds far more plausible than much of the dystopian fiction out there and worth a read because of that.


message 3: by Skye (new)

Skye Kilaen This sounds terrifying and wonderful.


Scott Denny wrote: "Great review of a beautifully written book that I think has never been out of print since first written." Thanks Denny! I can see why it's constantly in print- it's a great novel.


Scott Jo wrote: "Thanks for putting this on my radar Scott, this sounds far more plausible than much of the dystopian fiction out there and worth a read because of that." No worries Jo! It's a pretty convincing scenario and well worth your time I reckon.


Scott Skye wrote: "This sounds terrifying and wonderful." It's both :) It's a genuine favorite of mine.


John of Canada Terrific review Scott.I read the book about twenty years ago and a reread might be in order.


Scott John of Canada wrote: "Terrific review Scott.I read the book about twenty years ago and a reread might be in order." Thanks John! I reckon it's worth a reread. Its a great story and it's well told.


message 9: by Ray (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ray good review of a great book, though the first paragraph threw me for a while


Scott Ray wrote: "good review of a great book, though the first paragraph threw me for a while" Thanks Ray! Yeah, I can see how the first para could throw someone :)


message 11: by Jess (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jess Incredible review. You should've written the jacket summary! Totally sold me on reading this book. Thank you :)


Scott Jess wrote: "Incredible review. You should've written the jacket summary! Totally sold me on reading this book. Thank you :)" Thanks Jess! Apologies for my slow reply- my notifications weren't working. I hope you enjoy the book. It's a real classic and holds a special place in my reader's heart.


message 13: by Sophia (new) - added it

Sophia Dunn You’ve hooked me! Thank you for this review.


Scott Sophia wrote: "You’ve hooked me! Thank you for this review." No worries, Sophia! Thanks for the comment :) I hope you like the book. It's a landmark of SF in my opinion.


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