Earth Abides: The 60th Anniversary Edition
by George R. Stewart
Narrated by: Jonathan Davis, Connie Willis
Publisher: Audible Studios
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: 4.25 of 5.0
A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he'd either dreaded or hoped for.
NOTE: This 60th anniversary edition of Earth Abides includes a special introduction written and read by Hugo Award-winning writer Connie Willis.
©1949, renewed 1976 by George R. Stewart; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
Ish is a graduate student in the 1940s living alone in the Californian mountains. He is bitten by a rattlesnake and, while struggling through venom fever, survives the virus that kills the majority of people in the country. Ish travels to a nearby town and wonders where everyone has gone until he finds a newspaper that describes the crisis.
Ish goes to his parents’ home but finds no one alive in the community. He travels across country to observe and look for survivors. He makes it to New York finding only a handful of people, but no one to stay with or join him. He returns to his parents’ home and after a time he discovers a woman living across town. Em is a calm, positive and easy going nurturer to balance out the passive, worrying nature of Ish. A few more strangers wander in and slowly a community develops.
Throughout his journey and regrouping Ish relishes his role as an observer and his internal contemplation gives the reader plenty to ponder. He theorizes how the loss of humans will impact animals, from domestic pets and farm animals who are not prepared to forge for themselves to wild animals who will find little hindrance to their expansion where only the strong and resourceful will survive. He also anticipates how natural forces such as fires, vegetation, and weather will take over the roads and structures of men.
Ish is troubled as the children in the community grow without the rules that helped maintain civilization but have little meaning in their small group. He worries the group will eventually run out of supplies to scavenge yet there is no motivation to learn how to grow crops or rebuild. He has hope in one bright son, Joey, who is quick and eager to read and learn. But Joey is little and frail and may have trouble becoming a leader in a clan of scavengers and hunters. There is no formal religion but a form of superstition develops around Ish and the ever present hammer that he picked up the first days and, over the years, becomes a symbol of authority and power. As he ages, the young people perceive Ish as an “old American”, a type or creator from the past.
This is a remarkable piece of work though different than what I expected. It was written in 1949 so it deals with a culture that was not as technologically dependent as we are today. Many apocalyptic books deal with violence, danger and struggles of man in current times with the loss that might be more extreme than the society of 1949. This book is much more contemplative with an emphasis on observance, expectation and philosophy rather than the day to day struggles of survival, although that is covered too.
I was engaged and intrigued by the fascinating story that made me think and touched emotions. But I felt a sadness at the lack of faith and hope. The message I got in the end was that man has no real purpose other than survival, then death...returning as dust to the abiding earth.
Audio Notes: The narration by Jonathan Davis was steady and suited to the contemplative nature of the work. Davis manages to infuse emotions and interest into parts that might otherwise be a bit dry. Connie Willis sets a good perspective with the introduction. I found the story interesting and the audio made it an easier ‘read’ for me to enjoy.
I had never read this Sci Fi Classic and selected it recently to add to my Audible library.