Earth Abides is timelier than ever, evenconsidering that it was written in 1949. This chilling, hopeful, disturbing and emotional futuristic story of survival rings even more true today than ever before, when the threat of a virus that could wipe out most of humanity seems a part of our daily terror-filled lives.
An instant classic when it was originally published, George R. Stewart’s novel of one man’s story of survival after an apocalyptic plague wipes out most of humanity gets under your skin and stays with you long after you finish the book, haunting you with powerful images. The story centers on Ish Williams, a loner who finds himself very much alone after a plague has killed just about everyone, and those who remain are not always good company. Ish struggles with his solitary existence, intellectualizing what has happened even as he despairs on some deep emotional level.
But the will to survive and regroup is strong, and Ish finds others to create a new life with - namely a woman named Em, who soon gives birth and creates the first children of the new Adam and Eve of sorts. The story follows the struggles, hopes, despairs and dreams of Ish and Em and others who come to build the world anew as they face challenge after challenge.
The book is written from Ish’s viewpoint, and the author masterfully gets us inside his head, and his heart, as he deals with the complete devastation around him. The characters are unforgettable as is the imagery Stewart offers, haunting us with our own visions of death and anguish. As Ish becomes a true Survivor, we constantly wonder if we, too, could have the strength and courage necessary to start again, or if we would become one of the many driven mad by what they have seen in these end times.
Earth Abides teaches lessons but with subtlety, because it is the story that is the lesson. It’s a story you won’t soon forget, even as threats of bird flu make the evening news headlines.