Earth Abides

Earth Abides

by George R. Stewart


$15.71 $17.00 Save 8% Current price is $15.71, Original price is $17. You Save 8%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, July 24


An instant classic upon its original publication in 1949 and winner of the first International Fantasy Award, Earth Abides ranks with On the Beach and Riddley Walker as one of our most provocative and finely wrought post-apocalyptic works of literature. Its impact is still fresh, its lessons timeless. 

With an introduction by Connie Willis

When a plague of unprecedented virulence sweeps the globe, the human race is all but wiped out. In the aftermath, as the great machine of civilization slowly and inexorably breaks down, only a few shattered survivors remain to struggle against the slide into barbarism . . . or extinction.

This is the story of one such survivor, Isherwood “Ish” Williams, an intellectual loner who embraces the grim duty of bearing witness to what may be humanity’s final days. But then he finds Em, a wise and courageous woman who coaxes his stunned heart back to life and teaches him to hope again. Together, they will face unimaginable challenges as they sow the seeds of a new beginning.

Praise for Earth Abides

“One of the finest of all post-holocaust novels.”The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

“The book has more thought-challenging elements than a shelf full of ordinary novels.”The Christian Science Monitor

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345487131
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 89,733
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.78(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Earth Abides

By George R. Stewart

Random House

George R. Stewart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0345487133

Chapter One

Chapter 1.

. . . and the government of the United States of America is herewith suspended, except in the District of Columbia, as of the emergency. Federal officers, including those of the Armed Forces, will put themselves under the orders of the governors of the various states or of any other functioning local authority. By order of the Acting President. God save the people of the United States. . . .

Here is an announcement which has just come in from the Bay Area Emergency Council. The West Oakland Hospitalization Center has been abandoned. Its functions, including burials at sea, are now concentrated at the Berkeley Center. That is all. . . .

Keep tuned to this station, which is the only one now in operation in northern California. We shall inform you of developments, as long as it is possible.

Just as he pulled himself up to the rock ledge, he heard a sudden rattle, and felt a prick of fangs. Automatically he jerked back his right hand; turning his head, he saw the snake, coiled and menacing. It was not a large one, he noted, even at the moment when he raised his hand to his lips and sucked hard at the base of the index finger, where a little drop of blood was oozing out.

"Don't waste time by killing the snake!" he remembered.

He slid down from the ledge, still sucking. At the bottom hesaw the hammer lying where he had left it. For a moment he thought he would go on and leave it there. That seemed like panic; so he stooped and picked it up with his left hand, and went on down the rough trail.

He did not hurry. He knew better than that. Hurry only speeded up a man's heart, and made the venom circulate faster. Yet his heart was pounding so rapidly from excitement or fear that hurrying or not hurrying, it seemed, should make no difference. After he had come to some trees, he took his handkerchief and bound it around his right wrist. With the aid of a twig he twisted the handkerchief into a crude tourniquet.

Walking on, he felt himself recovering from his panic. His heart was slowing down. As he considered the situation, he was not greatly afraid. He was a young man, vigorous and healthy. Such a bite would hardly be fatal, even though he was by himself and without good means of treatment.

Now he saw the cabin ahead of him. His hand felt stiff. Just before he got to the cabin, he stopped and loosened the tourniquet, as he had read should be done, and let the blood circulate in the hand. Then he tightened it again.

He pushed open the door, dropping the hammer on the floor as he did so. It fell, handle up, on its heavy head, rocked back and forth for a moment, and then stood still, handle in the air.

He looked into the drawer of the table, and found his snake-bite outfit, which he should have been carrying with him on this day of all days. Quickly he followed the directions, slicing with the razor-blade a neat little crisscross over the mark of the fangs, applying the rubber suction-pump. Then he lay on his bunk watching the rubber bulb slowly expand, as it sucked the blood out.

He felt no premonitions of death. Rather, the whole matter still seemed to him just a nuisance. People had kept telling him that he should not go into the mountains by himself--"Without even a dog!" they used to add. He had always laughed at them. A dog was constant trouble, getting mixed up with porcupines or skunks, and he was not fond of dogs anyway. Now all those people would say, "Well, we warned you!"

Tossing about half-feverishly, he now seemed to himself to be composing a defense. "Perhaps," he would say, "the very danger in it appealed to me!" (That had a touch of the heroic in it.) More truthfully he might say, "I like to be alone at times, really need to escape from all the problems of dealing with people." His best defense, however, would merely be that, at least during the last year, he had gone into the mountains alone as a matter of business. As a graduate student, he was working on a thesis: The Ecology of the Black Creek Area. He had to investigate the relationships, past and present, of men and plants and animals in this region. Obviously he could not wait until just the right companion came along. In any case, he could never see that there was any great danger. Although nobody lived within five miles of his cabin, during the summer hardly a day passed without some fisherman coming by, driving his car up the rocky road or merely following the stream.

Yet, come to think of it, when had he last seen a fisherman? Not in the past week certainly. He could not actually remember whether he had seen one in the two weeks that he had been living by himself in the cabin. There was that car he had heard go by after dark one night. He thought it strange that any car would be going up that road in the darkness, and could hardly see the necessity, for ordinarily people camped down below for the night and went up in the morning. But perhaps, he thought, they wanted to get up to their favorite stream, to go out for some early fishing.

No, actually, he had not exchanged a word with anyone in the last two weeks, and he could not even remember that he had seen anyone.

A throb of pain brought him back to what was happening at the moment. The hand was beginning to swell. He loosened the tourniquet to let the blood circulate again.

Yes, as he returned to his thoughts, he realized that he was out of touch with things entirely. He had no radio. Therefore, as far as he was concerned, there might have been a crash of the stock market or another Pearl Harbor; something like that would account for so few fishermen going by. At any rate, there was very little chance apparently that anyone would come to help him. He would have to work his own way out.

Yet even that prospect did not alarm him. At worst, he considered, he would lie up in his cabin, with plenty of food and water for two or three days, until the swelling in his hand subsided and he could drive his car down to Johnson's, the first ranch.

The afternoon wore on. He did not feel like eating anything when it came toward suppertime, but he made himself a pot of coffee on the gasoline stove, and drank several cups. He was in much pain, but in spite of the pain and in spite of the coffee he became sleepy. . . .

He woke suddenly in half-light, and realized that someone had pushed open the cabin door. He felt a sudden relief to know that he had help. Two men in city clothes were standing there, very decent-looking men, although staring around strangely, as if in fright. "I'm sick!" he said from his bunk, and suddenly he saw the fright on their faces change to sheer panic. They turned suddenly without even shutting the door, and ran. A moment later came the sound of a starting motor. It faded out as the car went up the road.

Appalled now for the first time, he raised himself from the bunk, and looked through the window. The car had already vanished around the curve. He could not understand. Why had they suddenly disappeared in panic, without even offering to help?

He got up. The light was in the east; so he had slept until dawn the next morning. His right hand was swollen and acutely painful. Otherwise he did not feel very ill. He warmed up the pot of coffee, made himself some oatmeal, and lay down in his bunk again, in the hope that after a while he would feel well enough to risk driving down to Johnson's--that is, of course, if no one came along in the meantime who would stop and help him and not like those others, who must be crazy, run away at the sight of a sick man.

Soon, however, he felt much worse, and realized that he must be suffering some kind of relapse. By the middle of the afternoon he was really frightened. Lying in his bunk, he composed a note, thinking that he should leave a record of what had happened. It would not be very long of course before someone would find him; his parents would certainly telephone Johnson's in a few days now, if they did not hear anything. Scrawling with his left hand, he managed to get the words onto paper. He signed merely Ish. It was too much work to write out his full name of Isherwood Williams, and everybody knew him by his nickname.

At noon, feeling himself like the shipwrecked mariner who from his raft sees the steamer cross along the horizon, he heard the sound of cars, two of them, coming up the steep road. They approached, and then went on, without stopping. He called to them, but by now he was weak, and his voice, he was sure, did not carry the hundred yards to the turnoff where the cars were passing.

Even so, before dusk he struggled to his feet, and lighted the kerosene lamp. He did not want to be left in the dark.

Apprehensively, he bent his lanky body down to peer into the little mirror, set too low for him because of the sloping roof of the cabin. His long face was thin always, and scarcely seemed thinner now, but a reddish flush showed through the suntan of his cheeks. His big blue eyes were bloodshot, and stared back at him wildly with the glare of fever. His light brown hair, unruly always, now stuck out in all directions, completing the mirror-portrait of a very sick young man.

He got back into his bunk, feeling no great sense of fear, although now he more than half expected that he was dying. Soon a violent chill struck him; from that he passed into a fever. The lamp burned steadily on the table, and he could see around the cabin. The hammer which he had dropped on the floor still stood there, handle pointed stiffly upwards, precariously balanced. Being right before his eyes, the hammer occupied an unduly large part of his consciousness--he thought about it a little disorderedly, as if he were making his will, an old-fashioned will in which he described the chattels he was leaving. "One hammer, called a single-jack, weight of head four pounds, handle one foot long, slightly cracked, injured by exposure to weather, head of hammer somewhat rusted, still serviceable." He had been extraordinarily pleased when he had found the hammer, appreciating that actual link with the past. It had been used by some miner in the old days when rock-drills were driven home in a low tunnel with a man swinging a hammer in one hand; four pounds was about the weight a man could handle in that way, and it was called a single-jack because it was managed one-handedly. He thought, feverishly, that he might even include a picture of the hammer as an illustration in his thesis.

Most of those hours of darkness he passed in little better than a nightmare, racked by coughing, choking frequently, shaking with the chill, and then burning with the fever. A pink measles-like rash broke out on him.

At daybreak he felt himself again sinking into a deep sleep.

"It has never happened!" cannot be construed to mean, "It can never happen!"--as well say, "Because I have never broken my leg, my leg is unbreakable," or "Because I've never died, I am immortal." One thinks first of some great plague of insects--locusts or grasshoppers--when the species suddenly increases out of all proportion, and then just as dramatically sinks to a tiny fraction of what it has recently been. The higher animals also fluctuate. The lemmings work upon their cycle. The snowshoe-rabbits build up through a period of years until they reach a climax when they seem to be everywhere; then with dramatic suddenness their pestilence falls upon them. Some zoologists have even suggested a biological law: that the number of individuals in a species never remains constant, but always rises and falls--the higher the animal and the slower its breeding-rate, the longer its period of fluctuation.

During most of the nineteenth century the African buffalo was a common creature on the veldt. It was a powerful beast with few natural enemies, and if its census could have been taken by decades, it would have proved to be increasing steadily. Then toward the century's end it reached its climax, and was suddenly struck by a plague of rinderpest. Afterward the buffalo was almost a curiosity, extinct in many parts of its range. In the last fifty years it has again slowly built up its numbers.

As for man, there is little reason to think that he can in the long run escape the fate of other creatures, and if there is a biological law of flux and reflux, his situation is now a highly perilous one. During ten thousand years his numbers have been on the upgrade in spite of wars, pestilences, and famines. This increase in population has become more and more rapid. Biologically, man has for too long a time been rolling an uninterrupted run of sevens.

When he awoke in the middle of the morning, he felt a sudden sense of pleasure. He had feared he would be sicker than ever, but he felt much better. He was not choking any more, and also his hand felt cooler. The swelling had gone down. On the preceding day he had felt so bad, from whatever other trouble had struck him, that he had had no time to think about the hand. Now both the hand and the illness seemed better, as if the one had stopped the other and they had both receded. By noon he was feeling clearheaded and not even particularly weak.

He ate some lunch, and decided that he could make it down to Johnson's. He did not bother to pack up everything. He took his precious notebooks and his camera. At the last moment also, as if by some kind of compulsion, he picked up the hammer, carried it to the car, and threw it in on the floor by his feet. He drove off slowly, using his right hand as little as possible.

At Johnson's everything was quiet. He let the car roll to a stop at the gasoline pump. Nobody came out to fill his tank, but that was not peculiar, because the Johnson pump, like so many in the mountains, was tended on a haphazard basis. He blew the horn, and waited again. After another minute he got out, and went up the rickety steps which led to the room serving as an informal store where campers could pick up cigarettes and canned goods. He went in, but there was nobody there.

Excerpted from Earth Abides by George R. Stewart Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Earth Abides 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 113 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like a previous reviewer, I first read Earth Abides while high school. I am now 64 and have reread the book at least 10 times. Nothing in the genre has come close to it for the detailed and fascinating account of the course mankind takes after almost being destroyed. Each time i read it, I find something new and feel the same excitement and anticipation that I felt when i was 16.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This tale of diaster challenged rather that scared me ... I stayed awake at night wondering what choices I would make in the remaking of a new civilzation. Not only is there the problem of survival and emotional recovery, but also of ethics, morality, and predjudice. I reccomended it to my bookclub and to my teen-age grandsons. I loved "Clan of the Cavebear"but this tale is relevent.
poetbear More than 1 year ago
Of all the post-apocalyptic novels I have read, this is unquestionably the most realistic, thought-provoking, and engrossing. I read it several years ago, on the recommendation of a Sociology professor, who had used it as an entertaining focus for discussion in his classes, but when I bought the new edition this year as a gift for a relative, I just had to read it again. I couldn't put it down. The story is compelling, the description masterful, the main character someone you come to care about and admire, and the premise and plot not far-fetched or melodramatic. It's a story you can imagine yourself in, and its humanity places it above most in the genre. It would be a terrific book group read, and excellent as a supplementary or focus reading for high school or college classes.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Unlike all contagious diseases before this one that traveled over time, this contagion sprung up globally at about the same time. For practical purposes the human race is extinct. Isherwood ¿Ish¿ Williams survives the pandemic, but wonders if he is the last man on earth. --- In what was once called California, Ish eventually meets up with a small rag tag band of shocked survivors. As his cohorts just try to live, they turn to Ish, more an introspective loner, as the leader. Reluctantly he takes charge not knowing what the future will bring or even if there is even going to be a future. --- This is a reprint of a highly regarded post apocalypse tale first released in 1949. The story is actually told over a period of years broken into five major parts of which the above only briefly touches on the first two sections. Ish is a terrific protagonist whose belief in survival changes over time as he observes his little colony mature. Thriller fans will enjoy this strong after the doomsday tale that in some ways shows its pre-information age initial publication, but remains a strong cautionary story. --- Harriet Klausner
Martin Hill More than 1 year ago
The book was published in 1949, which places it in completely different era from the descibed 1976 date listed. The disappointed reviewer missed the part where Em was described as African American which makes the novel somewhat more modern than would be expected. The story remains one of my favorites of all time even if it is from a 'simpler' time.
SavageBS More than 1 year ago
"Between the plan and the fulfillment lies always the hazard. Between the plan and the fulfillment stands always the frail barrier of a human life" - George R. Martin Isherwood "Ish" Williams is one of the last people on Earth! How will he survive, how can he go on? "Earth Abides" is a book that I have owned for quite awhile & a book that I have always planned to read next, but never did. Finally I read the book and I was not only thoroughly impressed, I was in awe of George R. Martin's ideas about how it would all end and how we could possibly go on. I'm amazed at the amount of the poor reviews for this book, I think most people are expecting more I Am Legend type material. This book is not that at all, there is some violence, not alot, there are no zombies, only people & animals. Many reviewers state that Ish should have done this, he shouldn't have done that, forgetting that this masterpiece was written in 1949. The book is so far ahead of it's time, it's baffling to me how George R. Martin came up with some of these things. Would it be much different it this novel was written today, well obviously yes. Martin's theory of how each animal will thrive before it's numbers level off really made me think. The everyday things that you never give a second thought, Martin brings them to the front and makes you think, what do we do now, how do we get past this? If you like to read post-apocalyptic novels, if you've read "The Road" and enjoyed it, read "Earth Abides" This is the road that no man finishes traveling. Men come and go, but Earth abides! Enjoy~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got this to see what inspired King to write The Stand. Its actually an interesting tale but it /is/ a period piece, the cultural differences are glaring in spots.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome book. Scary, but so possible. I read it in one day. I knew nothing of this author before, but he is great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was 15 or 16 yrs old. I am 45 today and this is still the best book I have ever read. Nothing will ever compare to this facsinating novel. Read it. It will stay with you forever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an early work of post-apocalyptic fiction based on a pandemic wiping out a large portion of humanity. The protagonist is a reclusive type, a young university student of some type, who spends long periods of time in his remote cabin. As the scene opens, he is bitten by a rattlesnake, and falls very ill, though he survives. He soon discovers, on re-entering town, that he survived an illness more than just snakebite, and finds everywhere he goes, including his parents' house, devoid of people. What is fascinating about this book is that it was first written in the 30s or so, before much technology was in place (just radios, though electricity and cars are also part of the plot), so it is a neat perspective on what it is like to survive as infrastructure slowly decays and the natural state of Earth takes over. The author deals with a wide variety of thought-provoking topics, such as plants, pests, pets, infrastructure, the role of laws and society, relationships, and even time itself. It is a good read, though it can be slow in a few places, the topics vary enough to keep you going and interested to see what will happen next.
momander More than 1 year ago
... and I've read a lot of them! The characters are well drawn and you can see how later authors have been influenced by this work. This world ends not in a fiery inferno or spasm of violence; it simply ends. The interesting part is what happens afterward, the next year, the next decade, the next half-century. Highly recommended!
1984Bruin More than 1 year ago
Isherwood Williams survives a snake bite only to find he may be the only one to survive a worldwide disaster. After a cross-country journy (including a stop at a very dissertated Wall Street...which 9/11 gave me a whole new appreciation for the discription Mr. Stewart gives) Ish returns to his home, Northern California. Slowly others are found and children are born, thus a "tribe" is formed. The drama of life is played out through the eyes of Ish and we (the readers) get to speculate as to what we would do if we were in their shoes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Daniel O¿Leary Grade 8 Age 13 I thought this book was written incredibly well. Though this is fiction, the author seems to almost be telling the tale from a personal experience. His writing style makes you want to come back and read the book again. The way Ish, the main character, explores the empty world, going from the woods to the city is fascinating. Ish moves from urban neighborhoods to the greatest American cities, seeing all the different ways they have changed. This book is very origional, and written in a style that does not constantly have action going on, but instead focuses on Ish¿s thoughts and experiences. Though the theme of this book is very sad, the overall story is interesting and captivating.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my all time favorite science fiction novel. The story, the characters, and the impact of this novel easily surpasses anything being written by today's crop of science fiction writers. Even the greats of the Golden Age of science fiction never equalled Earth Abides. Nor does Stephen King's 'The Stand' come even close to comparing to this novel. And yet...Earth Abides was written by someone whose name almost always elicits a puzzled 'Who?' In fact, many well-read science fiction fans have never even heard of George R. Stewart. Even so, Earth Abides is the most haunting tale of the end of the world that you will ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stewart's Earth Abides has long been considered a classic in the sci-fi genre and a classic apocalyptic novel (it even helped to inspire Stephen King's The Stand). And it is no wonder why. Stewart has a highly believable, excellently written story here. Though it does lose something in the the third part of the book, when Ish is an old man. One you should definately pick up.
salimbol on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Intelligent, intense and poignant (even if did pull me out of the narrative more than a few times with its 1948 attitudes to gender and race). Definitely worthy of being included in the SF Masterworks series.
davidbrake on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Buying and re-reading this after about 30 years reminds me that you can never go back to your childhood. This was one of the few books I remember really liking of the many I read as an early teen. I am afraid now that my enjoyment of the scope and the ambition of this post-apocalyptic classic has been spoiled when reading it with a mature eye. Not just the casual racism and sexism (though at least he was trying to fight the latter) but his intellectual snobbery and his wooden, apathetic characters. In fact as I read I realised it has all the appeal and limitations of another "big idea" book - Atlas Shrugged. That one at least I had the sense to be repelled by as well as fascinated by it even when I read it first...
ErlendSkjelten on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book chronicles the experiences of Isherwood Williams, who returns home from a research trip in the mountains to find that humanity has all but died out from a mysterious disease. Banding together with a few other survivors, he tries to survive in the ruins of civilization, while dreaming of one day rebuilding it.I quite enjoyed this book. While I was not overly fond of the main character, as I found him a bit too arrogant and inefficient, the story as a whole was quite interesting. I should admit that my ambivalence towards Ish might come from being hit a bit too close to home, though.I particularly enjoyed the little segments on what happened to the things Man left behind, the plants and animals and constructions. Especially in the first segment of the book, these observations on how the natural world would change without people there to keep it in the mould we've built for it, were much more fascinating than Ish himself. Possibly, the author thought so too, as the first part of the book is mostly Ish driving around to observe the effects of the calamity, rather than taking any active part in events. In the second segment, when Ish and some other survivors have banded together to form their little tribe, these little asides become rarer, but it doesn't matter much, as the formation of the new society becomes the interesting part. The books characters aren't really all that much to shout about, many of them can be described in a single word, and several of them never get any more characteristics beyond a name. At this point, the story is much more about the character of the emerging society than of its individual members. It is really only Ish and his wife who are more than background, yet it is the background that is interesting, the rites and customs that emerge in the little tribe, like the New Year ritual they develop. As the survivors age, the tribe becomes numerically dominated by their children, who never knew the old world, and who have original ways of seeing the past. The reverence they have for Ish's hammer, which has acted as a sort of safety blanket for him, was a touch I really liked.Overall, I wish we had seen more of the culture and mythology of the tribe, especially in the third part of the book, when Ish is old and dying as the last of the Americans, and the tribe consists entirely of people who have never known any life but the one they lead. Since Ish is the focus point, and at this point in the story, apparently senile, we get only fleeting glimpses. I would dearly have loved to see the story continue beyond where it ended, to have a look at the new world when the old was truly gone.Overall, this story is enjoyable chiefly for its plot, rather than its characters. The plot is very interesting, and while the characters might not be the most developed personalities, they do not detract from the enjoyment. It was well worth the read.
DaveMiles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An outstanding book, probably one of the best I've ever read. This one will be added to that core group of books I'll never, ever get rid off and will periodically return to read again. It's a thought-provoking story of the end of the world, written in 1949 but incredibly pertinent. It's a little dated when discussing social issues (women, coloured people) but other than that it stands the test of time extremely well.What I loved about it is how Stewart discusses the effects of time and the lack of human involvement upon the natural world. Other end-of-the-world stories I've read focus on what would happen to the people, but very little on the way the world itself would adjust to the absence of humanity. This aspect makes it an even more pertinent book to be read in the present day.Get it, read it, fall in love with it. A great book
JohnFair on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Okay, 99.9% of the world's population die of an unexplained plague so it's not what you'd normally call cosy, but a cosy catastrophe in this case is one that allows the catastrophe to have rather benign effects on the person suffering it, which this certainly does. Ish's exploration of his new world is effectively at one remove from the events that have happened - this is presented as a side effect of Ish's character.The presentation of the society that evolves out of Ish and the rest of the survivors is a delightful part of the book.
pauliharman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love the post-apolcalyptic genre; I grew up reading books like the Tripods trology and Day of the Triffids. Having recently been disappointed with _A Canticle for Leibowitz_ I wasn't looking forward to this classic SF story... but I'm glad I read it. Truly marvellous, and showing other books in the genre as mere wannabes. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Triffids, but _Earth Abides_ is the real deal.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don¿t think anyone would write a novel like this today. We¿re too action-oriented. We want drama, conflict and violence, something Earth Abides has very little of. It¿s an inward-thinking novel. The main character, Ish, does a lot of ruminating and philosophizing. Many of his opinions border on the non-politically correct and some may get offended at his intellectualism. What little action and conflict there is tends to be presented mildly, almost passively, as if the action has very little importance in the grand scheme of things, which I suppose it does. It also doesn¿t deal with the technical side of what happened; this is not Michael Crichton or Greg Bear. Global warming hysteria is absent as well.Ish truly is a researcher at heart. He has trouble making decisions, being assertive or believing in himself enough to turn desire to action. When toward the end of the novel he realizes he should have taken a more aggressive leadership role with the tribe, he regrets his passivity and in a burst of activity, tries to make up for lost time. But by then it¿s too late, attitudes have shifted completely in only one generation. Basically it shows man¿s base laziness. The younger generation has no desire to create at all; they want to play and continue to eat out of cans. Until by circumstance we¿re forced to do something difficult, we¿ll always take the easy way out. It reminded me of the fossil fuel situation; we know intellectually that the oil will run out some day, like the tribe knows the canned food will run out, but we and they only make half-hearted efforts to find alternatives. I particularly liked Ish¿s devious way of introducing old technology that will save the future generations a lot of hardship and misery. In just one more generation the toy-like bows and arrows have become serious grown-up affairs and so in this instance Ish had success.At first I expected a post-apocalyptic novel written in 1949 to come across as terribly dated, but it isn¿t. Once technology has become unusable, it doesn¿t matter how sophisticated it once was. 1949 or 2009 it makes no difference whether the defunct electrical grid once ran only radios or computers; once it¿s gone it ceases to matter. This makes the novel fairly timeless.Another thing that ceases to matter once it¿s gone is modern civilization as a whole. Particular organizational structure, rules and norms, habits and taboos ¿ none of this really matters to the survivors except as a point of reference and, occasionally, as a security blanket. The children and grandchildren born to the survivors have not been taught with the old society in mind and thus have no frame of reference for why we all thought it so important. Knowledge and intellectualism as concepts are axes the author grinds frequently by making Ish worry and fret about them a great deal. Ish is concerned that the tribe consists of normal, average, sturdy people instead of thinkers and creators. He worries that the intrinsic value of civilization will be lost. He puts high importance on the intellectual ability of individuals only to find out that like technology, some higher learning just doesn¿t matter once the context is gone. Without a society to run, what use are libraries and laws and arbitrary social mores?There is a new introduction for the audio version I listened to and it states that many people consider this to be the saddest novel they¿ve ever read. While I did find it subdued, I didn¿t find it overly sad. Ish himself at times is depressed, but only over his perceived importance of the culture he once knew. The post-calamity people aren¿t sad and don¿t mourn the loss of what they did not know. Instead they are living to suit themselves and doing a fairly good job of it. My overall impression was one of hope, not despair. The people are not portrayed at their worst, instead everyone was pretty reasonable and non-violent. It was surprising and I don¿t know if I really believe it c
timspalding on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm quite a fan of post-apocalyptic narratives, and I hardly ever abandon a book, but I abandoned this one. Reviews here and elsewhere describe it as slow and "philosophical." I have no problem with that, but the "philosophy" has to be interesting. Instead, Stewart serves up a slow-moving and often implausible plot, filled with two-dimensional characters and long digressions that read like the unresearched musings of a smart high school student. The main character, Ish, is apparently a doctoral student in anthropology. He thinks himself¿and is apparently thought of by Stewart¿as a deep thinker. He's mostly a boring one. I wanted to drown him. Some too have noted racism and especially sexism. Again, I don't mind. Lots of entertaining writers were both. But Stewart's opinions here aren't so much offensive as boring. As Ben Folds Five put it, "how could you leave me here so long with Uncle Walter?"It didn't help that I listened to the audiobook. If I were reading it on the page I might have started skipping every time the narrator launched into another boring digression on women, the ebb and flow of natural populations or the "weakest link" in any system. But audiobooks strap you to the text in ways both good and bad. After seven hours (half the book), I could stand it no more.Blech!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We need a long memory. This book gives us that reminder.
tahoegirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Ish is a little weird, and I don't know that I ever really liked him, but I did enjoy his perspective on the rebuilding of civilization / society.