Thursday, May 31, 2012

Earth Abides

I love audiobooks evermore now that I can listen to them on my phone (Android). It seems odd to me now to think of sitting stationery in one place, using all your concentration on only the task at hand; where in contrast, if you listen to a book, you can do chores, walk, work, cook, drive, shop...

Most recently I finished listening to Earth Abides by George R. Stewart.  It's a post-apocalyptic story of sorts written in 1949, but for all accounts you would swear it was written within the last decade or so.  Of course there's no mention of internet or cellphones; but otherwise, I feel Stewart does an uncanny job of depicting an earth populated with only a handful of survivors of a deadly plague.

The main character Ish is a studious young man who considers himself an observer of life. A trait that serves him well in the aftermath of the disaster, helping him to keep his equilibrium, where other survivors lose their minds trying to comprehend and live with the magnitude of loss.

Eventually, Ish takes a wife, father's offspring and gathers together a few people to form a community - "The Tribe". Soon the tribe begins to procreate and eventually those children inner marry.

Throughout we witness the changes in nature due to the lack of population and how it affects Ish and his tribe.  Before long, a great deal of fear and desolation gets replaced by the joy that freedom brings - freedom from government, currency, most diseases get wiped out, there's no need to work, no need to rush around or keep exact time; instead play, relaxation and the enjoyment of each other become the way of life. Of course there's day to day necessities, still, it's an existence without ambition and stress.

And here in lies the crux of the novel. Ish is concerned about the deterioration of society and civilization, but he's the only one who seems to feel a sense of responsibility to maintain and restore it. The other survivors are simple people, perfectly content to scavenge off of what was left behind. And much to Ish's dismay the next generation are not thinkers or doers either. He struggles in vain to teach them to read and write and to learn history, but only one child has the least bit of interest in anything academic.  So we see the world reverting back to an almost primitive society.

Well actually, Ish and the others don't know what's happened all over the globe, they have very little knowledge of who has survived outside of a small section of CA, but the book spans over 50 years after the plague and no one strives to reestablish electricity, running water, transportation, phones, TV, stores, government, schools etc...

Normally when one thinks post-apocalyptic, thoughts go to aliens and/or  nuclear war, where the earth is uninhabitable.  Or even Noah's Arc where everything has to begin again from scratch; but it's interesting to think about a world in which everything remains the same for a long time, but without the excess people to muck it all up.

But then, without the excess people, there's no one to run things. So, although you no longer need to have a fortune to vacation along the Amalfi Coast, who's going to fly you there? Who's going to wait on you?  Whose going to cook your 4 star meal? Can you really enjoy it without posting pictures to facebook and tweeting it to make others envious?... hmmm....


  1. Sounds fascinating. I love this kind of science fiction, thanks for the tip. Like you I also love listening to audiobooks (or podcasts) to distract me from the monotony of cleaning, exercise, etc.

  2. I do love sci-fi, but I have to admit, it's been even more fun listening to "50 Shades of Gray"