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Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

December 27, 2009

Earth Abides CoverBecause I’m a zombie fan, I’m a sucker for non-zombie apocalyptic fiction. I love to read about what people do as the end of the world approaches, and more importantly, who people become in the face of great adversity. Too many zombie novels focus on the apocalypse itself–who survives, where they get food, where they take shelter, how they off zombies in creative manners, what the military is doing to either save the day or completely mess things up, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I like all that stuff too, but it’s the characters who keep me engaged.

Let’s be honest here. The zombie apocalypse will mess with your head in a deep and permanent way. Unfortunately, it seems that most zombie novels forget that (or you’ll get a couple of paragraphs of the narrator telling you they’re messed up right before they pick up an uzi and start mowing zombies down.) I find that non-zombie apocalyptic fiction seems to handle the emotional side of the apocalypse better.

Currently I’m listening to the audio book version of George R. Stewart’s 1949 classic Earth Abides. The basic premise is that the main character Ish is doing some academic research in a cabin in the mountains when a deadly virus sweeps the globe and wipes out most of humanity. When Ish comes down out of the mountains, he isn’t faced with hoards of marauding hooligans. The world is not an inherently a physically dangerous place after the apocalypse. However, it is a very dangerous place mentally. Initially Ish is alone and bored and without purpose, finding that most of the societal rules that have guided his life no longer apply.

Does Ish turn all bad-boy rebel as a result? Nope. Ish is an intellectual. He observes and analyzes the apocalypse. He finds no urgency in “surviving.” Gathering food, finding shelter, protecting himself and eventually others–these are all afterthoughts, really. It takes Ish 20 years to even start to think about what might have happened to the government or the rest of the world, for that matter. Earth Abides is about one man’s perspective on the world after the apocalypse. Ish isn’t an emotional kind of guy, so we don’t get that deep POV I love in good young adult novels, but we do see a whole new and interesting world, not so much because a virus has wiped everyone out, but because Ish tinges the world with his unique views and observations. I wish more zombie novels could get me (and keep me) so engaged with a character.

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