Earth Abides is a 1949 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American writer George R. Stewart. It tells the story of the fall of civilization from deadly disease and its rebirth. The story was set in the United States in the 1940s in Berkeley, California and told by a character, Isherwood Williams, who emerges from isolation in the mountains to find almost everyone dead.
Earth Abides won the inaugural International Fantasy Award in 1951. It was included in Locus Magazine's list of best All Time Science Fiction in 1987 and 1998 and was a nominee to be entered into the Prometheus Hall of Fame. In November 1950, it was adapted for the CBS radio program Escape as a two-part drama starring John Dehner.
Cover of the 1949 Random House first edition
|Author||George R. Stewart|
|Cover artist||H. Lawrence Hoffman|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
While working on his graduate thesis in geography in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ish is bitten by a rattlesnake. As he heals from the bite, taking refuge in a cabin, he gets sick with a disease that looks like measles, and he moves in and out of consciousness (at one point being approached by two men who flee in fright). He recovers and makes his way back to civilization, only to discover that it has utterly collapsed -most people had died from the same disease. He goes to his home in Berkeley. In the city near his home Ish meets few human survivors – a man drinking himself to death, a couple who seem to have lost their sanity, and a teenage girl who flees from him as someone dangerous. He comes across a dog (a beagle bitch), friendly and eager to join him. The dog, which he names Princess, swiftly adopts Ish as her new master and sticks by him for much of the book. He sets out on a cross-country tour, traveling all the way to New York City and back, scavenging for food and fuel as he goes. As he travels, he finds small pockets of survivors, but has doubts about humanity's ability to survive the loss of civilization.
He returns to his home in California after reading Ecclesiastes (and realizing he had been throwing his life away), to find a woman, Emma (Em), living nearby. They agree to consider themselves married and have children. They are gradually joined by other survivors. Over time the electricity fails and the comforts of civilization recede. As the children grow, Ish tries to instill basic academics by teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, but he is largely unsuccessful due to a lack of interest by the others.
Many children are born in these years and among them is Joey, Ish's youngest and favorite son. Joey is very similar in nature to Ish, as he demonstrates innate intelligence and a curiosity about the world before the epidemic. This leads Ish to believe that Joey is the key to the future.
Twenty-two years later, the community flourishes. The younger generation adapts easily to the more traditional world. They come to have a better grasp of the natural world than the adults, and when running water fails, the younger generation comes to the rescue, knowing where flowing streams may be found. Ish turns his attention from ecology to his newly forming society. One thing that he notices is that the children are becoming very superstitious. One day Ish asks for his hammer, an antique miner's tool he found in the mountains, which he habitually carries around, and finds the children are afraid to touch it. It is a symbol for them of the old times. The long-dead "Americans" are now like gods—and Ish is too.
In the Year 22, the older boys return from a cross country trip with a stranger named Charlie, who exposes the tribe to typhoid fever. The disease kills many, including Ish's beloved son Joey. Through his despair, Ish is forced to face the future with a different set of expectations and hopes. His ambition to restore civilization to its original state is replaced by a more modest, practical one to simply convey a few basic survival skills.
As years go by, the community begins to grow corn and make and play with bows and arrows. Ish presides at meetings, his hammer being a symbol of his status. He is given respect, but his ideas are ignored by the younger men.
Ish spends most of his elderly life in a fog, unaware of the world. Superstition has set in; the tribe has reverted to a traditional lifestyle, hunting with dogs and bow and arrow. Occasionally the fog in his mind lifts. During one such time, he finds himself aware of his great-grandson Jack, who stands before him. Jack shows him that the bow and arrow have become more reliable than the gun, whose cartridges do not always work. Ish realizes that the former civilization is now completely gone. But he also wonders if the new world is that much worse off than the old world, and finds himself hoping that the new world will not rebuild civilization and its mistakes.
Isherwood Williams (Ish) is a graduate student at Berkeley, studying the geography of an area in the mountains, somewhere in California. He is sometimes referred to in the book as "The Last American." Ish becomes the leader of the community, aka "the tribe", he believes due to his intellect. His nickname, Ish, is an obvious reference to Ishi, the "last Wild Indian." Ish is also the word for "man" in Biblical Hebrew.
Emma (Em) is a woman who Isherwood meets in his hometown. The author may have been taking a chance with this character, who is, at least partially, African-American, while Isherwood is white; when the book was written, interracial marriages were heavily discouraged in American society. Isherwood does marry her, and race isn't important to the couple's relationship. Em becomes the community's mother, letting it grow as it will, but stepping in to help when no one else is filling the leadership role. She was the adult while others panicked, and Ish thought of her as the "Mother of Nations".
Ezra meets Emma and Ish while traveling through Berkeley, he was a former liquor salesman and immigrant from Yorkshire, England. They liked him, but feared the complications of a love triangle, so they encouraged him to leave. He returned with Molly and Jean, his wives. Ish values Ezra as a good judge of people, saying "Ezra knew people, Ezra liked people."
George is a carpenter by trade. George is not intellectually intelligent but becomes a Jack-of-all-trades able to build, repair or maintain the limited infrastructure of the small community.
Evie is a "half grown girl" who Ezra found living "in squalor and solitude." She appears to have little mind left, if she ever had one, and everyone cares for her. Evie grows into an attractive young woman but the tribe has a rule, that as the children grow no one will marry her—she wouldn't understand, and her mental condition could possibly be hereditary.
Joey is the youngest son of Ish and Em. Of all the children in the Tribe, he is the only one that truly understands the academic skills that Ish tries to teach — geometry, reading, geography. He dies during the typhoid fever outbreak.
Charlie is a stranger who arrives from Los Angeles after two of the "boys" (the second generation) make a scouting expedition in a refurbished Jeep to see what is left of America. Immediately upon his arrival Ish and Ezra become suspicious about Charlie and the type of person he might be. Their suspicions are confirmed a day later when Charlie sets his eye on Evie. He also reveals to Ezra after drinking heavily that he has had many of "Cupid's" diseases. Ish confronts Charlie about Evie, Charlie is disrespectful and challenges Ish's authority as leader. It is revealed that Charlie carries a concealed pistol and his behavior reveals himself as someone who was probably a violent criminal before the epidemic. As a result, Ish, Em, Ezra and George debate what to do about Charlie for the safety of the community, exile or execution. Charlie is the carrier of the typhoid epidemic that infects the community.
Jack is Ish's great-grandson. Jack is confident, intelligent and a potential leader. Ish sees something of Joey in him. As Ish dies, he gives Jack his hammer. (The hammer became an important symbol for "the tribe" over Ish's lifetime.)
On the title page Stewart immediately starts with the theme, quoting Ecclesiastes 1:4 — "Men go and come, but earth abides." For the first half of Earth Abides, George R. Stewart concentrates on a major theme for the book, that humans have no privileged place in nature and are not immune to nature's built-in population controls. The main character, an ecologist, states it plainly, "When anything gets too numerous it's likely to get hit by some plague".
On the first page Stewart tells readers how contagion could bring the end very quickly for mankind:
Within a few pages he makes it clear that basic biology applies to humans too:
Reviewer Noel Perrin has pointed out that George R. Stewart had written two books before this, in which the main character was not a person, but "a natural force." In Storm the main character is weather, and in Fire, a forest fire takes center stage.
In the same way, Stewart centers the first half of Earth Abides on the forces of natural and artificial selection. In freeing the landscape from humans, half of the book is devoted to looking at how the world would change in their absence. Stewart chose to make his main human character an ecologist, and sends him on a cross-country tour, to see what the world is like without people. As animals and plants no longer have humans taking care of them or controlling them, they are free to breed uncontrolled and to prey upon one another. The main character sees that some have been under humans so long that they are helpless in the face of change, while others are still able to adapt and survive. Stewart shows that humans have routinely influenced the lives of almost every plant and animal around them.
Another theme of the book is what happens to human skills as the population decreases. Reviewer Lionel Shriver points out this theme in an article about literature which features human extinction:
Stewart uses the second half of his book to show that, if humans are reduced to low numbers, it will be difficult for them to continue civilization as we know it. Reading becomes a casualty.
If skills and customs don't work in the new situation, these die out, or those holding them do. Children adapt naturally to the new situation, and immediately useful customs and skills are more interesting to them than reading and writing. The information in libraries is useless within a generation.
One custom that Stewart predicts could die out is racism. When there are fewer partners to choose from, mankind will not be able to afford to be too choosy in picking one's partner.
Another issue he brings up is how law and order will function, when the lawmakers, courts and enforcers are all gone. Even laws won't be immune to the pressure to survive. One of the characters in the book point out, "What laws?" when they have to determine the fate of an outsider. Stewart shows how people may come to worry about potential harm rather than justice when dealing with outsiders.
Having explored the depopulated Earth, Stewart shifts his thematic focus in part 2 and 3, from the biological theme of population crash to a biblical theme of populating the world.
A 1949 book review says that Earth Abides parallels two biblical stories that shows mankind spreading out and populating the world:
Stewart, who specialized in meanings of names, chose names in Hebrew that have appropriate meanings for the biblical theme; this couple who restart the human tribe are symbolically man and mother. In Stewart’s day, most Hebrew dictionaries stated that Ish means "man" (although a more accurate English equivalent is "participant"), and Em means "mother". Both terms figure prominently in the biblical story of Adam and Eve: Ish in Genesis 2:23, and Em in Genesis 3:20.
In addition to the Hebraic names in Earth Abides, the story also has a symbol in common with biblical tradition—the snake. Ish encounters a rattlesnake; before this event he is part of a larger civilization. After it bites him, his world changes, just as the snake changes Adam's world in the Genesis story. Adam loses paradise, and Ish finds civilization dead.
Aside from the biblical origin of Ish, there is another tale of the fall of civilization that George R. Stewart could have taken account of, the story of Ishi, the last of his tribe, who lived at Berkeley, where Stewart later taught. Ish is very similar to Ishi, and it also means "man", in the language of a man whose whole tribe was dead. Ishi's story parallels the Genesis and Earth Abides stories, telling of one who has to adapt to a changed world.
Earth Abides fits into the "post-apocalyptic" subgenre of science fiction. It was published in 1949, four years after the end of World War II and in the earliest stages of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. While post-apocalyptic fiction is now quite common, Earth Abides distinctly predates many similar well-known novels including Alas, Babylon (1959), A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960), and The Last Ship (1988). It is predated, however by The Last Man (1826), The Machine Stops (1909), The Scarlet Plague (1912), and René Barjavel's Ashes, Ashes (Ravage, 1943), among others.
A common theme of post-apocalyptic works is, "What if the world we know no longer exists," and each of these books paints a different picture of the future. Earth Abides explores such issues as family structure, education, the meaning and purpose of civilization, and the basic nature of humankind — especially in regard to religion, superstition, and custom. As it was written in the beginning years of the cold war, it lacks some common post-apocalyptic conventions found in later novels: there are no warlords or biker gangs (as in Mad Max); there is no fear of atomic weapons or radiation, no mutants and no warring tribes (as in A Canticle for Leibowitz). When the main character in Earth Abides travels through the country, he notices little sign of there having been violence or civil unrest during the plague period. Many areas seem to have been evacuated, and only in or near hospitals are there large numbers of corpses.
According to WorldCat.org, there have been 28 editions of Earth Abides published in English. The book has been in print in every decade from 1949 to 2008.
This is a book, mind you, that I'd place not only among the greatest science fiction but among our very best novels. Each time I read it, I'm profoundly affected, affected in a way only the greatest art — Ulysses, Matisse or Beethoven symphonies, say — affects me. Epic in sweep, centering on the person of Isherwood Williams, Earth Abides proves a kind of antihistory, relating the story of humankind backwards, from ever-more-abstract civilization to stone-age primitivism.
Astounding reviewer P. Schuyler Miller identified the novel as one of the first regarding "a young and little understood science, the science of ecology." Miller praised Stewart for "the intricacy of detail with which he has worked out his problem in ecology" and for writing "quietly, with very few peaks of melodrama as seem necessary in much popular fiction."
It was mentioned in a serious overview of modern science fiction, Contemporary Science Fiction by August Derleth, in the January 1952 edition of College English. Derleth called it an "excellent example" of the "utopian theme" of "rebuilding after a holocaust leaving but few survivors."
It was described as a persuasive answer to the question, "What is man," in the October, 1973 edition of Current Anthropology. The article "Anthropology and Science Fiction"  examines the nature of Science Fiction and its relationship to understanding people. The magazine concluded of Earth Abides that it shows ..."man is man, be he civilized or tribal. Stewart shows us that a tribal hunting culture is just as valid and real to its members as civilization is to us."
In the American Quarter article California's Literary Regionalism, Autumn 1955, George R. Stewart is seen as a "humanist in the old classical sense. His novels, Storm, Fire, East of the Giants, Earth Abides, demonstrate the complex interlocking of topography, climate, and human society; and their general tone is objective and optimistic."
The book makes a reference to Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. Ish compares the situations within these books to what he is going through. He finds Robinson Crusoe less appealing, because "his religious preoccupations seemed boring and rather silly". He looks at the ship in the Swiss Family Robinson as an "infinite grab-bag from which at any time they might take exactly what they wanted," which is similar to the situation of those living after the Great Disaster.
Earth Abides has been translated into many languages
The Betty Trask Prize and Awards are for first novels written by authors under the age of 35, who reside in a current or former Commonwealth nation. Each year the awards total £20,000, with one author receiving a larger prize amount, called the "Prize", and the remainder given to one or more other writers, called the "Awards". The award was established in 1984 by the Society of Authors, at the bequest of the late Betty Trask, a reclusive author of over thirty romance novels. The awards are given to traditional or romantic novels, rather than those of an experimental style, and can be for published or unpublished works.Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes (; Greek: Ἐκκλησιαστής, Ekklēsiastēs, Hebrew: קֹהֶלֶת, qōheleṯ) is one of 24 books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, where it is classified as one of the Ketuvim (or "Writings"). Originally written c. 450–200 BCE, it is also among the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament of most denominations of Christianity. The title Ecclesiastes is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Kohelet, the pseudonym used by the author of the book.
In traditional Jewish texts, King Solomon is named as the author, although modern scholars reject this. Textually, the book is the musings of a King of Jerusalem as he relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical. The author, who is not named anywhere in the book, or in the whole of the Bible, introduces a "Kohelet" whom he identifies as the son of David (1:1). The author does not use his own "voice" throughout the book again until the final verses (12:9–14), where he gives his own thoughts and summarises what "the Kohelet" has spoken.
The Kohelet discusses the meaning of life and the best way to live. He also proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently hevel, meaning "vain" or "futile", ("mere breath"), as both the wise and the foolish end their lives in death. Kohelet clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life. In light of this senselessness, one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one's work, which are gifts from the hand of God. The book concludes with the injunction: "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone" (12:13).
Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature. It contains several phrases that have resonated in British and American culture, and was quoted by Abraham Lincoln addressing Congress in 1862. American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote:
"[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man's life upon this earth—and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."Escape (radio program)
Escape was radio's leading anthology series of high-adventure radio dramas, airing on CBS from July 7, 1947 to September 25, 1954. Since the program did not have a regular sponsor like Suspense, it was subjected to frequent schedule shifts and lower production budgets, although Richfield Oil signed on as a sponsor for five months in 1950.
Despite these problems, Escape enthralled many listeners during its seven-year run. The series' well-remembered opening combined Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain with this introduction, as intoned by William Conrad and later Paul Frees:
"Tired of the everyday grind? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you... Escape!"Following the opening theme, a second announcer (usually Roy Rowan) would add:
"Escape! Designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half-hour of high adventure!"Fire of Heaven
Fire of Heaven is a fantasy trilogy by Russell Kirkpatrick. Its three volumes are Across the Face of the World, In the Earth abides the Flame (both published in 2004) and The Right Hand of God (published 2005).Gallipoli (miniseries)
Gallipoli is a seven-part Australian television drama miniseries that was telecast on the Nine Network in 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign. The series premiered on 9 February 2015, and concluded four weeks later. It is adapted from the best-selling book Gallipoli by Les Carlyon.Gallipoli was produced by Endemol Australia and was shot over a three-month period commencing on 17 March 2014.Rehearsals began in early March 2014 and cast-members also undertook some military training in Melbourne before filming began. Filming took place in Melbourne and surrounding areas, including Bacchus Marsh and Werribee. The 25 April 1915 landing was recreated on the Mornington Peninsula.George R. Stewart
George Rippey Stewart (May 31, 1895 – August 22, 1980) was an American historian, toponymist, novelist, and a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. His 1959 book, Pickett's Charge, a detailed history of the final attack at Gettysburg, was called "essential for an understanding of the Battle of Gettysburg". His 1949 post-apocalyptic novel Earth Abides won the first International Fantasy Award in 1951.H. Lawrence Hoffman
H. Lawrence Hoffman (23 October 1911 - 20 January 1977) was a commercial book jacket designer and illustrator who worked in New York City. He illustrated book covers for over 25 publishing companies, including Pocket Books, Popular Library, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, The Viking Press, and Random House. Over the course of his career, he created over 600 book jacket covers.
From 1941 to 1951, he was an Art Director and Partner at Immerman Art Studios. From 1952 till the end of his career he worked as a free-lance artist and book illustrator. He taught Illustration and Lettering at The Cooper Union from 1960–67 and Commercial Art at C.W. Post University from 1967 to 1976.
Beginning in 1943, Hoffman designed (sometimes along with Sol Immerman) all but 11 of the first 125 paperback covers for Popular Library. Hoffman repeated the cover illustration as a smaller line drawing on the title page.One of his most significant works was to design the dust jacket and the 21 illustrations for “The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Modern English Prose Translation by R,M, Lumiansky” published in 1948 by Simon & Schuster. The book was selected as one of the 50 best books of the year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
Father to David Hoffman, filmmaker.International Fantasy Award
The International Fantasy Award was an annual literary award for the best science fiction or fantasy book and, in 1951-1953, the best non-fiction book of interest to science fiction and fantasy readers. The IFA was given by an international panel of prominent fans and professionals in 1951-1955 and then again in 1957.List of people from Berkeley, California
This is a list of notable people that were born in, or who have lived in, Berkeley, California. Located in the San Francisco Bay area and near Oakland, it includes people who attended Berkeley High School, but not people that attended University of California, Berkeley unless they achieved notoriety while in attendance, and were also residents of the city at the time.Potlatch (convention)
Potlatch was an annual non-profit science fiction convention held in the Pacific Northwest region of North America since 1992. Unlike most SF conventions, Potlatch designates a "Book of Honor" rather than author, editor, fan, and/or artist "Guests of Honor;" the appellation "Book of Honor" does not preclude works from other media receiving the honor, such as films.Robert K. Abbett
Robert Kennedy Abbett (January 5, 1926 – June 20, 2015) was an American artist and illustrator.Russell Kirkpatrick
Russell Kirkpatrick (born 1961, Christchurch, New Zealand) is a geography lecturer and a novelist. He holds a PhD in geography from the University of Canterbury, and lectured at the University of Waikato in Hamilton until 2014. He is currently living and writing in Australia. He has worked on seven atlas projects, including the New Zealand Historical Atlas (1998) and authored the Contemporary Atlas of New Zealand (1999/2004). He also wrote and was photographer for a book about New Zealand Waterfalls - Walk to Waterfalls (2011).
He has written two well received fantasy trilogies, Fire of Heaven and Husk. Across the Face of the World was the biggest selling debut fantasy in the United States in 2008.Social science fiction
Social science fiction is a subgenre of science fiction, usually (but not necessarily) soft science fiction, concerned less with technology/space opera and more with speculation about society. In other words, it "absorbs and discusses anthropology" and speculates about human behavior and interactions.Exploration of fictional societies is a significant aspect of science fiction, allowing it to perform predictive (The Time Machine (1895); The Final Circle of Paradise, 1965) and precautionary (Brave New World, 1932; Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949; Childhood's End, Fahrenheit 451, 1953) functions, to criticize the contemporary world (Gulliver's Travels, 1726; the works of Alexander Gromov, 1995 - Present) and to present solutions (Walden Two, Freedom™), to portray alternative societies (World of the Noon) and to examine the implications of ethical principles, as for example in the works of Sergei Lukyanenko.The Comet (short story)
The Comet is a science fiction short story, written by W. E. B. Du Bois in 1920. It discusses the relationship between Jim Davis (a black man) and Julia (a wealthy white woman) after a comet hits New York and unleashes toxic gases that kill everyone except them.
Originally published as the tenth chapter of Du Bois's Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil, The Comet was reprinted in the 2000 anthology Dark Matter: The Anthology of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction by Black Writers.The Last Man on Earth (1964 film)
The Last Man on Earth is a 1964 science fiction horror film based on the 1954 Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend. The film was produced by Robert L. Lippert, directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow, and stars Vincent Price. The screenplay was written in part by Matheson, but he was dissatisfied with the result and chose to be credited as "Logan Swanson". William Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, and Ubaldo Ragona finished the script.
The Last Man on Earth was filmed in Rome, with scenes being completed at Esposizione Universale Roma. It was released in the US and the UK by American International Pictures. In the 1980s the film entered the public domain. MGM Home Video, the current owners of the AIP film catalog, released a digitally remastered widescreen print of the film on DVD in September 2005.The Scarlet Plague
The Scarlet Plague is a post-apocalyptic fiction novel written by Jack London and originally published in London Magazine in 1912.The Stand
The Stand is a post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel by American author Stephen King. It expands upon the scenario of his earlier short story "Night Surf" and outlines the total breakdown of society after the accidental release of a strain of influenza that had been modified for biological warfare causes an apocalyptic pandemic, which kills off over 99% of the world's human population. King dedicated the book to his wife, Tabitha: "For Tabby: This dark chest of wonders."The World Without Us
The World Without Us is a non-fiction book about what would happen to the natural and built environment if humans suddenly disappeared, written by American journalist Alan Weisman and published by St. Martin's Thomas Dunne Books. It is a book-length expansion of Weisman's own February 2005 Discover article "Earth Without People". Written largely as a thought experiment, it outlines, for example, how cities and houses would deteriorate, how long man-made artifacts would last, and how remaining lifeforms would evolve. Weisman concludes that residential neighborhoods would become forests within 500 years, and that radioactive waste, bronze statues, plastics, and Mount Rushmore would be among the longest-lasting evidence of human presence on Earth.
The author of four previous books and numerous articles for magazines, Weisman traveled to interview academics, scientists and other authorities. He used quotations from these interviews to explain the effects of the natural environment and to substantiate predictions. The book has been translated and published in many countries. It was successful in the U.S., reaching #6 on the New York Times Best Seller list and #1 on the San Francisco Chronicle Best-Sellers list in September 2007. It ranked #1 on Time and Entertainment Weekly's top 10 non-fiction books of 2007.William Hofmann
William Hofmann (1924–1995) was an artist who illustrated books in the late 1950s and the 1960s.