Earth Abides is a 1949 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American writer George R. Stewart and is often called godfather of modern apocalypse novels. It tells the story of the fall of civilization from deadly disease and its rebirth.
A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.
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, friendly and eager to join him. The dog, now named 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 travels, he finds small pockets of survivors, but he doubts that they will survive the loss of civilization.
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Many children were born in these years and within them was Joey, Ish’s favorite son. Joey is Ish’s favorite son because not only is Joey very similar to Ish, but Ish believes that Joey is the key to the future.
Part II: The Year 22
Twenty-two years later, the community flourishes. The younger generation adapts easily to the more primitive 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 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.
As years go by, the community begins to grow corn and make and play with bows and arrows. Ish presides at meetings, his hammer a symbol of his status. He is given respect, but his ideas are ignored by the younger men.
Part III: The Last American
Ish spends most of his elderly life in a fog, unaware of the world. Superstition has set in; the tribe has reverted to a primitive lifestyle, hunting with dogs (the descendants of Ish’s first dog) 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 don’t always work. Ish realizes that the former civilization is now totally 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.
ReceptionAccording 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. On this website you can find all the covers for every edition of this book.
Legacy and homages
- An homage to the book is found in the episode “Emancipation” of the dystopian sci-fi series Earth: Final Conflict, where “Earth Abides” became the name of a political group.
- Stephen King has stated that Earth Abides was an inspiration for his post-apocalyptic novel, The Stand.
- Singer/songwriter Art Elliot released an EP titled Earth Abides in June 2011. The title track is loosely based on the novel.