We may already have one somewhere. It probably needs a little refinement, but I think it would solve the Earth’s problems. A bomb. A huge one.
Not neutron because that kills animals as well as people. Too much other destruction, too. We need a special people-eliminating bomb. After all the people are gone, Earth can recover and eventually, a new species will reign supreme. Hopefully the new masters of earth will show respect for Mother Earth and other creatures who share her bounty. A species which would allow the trees to grow, water to flow without damming or poisoning every stream. A species without the compulsion to dig up every mineral, pave every inch of ground, replace forests with cities belching soot, smoke and chemical fumes.
Earth needs a caretaker species. Not humans. We don’t care. We think God gave us permission to ravage and destroy our home as well as every living thing on it. I don’t remember any God — ours or anyone else’s — saying anything of the sort. How did I miss such an important passage in someone’s mythology? Why do I think that isn’t what any God would want?
Short of wiping out the human race, how about our species display a little self-restraint? How about not pouring sewage and industrial poison into the rivers, filling the air with dirt? Tearing open the earth to get to fossil fuels on which we should not be depending? How about behaving like proper guests of Mother Earth? You know, not eating our own Mother? How about that?
Are we even capable of not destroying our own nest?
Unlike many other books I have read and forgotten, Earth Abides has stayed with me. I’ve returned to it many times in recent years, but there was a period of almost 30 years when I couldn’t find a copy of the book anywhere. Nonetheless, I could recall it with remarkable clarity. It was especially remarkable considering the thousands of books I read every year. That I could remember this one book — not to be too punny — spoke volumes. It turns out that I was not alone. Many people found the book unforgettable, including many writers. George Stewart’s masterpiece became the jumping off point for an entire genre.
Earth Abides is a “foundation book,” one of a handful of books that you must read if you are a science fiction fan. It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. A foundation book it most definitely is, but classing it as the “original disaster story” rather misses the point.
Earth Abides isn’t merely a disaster story or post apocalyptic science fiction. Above all it is a book of rebuilding, renewal and hope. The event that initiates the story is a disaster, a plague resulting from either a natural mutation or something escaped from a lab that runs amok. Whatever its origins, it kills off most of Earth’s human population. As has been true of plagues throughout history, a small percentage of the population is naturally immune. Additionally, anyone who survived a rattlesnake bite is immune.
The plague is the back story. The front story of Earth Abides is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and gradually create a new civilization. Through marriage and the pressures of survival, groups become tribes. Simultaneously, the earth itself revives and finds a new balance.
Most diseases of old earth are eliminated by depopulation. New generations are wonderfully healthy. Along with physical disease, mental illness, archaic religious and outdated social structures are shed. New human generations have no memory of institutionalized bias and prejudice and the color line becomes non-existent. There is much that needs doing in this new world, but there’s an infinite amount of time in which to do it.
Ultimately, earth will be repopulated. But gently … and hopefully, in peace. The reborn world will contain bits and pieces of what went before, but without its demons.
The book was re-released as a 60th anniversary edition in 2009, including an audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis.
The last time I read it was immediately after it was re-released. Four years has given me time to be surprised by the book all over again. Be surprised by how much Ish — the main character — changes over the years, how much he grows and matures. How his belief structure adapts to new realities, how much more open his mind becomes. It’s a rare transformation from a literary point of view. Few characters I’ve read have transformed as much as Ish does in Earth Abides.
Earth Abides was published in 1949. In some parts of the U.S. and other countries, the issues with which the book’s characters grapple are still very much alive. They shouldn’t be. We have moved on but only to a point.
The technology stands up surprisingly well because it’s essentially irrelevant. All technology disappears, so it doesn’t matter how advanced it used to be. When the power goes off, it’s over. The world goes back to pre-technological. It has wind, water and sun. Books remain, so knowledge exists, but in stasis, waiting to be rediscovered and deployed. Meanwhile, earth abides.
The world ends, the world begins.Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the capacity to not only survive, but reinvent civilization and make a better world.
Earth Abides is timeless. As is the Earth. There’s an entire site dedicated to George R. Stewart –The EARTH ABIDES Project. Definitely check it out!
We were up in Worcester, the capital of our middle-of-nowhere part of the world. Taking pictures, happily unaware that something awful was happening 60 miles away in Boston. When we got home and the phone and email lit up, we knew something was up,
Garry and I lived in Boston for a long time. Garry was a reporter. If he were still working, as many of his friends are, he would have been exactly where the bombs went off. I would have been one of the terrified wives waiting to hear if my husband was alive and/or in multiple pieces. Maybe I would have been one of the unlucky ones. I’m glad to have missed the experience.
A lot of people needed reassurance, wanted to be sure Garry wasn’t working (retired since 2001, but not everyone believes it) and we hadn’t gone to see the Marathon. We had merely taken a drive up to Worcester, looping back via the grocery store and the pond where the swans live. A normal pleasant spring day. For us, anyhow.
I had been laughing earlier in the day about how seriously New Englanders take their holidays. I had tried to get in touch with my doctor only to discover the office was closed for Patriot’s Day. If you live in Boston, there’s also Evacuation Day, another Revolutionary War remembrance, but affecting only the city. I can’t imagine New York closing down to celebrate a battle that took place more than 200 years ago. New York’s all about getting on with business, but Boston is into remembering and celebrating traditions.
Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon are part of what makes the Commonwealth and the city special. Unique. Boston is a big city, but it’s accessible. Even with awful parking, potholes and traffic, you can drive in Boston. You may not enjoy the experience but the city is not in constant gridlock. It’s a great walking city too. There are lots of street festivals, free concerts, and events that are open to everyone and their families. Is that going to change?
Are people going to be too afraid to enjoy the city? Lock themselves up behind steel doors? If terrorists can’t kill us all, they sure can take the joy out of life … if we let them.
I can’t in good conscience tell anyone not to be afraid. But I lived in Jerusalem. I did lose friends to terrorists. It was black humor indeed to call Thursday at the marketplace “Bomb day.” Yet we went on living because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate and because if you close down your world, the bastards have won.
Yesterday, as we watched and listened to the news, we worried about people we knew until we finally heard they were safe.
I don’t “get” the terrorist gestalt, murdering civilians to make a political statement. What statement can you make based on murder? That you are willing to slaughter people because your cause is more important than life itself? Nothing is more important than life.
I have a feeling we aren’t dealing with an international conspiracy. No one has claimed responsibility for this atrocity. The bombs were built to inflict maximum harm, ugly bombs intended to tear flesh, rip and rend. Any bomb can kill you, but these were explicitly created to maim as well as murder.
If it’s discovered this is the work of a homegrown psychopath, will this make us feel better? I don’t find the idea comforting. Quite the opposite. The perpetrator could be a neighbor … or anyone. That’s creepy, not comforting.
Garry always laughs at the expression “senseless violence.” As if there’s some other kind. The sensible kind.
There may be times when killing is unavoidable to prevent a greater evil but it’s never a good thing, only sometimes justifiable to protect yourself or others. Killing is never good. Sane people know this. Civilian, military and law enforcement personnel don’t casually take lives. That so many people seem comfortable with murder is deeply disturbing. What is wrong with them … and with us that we glorify killers and turn them into heroes?
Yesterday in Boston, someone showed his/her/their inhumanity and cowardice. Religious fanatics? Non-denominational crazies? Foreign sociopaths? Homegrown psychopaths? Some other previously unknown lunatic fringe group … or a deranged individual?
Does it matter?
Whoever or whatever … I hope we catch them and make sure they never do it again to anyone anywhere.
I covered the Boston Marathon and other Patriot’s Day events for 31 years until my retirement. They are some of the most wonderful memories in my entire TV/radio news career covering more than 40 years. Patriot’s Day is special in New England, in Massachusetts, in greater Boston. The Revolutionary War re-enactments at dawn in Lexington and Concord were among my favorite assignments.
You could see children getting their first real look at history. Normally stoic or cynical adults looked on with pride and awe. I still see their faces in my sense memory. The Marathon weekend was always a period when the bad things going on in the world were put on hold for a brief time.
You met people from all around the world. Instant friendships were formed. Politics were set aside. Laughter and smiles were the common language. It is hard not to see this attack — even in this post 9/11 world — as anything but a horrible loss of innocence. It is so very sad.
I originally read this book more than 30 years ago. It wasn’t a new book even then, but it was new for me. Unlike so many other books I read and forgot, it stuck in my mind and I remember it with a clarity that is remarkable considering how many thousands of books I have read since. Earth Abides stays bright and shiny in my mind.
I have heard the book referred to as “the original disaster” story, but that misses the point. It isn’t a disaster story, original or otherwise. It is, as the title suggests, a book of renewal and hope. Although events are set in motion by a disaster, a plague that kills off most of Earth’s human population, that is only the trigger. Some few people are naturally immune and anyone who was ever bitten by a poisonous snake and survived also is immune.
These remnants of humanity eventually find each one another. They form groups that grow into tribes. They grow and thrive. Ultimately, they repopulate the earth, creating a new society that contains bits and pieces of what went before, but redesigned in a new and hopefully better way.
The book was re-released in a 60th anniversary edition a few years ago, including an audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis.
I cannot count the number of copies of this book I have owned. I love it so much I buy copies of it, give it to people I think will love the story. The books are given theoretically on loan, but never has one of them been returned, so I buy another copy. I should get a volume discount.
The book is a bit preachy, but no more so than many other popular books. It doesn’t bother me. George Stewart is a lot less preachy than Anne Rice and he has better points to make and moreover, I agree with him.
Things we accept without a second thought today were revolutionary 63 years ago. When the book was first published both interracial relationships and rejection of formal religion were generally not accepted when the book was published. Attitudes have changed — more some places than others — there’s still more than enough racism, religious fanaticism and hatred to go around.
I’ve seen comments about how out of date the technology is. In fact, it doesn’t matter, not one little bit.
Our current technology has moved on considerably but regardless of how advanced it’s gotten, any technology is insupportable on a depopulated earth. It makes no difference what had or had not been invented. It would be useless in any case. You can’t drive cars without gasoline and you can’t keep the pumps working without electricity. You can’t use telephones when there is no service. Our satellites might continue to circle the earth, but without signals, how would it matter? No batteries, no power? It’s all over when the power is gone and that, as the book shows, is at best a few years for even the most basic infrastructure. After that, we are back to a pre-technical world. Not a pre-industrial world. Industry existed before electricity: wind, water, sun … and the Earth itself continue.
Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the capacity to not only survive, but reinvent civilization and created a better society. If you haven’t read this book, read it. It’s available in print and on Audible with a fine narrator. I cannot recommend it too highly.
Earth Abides is timeless. As is the Earth itself.
I discovered today there is an entire site dedicated to George R. Stewart –The EARTH ABIDES Project — by a man who knew him and has written his biography. The site contains pictures and other memorabilia. If you are a fan, this is a gift for us all.
This comment could not be transferred, so I have included it as part of the re-run of my original review.
Nice post about Earth Abides, and you found one of the easter eggs in Stewart’s book. But the photo (Note: I deleted the photo to which he is referring — MA) is NOT of George R. Stewart. If you visit my blog —http://georgerstewart.wordpress.com — and follow the menu link at the top to the George R. Stewart web pages, you’ll see a photo of GRS. (I knew him, and have recently had a bio of GRS published.) You’re certainly right about Earth Abides — and you’re not the only one who feels that way. NASA’s Dr. Jim Burke, composer Philip Aaberg, Jimi Hendrix, Stephen King, Kim Stanley Robinson, Walt Disney — all were inspired by Stewart’s work or directly by EA. So thanks for the post. Cheers, DMS.
It started out as a joke. My husband sent me an email and I thought it was funny. It made me laugh, so without worrying much about the source, the deeper truths, the verifiable facts of the matter, taking into consideration only the fact that it made me laugh, I published it.
It is called “The Man who saw the future” and you can click on it and see the source for all of this brouhaha (google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
I have been accused — me, the queen of geeks — of being anti-technology! Imagine that. A woman who owns three computers, an electronic reader, a tablet, a smart phone, three external hard drives, 4 digital cameras and Lord knows how many accessories, has DVRs and Blu-ray players all over the house … I am anti-technology? If I am not pro technology, no one is.
But I am not in favor of letting technology replace human relationships, of instant internet searches replacing research. I’m in favor of using technology intelligently and using intelligence and creativity to define what technology is good for, not the other way around. Tools are intended for use by human beings for human pursuits.
I’m a big believer in facts. I research. I check and double-check sources even though I know that it’s impossible to completely verify any fact or statistic because the act of interpreting information alters it. Most important, I learned that not everything is equally important. I spent decades documenting and verifying … but there are things that do not need to be verified, double-checked, or confirmed. Among these things are jokes.
Not only do I like to laugh, I need to laugh. What is more, I think we all need to laugh.
So, in pursuit of brightening my own and maybe your life too, I publish jokes which I think are funny. I do not verify the source of the joke. I do not research the origin of laughter. If it’s funny, that’s good enough for me.
Lighten up America!
It’s been a rough period. Not everything is life or death. Laughter can be a bridge over troubled waters. Nothing else, not pill, drugs, or therapy can uplift you the way laughter can.
As far as trying to prove that technology is “bad,” I love my electronic gadgets and goodies. However, you need to recognize what these things are good for and not try to use them to replace the world. Too many people, especially young people, confuse the means and the end.
They substitute electronic communications for relationships. I watch my granddaughter and her friends sitting next to each other on the sofa texting. How do you learn to have relationships if you can’t have a conversation? If you use computers to think for you, you never learn to think, especially considering that computers can’t think. They are processors. Very fast, efficient information processors. Anyone can use a computer to collect information by the bushel, but most people can’t connect two related ideas without a flow chart and maybe, not even then.
In a society where we have to warn people not to text while driving, something is seriously wrong.
Information is not knowledge. It’s human minds and creativity that change raw data into concepts, inventions, and ideas.
Information is not communication. You can provide all the information in the world, but if you don’t disseminate it in a form that others can understand, it’s just noise. We collect information at the speed of light. The dumbing down of society is not because of the tools we have available, it’s because we’ve forgotten they are only tools.
We have fantastic resources that we waste on drivel. Technology has not improved our ability to communicate, relate, think, or create. If anything, our dependence on them has reduced these uniquely human qualities. Without a human context, all our fancy technology will remain trivial. Time wasters. Stupid toys.
THAT is the message beneath my humor. NOT that tools are bad, but that we misuse them, fail to use them to any worthwhile end. We have come so far … and remarkably, advanced very little. Our civilization is not one bit more advanced that it was in ancient days.
I suggest that instead of analyzing my jokes to see if they contain accurate attributions, that you analyze your life and see if it’s worth living. In the meantime, have a good laugh on me.
I love this time of year. The holidays bring out the pious hypocrite in us. It’s delightful watching people mouth platitudes in which they obviously don’t believe. There we are, deploring the crass commercialism of the holiday season, how they have become nothing but a huge excuse for everyone to spend too much money. Then we jump in the car and race to the mall to buy those last-minute gifts.
Truth is as bright and flashy as the trees we love to decorate: we adore commercialism. Our national sport is shopping. Christmas is one humongous discount bargain bin and everyone accepts credit cards. All that glitters is not gold, but we don’t care.
What we deplore is not commercialism. We just hate not having enough money to dive into the season and pile those gift boxes high. To quote Tom Lehrer, “Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy.” If you live in the U.S., it’s inescapable.
When I was a kid, I so envied my Christian neighbors. They had Christmas trees and lights and presents to open. They had Santa Claus. I wanted it too.
Which makes this a perfect time for me to annoy you by pointing out what everyone already knows: Christ was not born at Christmas. Current thinking is probably sometime in the spring. The Yule celebration predates Judaism and Christianity. Our most beloved seasonal symbols — Christmas trees — have no religious significance for any living religion. It’s a symbol of a faith long since faded to fable. We love the trees, the lights and those stacks of boxes wrapped in pretty paper and bows. Let the games commence. The holidays are upon us. Spend today and figure out how to pay it off tomorrow. Holidays bring out the pagan in us. Just admit it already.
Not being brought up with Christmas has given me a running start on understanding the spirit of the season. I got to celebrate Christmas because my first husband, may he rest in peace, was not Jewish. He wasn’t much of a Christian either. To the best of my knowledge, his family had never attended any church, but identified themselves as vaguely Protestant, though which denomination they could not say. But they were very big on Christmas. It was my introduction to nominal Christianity and non-denominational Christmas. It was years before I realized that there was more to Christianity and Christmas than stringing lights and making killer eggnog. They really did make killer eggnog. Unimaginably lethal.
So indulge me for a moment on the subject of faith. I have been accused of being anti-religious, anti-Christian, unGodly and on the fast track to Hell. How ironic when I am boringly obsessed with religion and have been for my entire life. I’m not unGodly, just anti-dogmatic and not Christian. Jews consider me un-Jewish so I am out of step with everyone and everything. I am very far from atheistic or anti religious. Au contraire, I’m just not your coreligionist. No matter what you are, I’m not that. I’m something. If I had a label, my problems would be over. I could answer that aggravating question: what are you?
So what’s with the whole faith thing? How dare I say you can’t prove God‘s existence?
When I say faith is not proof, I don’t mean to imply that faith is bad or wrong, only that you can’t prove anything by it. It’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it, but it would never hold up in a court of law. Any judge on any episode of Law and Order would throw your case out of court. So my advice is to stay out of the court. Keep government out of religion.
Faith gets us through the day. We have faith that the world will keep turning on its axis, that the car will start, that our computers will do what computers do. There are people who believe it’s faith that makes our technology work. Because we believe in it, it works. Should our faith in technology flag, it will no longer work. It’s magic. Or God. One way or the other, it’s faith in action.
As for religion making us good or bad people, poppycock. We all know right from wrong whether we receive a religious education or are raised by wolves. Education and family values will provide a coherent belief structure, but only sociopaths have no conscience. That’s what makes them sociopaths.
The rest of us know it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie and cheat. You don’t have to be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or subscribe to any special set of rules. We can argue for eternity about the details and we probably will, but the basics are the same across the centuries, cultures and continents. Don’t kill, don’t steal, tell the truth, take care of the poor, widows and orphans, and be nice to old people, especially your parents. (Unless that group of people over there call God by a different name — them, you can kill.)
But I digress.
That being said what you believe is what you believe. Nothing more. Nothing less.
You can’t prove or disprove anything — which is why scientific “laws” are called theories, like the theory of relativity, for example. When a theory works, it’s a law. If we make a breakthrough and our previous theory no longer fits, we devise a new theory which we’ll hang on to until something else comes along. At which point we’ll revise it again. That’s why I say that all belief is all faith-based. It can’t be proved or disproved. It just is.
Then there’s doubt. Skepticism. Disbelief. Imperfect faith.
Whenever anyone tells me he or she has no doubts, I start to twitch. Doubt is normal; absolute faith with never a trace of doubt? That sounds more like brainwashing than faith. I’ve talked with ministers, pastors, priests, rabbis, Wiccans, wackos, one self-declared reincarnation of Jesus and a Cardinal with strong Jesuit leanings. I’ve talked with born-again Christians and born-again Jews (it isn’t a solely Christian phenomenon). Everyone wrestles with doubt. Life tests faith. I think it’s supposed to. We all have to find our special path through doubt and difficulty to whatever floats our spiritual boat.
I am tired of asking politely for everyone to let me be myself, whatever that is. So I hereby demand the right to do my own thing, make my own decisions, and find my path through the thorny thicket of life. I’m happy to share this freedom with everyone and their Uncle Bob. If perchance I don’t wind up walking down the same road as you, it’s a big world. There’s room for all of us. No one owns the truth.
No one has all the answers.
Except me. I have all the answers. If you want my answers, please enclose a check and a stamped self-addressed envelope. I will send you a key that will unlock the mysteries of the universe. The bigger the check, the better the key.
Proud to be from Texas. Proud to live in the greatest city on earth (fill in the name of city). Proud to be white. Proud to be a man, but proud to be a woman. Proud to be Irish, Black, Hispanic, Polish, Greek, Jewish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Christian, Hindu, Muslim … any religious affiliation, ethnicity, or nationality will serve. Why? What makes you proud to be something that was an accident of birth? Are you proud to be alive? Human? Proud you aren’t dead of disease, starvation, natural disaster, or war?
I am not proud to be an American. I certainly am glad to be an American, happy that I am free to live in a beautiful place and have a home in this valley. I love the United States. I think it’s fundamentally a great nation which, if we stopped screwing around, would be an even greater one. But proud?
I’m proud of things I’ve written, some things I’ve done, and ashamed of others. I’m proud of what I’ve earned. I’m not proud of the gifts I was given at birth, but I am deeply grateful that I was lucky enough to receive them.
I am proud of my country’s achievements, but ashamed and embarrassed by other things we’ve done. I believe our Constitution is one of the finest legal documents ever written anywhere at any time. That we so often fail to live up to it saddens me, but at least we had founders who weren’t airheads or mass murderers, a burden other nations bear.
Pride implies you actively participated or contributed to whatever makes you proud. I don’t think being born qualifies. If you exist, you were born (not counting Jesus and other less popular deities). Birth gets you get a ticket to stand at the starting line and a chance to run. To breathe air. After that, it’s up to you. What you do by the time your life concludes may or may not confer any right to be proud.
So I’m glad to be an American. I’m happy I was born here and not in Sarajevo or Beijing. But I didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t a choice I made. Nothing was required of me. My mother’s pregnancy occurred here and not somewhere else. If she had been Mexican or Turkish? Then, by current jingoistic ethnocentric guidelines, I’d surely be proud to be Turkish or Mexican.
Borders are lines on a map. There are no substantive differences except those imposed by tradition and politicians who live on one side or the other of an invisible, artificial, politically driven boundary. If you live on the border of another country, you are no doubt aware the only reason you are who you are is luck. For that matter, your social status, your class, religion, ethnicity, level of wealth of poverty … all dumb luck. You aren’t special because you were born to a family that is rich, white, Christian, Republican or anything else. You are not defined by who your parents were, nor by their traditions, religion, politics, or social status. The life you live will define you. The choices you make, the work you do, the way you treat the rest of God’s creatures along your path … these determine your character.
The only thing that you could legitimately take pride in is the good you do and if you are either Jewish or Christian, even that is wrong and lessens the value of the righteous acts you perform. Charity performed anonymously is of far greater value than anything for which you get recognition or rewards.
Being righteous isn’t special. It’s what you are supposed to do. That’s why you have a conscience and free will. Whatever you got or didn’t get when you were born determines where you stand as the race begins, but you define who you are at the finish.
What you do in this world may perhaps be something to take pride in. Where and what you were at your birth are not.
Does that make me unpatriotic? I don’t think so, but others will disagree. I think patriotism and love of country needs to be tempered by intelligence and the realization that nations, like people, don’t always do the right thing. When nations are better than they need to be … or worse than they should be … you are free to judge them as you would a person who does well or badly. Judge your homeland on its merits, not because an accident of birth dropped you there.
I know this isn’t a popular point of view or one that everyone will understand, but if you get it, spread it around. Nations don’t deserve a free pass for bad behavior. You don’t get a free pass for bad behavior, do you? Unless you are super rich, in which case you get to do whatever you want and count on your lawyers to take care of the fallout.
Most of us are not super rich or even sort of rich. A lot of us are glad if we break even at the end of the month. We have to deal with the consequences of our behavior. Being “a product of your times or environment” is not an excuse for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, or cruelty. It has never been okay to mistreat fellow creatures because they aren’t like you or because you grew up in a world that despises them. You aren’t special by reason of birth. You just think you are.
Ask God. Ask yourself. Look in a mirror. What have you done to deserve the air you breathe?