According to Google, both the 70th and hundredth anniversaries are honored with platinum gifts. Since Earth Abides is just a year short of its 70th anniversary, George R. Stewart’s epic work is approaching platinum. One year to go.
In the meantime, I finally got Garry to listen to it with me. It’s funny how many times I’ve read it and listened to it. This is the first time I spent the whole second half of the book crying. Probably because this is a book about the rebirth of the world after a plague wipes out most of humanity.
Maybe it’s all the stress about the near demise of our current world, but somewhere around the middle, I started crying and couldn’t quite stop. I think Garry was crying too.
The novel was published on October 7, 1949. It immediately caught the attention of reviewers for its well-written, epic tale of humans living in a world they no longer dominate.
One later reviewer went so far as to call it “… a second work of Genesis.” With its title from Ecclesiastes and the old testament rhythm of its language, it is biblical in its feeling. But not dull.
Stewart later insisted he didn’t intend it to be a religious work. But even he admitted that there was “a certain quality there.” The language was one thing. Stewart taught himself Hebrew before he wrote the book. He wanted to translate portions of the Bible into more modern English. He was surely influenced by the style of ancient Hebrew.
The book has had an enormous influence on Science Fiction as an art form. To call this “the original post-apocalyptic story,” Stephen King based The Stand on Earth Abides, Grammy-nominated composer Philip Aaberg wrote “Earth Abides,” Jimi Hendrix was inspired to write “Third Rock From the Sun” from the novel (his favorite book). Other authors and scientists honor Stewart’s works. It is published in either 20 or 27 languages, depending on who you ask.
There is some talk about producing a film version of the novel, but it’s a book made up almost entirely of talk and thought. To make it work on TV or in a film, they’d have to add “action.” It would be something, but not this book.
Earth Abides is a “foundation book.” It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. But isn’t a disaster story or post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s the end and the beginning.
Earth Abides was the first recipient of the medal for Fantasy Novel.
You might think the technology in the story is going to be old and silly. Except, everything fails immediately when the electricity stops. It doesn’t matter what you had. If you don’t have electricity, you have nothing.
The plague is the starting point. The important part is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and rebuild. The earth itself revives and finds balance.
The book was re-released as a 60th-anniversary edition in 2009, including the audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis. It’s now 2018 (going on 2019) — making it just a year short of 70 years. The book is not merely relevant. By my standards, it’s optimistic.
It’s available for Kindle, Audible download, audiobook, hardcover, and paperback. There was a time when it was hard to find, but it seems to have found its way back into bookstores and libraries. I’m glad. It remains among my top five all-time favorite books. If you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present.
Now that Garry has read it, he won’t forget it. It’s not a book you forget.
A final note: Despite the fact that both “Storm” and “Fire” have been out of print for years, both books are available as Audiobooks. I had an extra credit and finally decided on “Fire” only because it was based on a real fire, one of the first that blazed through California. “Storm” is a combination of fiction and science — something that could happen and given the way the weather is these days, probably will. But just so you audio listeners know, George R. Stewart’s “Fire” and “Storm” are both ready for listening.