Friday, 24 April 2009

Earth Abides

Earth Abides is one of the books that I read when I think I really started to get into reading, when I purposefully set out to read science fiction and expand my mind. It's tough to explain what I mean by that. I guess up until about the age of 16 or 17 I just read whatever I came across, whatever seemed to take my fancy in the bookshop. It was only after I started reading the science fiction magazine SFX that I began to think, "Maybe there are books out there that I should be looking for."

Around that time a publish (Gollancz I think) started the SF Masterworks imprint, and over the course of about two years I built up a collection from the line which almost fills a bookcase. Earth Abides was one of the first that I got (after I Am Legend and The Stars My Destination, more on them some other time); I'm trying to recall whether I had heard about it in SFX or whether the story just jumped out at me when I read the synopsis on the back, but in any case it was a book that just resonated with me when I read it, and has done every time since that I have re-read it. It is a book that I want to tell everyone about, but which by reading it becomes a book that I wish had been written only for me.

A plague wipes out nearly the entire human race. Isherwood Williams, a graduate student in the middle of nowhere on research survives and begins a trek across America to see the country now that humans are gone. He meets a few survivors and they settle and start a community over the bay from San Francisco, and time moves on. The story is divided into three stages: his life immediately after the plague, two decades after when the community is now over twenty strong, with children and even young grandchildren living there; and then some time much later, when Ish (as he is now known) is an old man, the Last American. All points of the story are written with such care, with such attention to detail, and with such a focus on what might be and how humans would react that it always surprises me when I see on the back cover that it was George R. Stewart's only work of science fiction.

It is certainly among my top twenty favourite books, and possibly makes it into my top ten (there's a thought, when I finish these 101 things I should compile a list of my top twenty books); it is a book that I would recommend without reservation to anyone. It is a book that makes you think about the future, and at the same time makes you realise that what we hold dear today might not be so important in years to come.

'Men go and come, but earth abides.'

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like the sound of this

-Matt

zero_zero_one said...

You definitely, definitely need to read it.