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EARTH ABIDES [Mass Market Paperback]

George R. Stewart
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 12 1981
An instant classic upon its original publication in 1949 and winner of the first International Fantasy Award, Earth Abides ranks with On the Beach and Riddley Walker as one of our most provocative and finely wrought post-apocalyptic works of literature. Its impact is still fresh, its lessons timeless. When a plague of unprecedented virulence sweeps the globe, the human race is all but wiped out. In the aftermath, as the great machine of civilization slowly, inexorably, breaks down, only a few shattered survivors remain to struggle against the slide into barbarism . . . or extinction. This is the story of one such survivor, Isherwood “Ish” Williams, an intellectual loner who embraces the grim duty of bearing witness to what may be humanity’s final days. But then he finds Em, a wise and courageous woman who coaxes his stunned heart back to life and teaches him to hope again. Together, they will face unimaginable challenges as they sow the seeds of a new beginning. “One of the finest of all post-holocaust novels.” — The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
--This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

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About the Author

George Rippey Stewart (May 31, 1895 – August 22, 1980) was an American toponymist, a novelist, and a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is best known for his only science fiction novel Earth Abides (1949), a post-apocalyptic novel, for which he won the first International Fantasy Award in 1951. It was dramatized on radio's Escape and inspired Stephen King's The Stand. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1.

. . . and the government of the United States of America is herewith suspended, except in the District of Columbia, as of the emergency. Federal officers, including those of the Armed Forces, will put themselves under the orders of the governors of the various states or of any other functioning local authority. By order of the Acting President. God save the people of the United States. . . .

Here is an announcement which has just come in from the Bay Area Emergency Council. The West Oakland Hospitalization Center has been abandoned. Its functions, including burials at sea, are now concentrated at the Berkeley Center. That is all. . . .

Keep tuned to this station, which is the only one now in operation in northern California. We shall inform you of developments, as long as it is possible.

Just as he pulled himself up to the rock ledge, he heard a sudden rattle, and felt a prick of fangs. Automatically he jerked back his right hand; turning his head, he saw the snake, coiled and menacing. It was not a large one, he noted, even at the moment when he raised his hand to his lips and sucked hard at the base of the index finger, where a little drop of blood was oozing out.

“Don’t waste time by killing the snake!” he remembered.

He slid down from the ledge, still sucking. At the bottom he saw the hammer lying where he had left it. For a moment he thought he would go on and leave it there. That seemed like panic; so he stooped and picked it up with his left hand, and went on down the rough trail.

He did not hurry. He knew better than that. Hurry only speeded up a man’s heart, and made the venom circulate faster. Yet his heart was pounding so rapidly from excitement or fear that hurrying or not hurrying, it seemed, should make no difference. After he had come to some trees, he took his handkerchief and bound it around his right wrist. With the aid of a twig he twisted the handkerchief into a crude tourniquet.

Walking on, he felt himself recovering from his panic. His heart was slowing down. As he considered the situation, he was not greatly afraid. He was a young man, vigorous and healthy. Such a bite would hardly be fatal, even though he was by himself and without good means of treatment.

Now he saw the cabin ahead of him. His hand felt stiff. Just before he got to the cabin, he stopped and loosened the tourniquet, as he had read should be done, and let the blood circulate in the hand. Then he tightened it again.

He pushed open the door, dropping the hammer on the floor as he did so. It fell, handle up, on its heavy head, rocked back and forth for a moment, and then stood still, handle in the air.

He looked into the drawer of the table, and found his snake-bite outfit, which he should have been carrying with him on this day of all days. Quickly he followed the directions, slicing with the razor-blade a neat little crisscross over the mark of the fangs, applying the rubber suction-pump. Then he lay on his bunk watching the rubber bulb slowly expand, as it sucked the blood out.

He felt no premonitions of death. Rather, the whole matter still seemed to him just a nuisance. People had kept telling him that he should not go into the mountains by himself—“Without even a dog!” they used to add. He had always laughed at them. A dog was constant trouble, getting mixed up with porcupines or skunks, and he was not fond of dogs anyway. Now all those people would say, “Well, we warned you!”

Tossing about half-feverishly, he now seemed to himself to be composing a defense. “Perhaps,” he would say, “the very danger in it appealed to me!” (That had a touch of the heroic in it.) More truthfully he might say, “I like to be alone at times, really need to escape from all the problems of dealing with people.” His best defense, however, would merely be that, at least during the last year, he had gone into the mountains alone as a matter of business. As a graduate student, he was working on a thesis: The Ecology of the Black Creek Area. He had to investigate the relationships, past and present, of men and plants and animals in this region. Obviously he could not wait until just the right companion came along. In any case, he could never see that there was any great danger. Although nobody lived within five miles of his cabin, during the summer hardly a day passed without some fisherman coming by, driving his car up the rocky road or merely following the stream.

Yet, come to think of it, when had he last seen a fisherman? Not in the past week certainly. He could not actually remember whether he had seen one in the two weeks that he had been living by himself in the cabin. There was that car he had heard go by after dark one night. He thought it strange that any car would be going up that road in the darkness, and could hardly see the necessity, for ordinarily people camped down below for the night and went up in the morning. But perhaps, he thought, they wanted to get up to their favorite stream, to go out for some early fishing.

No, actually, he had not exchanged a word with anyone in the last two weeks, and he could not even remember that he had seen anyone.

A throb of pain brought him back to what was happening at the moment. The hand was beginning to swell. He loosened the tourniquet to let the blood circulate again.

Yes, as he returned to his thoughts, he realized that he was out of touch with things entirely. He had no radio. Therefore, as far as he was concerned, there might have been a crash of the stock market or another Pearl Harbor; something like that would account for so few fishermen going by. At any rate, there was very little chance apparently that anyone would come to help him. He would have to work his own way out.

Yet even that prospect did not alarm him. At worst, he considered, he would lie up in his cabin, with plenty of food and water for two or three days, until the swelling in his hand subsided and he could drive his car down to Johnson’s, the first ranch.

The afternoon wore on. He did not feel like eating anything when it came toward suppertime, but he made himself a pot of coffee on the gasoline stove, and drank several cups. He was in much pain, but in spite of the pain and in spite of the coffee he became sleepy. . . .

He woke suddenly in half-light, and realized that someone had pushed open the cabin door. He felt a sudden relief to know that he had help. Two men in city clothes were standing there, very decent-looking men, although staring around strangely, as if in fright. “I’m sick!” he said from his bunk, and suddenly he saw the fright on their faces change to sheer panic. They turned suddenly without even shutting the door, and ran. A moment later came the sound of a starting motor. It faded out as the car went up the road.

Appalled now for the first time, he raised himself from the bunk, and looked through the window. The car had already vanished around the curve. He could not understand. Why had they suddenly disappeared in panic, without even offering to help?

He got up. The light was in the east; so he had slept until dawn the next morning. His right hand was swollen and acutely painful. Otherwise he did not feel very ill. He warmed up the pot of coffee, made himself some oatmeal, and lay down in his bunk again, in the hope that after a while he would feel well enough to risk driving down to Johnson’s—that is, of course, if no one came along in the meantime who would stop and help him and not like those others, who must be crazy, run away at the sight of a sick man.

Soon, however, he felt much worse, and realized that he must be suffering some kind of relapse. By the middle of the afternoon he was really frightened. Lying in his bunk, he composed a note, thinking that he should leave a record of what had happened. It would not be very long of course before someone would find him; his parents would certainly telephone Johnson’s in a few days now, if they did not hear anything. Scrawling with his left hand, he managed to get the words onto paper. He signed merely Ish. It was too much work to write out his full name of Isherwood Williams, and everybody knew him by his nickname.

At noon, feeling himself like the shipwrecked mariner who from his raft sees the steamer cross along the horizon, he heard the sound of cars, two of them, coming up the steep road. They approached, and then went on, without stopping. He called to them, but by now he was weak, and his voice, he was sure, did not carry the hundred yards to the turnoff where the cars were passing.

Even so, before dusk he struggled to his feet, and lighted the kerosene lamp. He did not want to be left in the dark.

Apprehensively, he bent his lanky body down to peer into the little mirror, set too low for him because of the sloping roof of the cabin. His long face was thin always, and scarcely seemed thinner now, but a reddish flush showed through the suntan of his cheeks. His big blue eyes were bloodshot, and stared back at him wildly with the glare of fever. His light brown hair, unruly always, now stuck out in all directions, completing the mirror-portrait of a very sick young man.

He got back into his bunk, feeling no great sense of fear, although now he more than half expected that he was dying. Soon a violent chill struck him; from that he passed into a fever. The lamp burned steadily on the table, and he could see around the cabin. The hammer which he had dropped on the floor still stood there, handle pointed stiffly upwards, precariously balanced. Being right before his eyes, the hammer occupied an unduly l... --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Man Wrought July 24 2010
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Earth Abides, written in 1949, tells the story of the fall of civilization from deadly disease and its "rebirth". It is actually three books in one: the disintegration of the world, the establishment of a new collective culture, and the moral weights of leadership. I initially read it as a post-apocalyptic novel and was rewarded with a philosophical treatise on the loss of a way of life and the dangers of man oversimplifying himself. The development of the tiny band's subsequent generations is more terrifying than a plague wiping out the planet. It is a story of 'what man wrought' but not in the way one anticipates. Originally classified a "science fiction" novel, now, with time, it must be categorized as literature.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Just simply a great classic story. May 9 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well written by a great writer. Best of the genre. I was glad to see that there were several more printings after my first encounter with this fascinating story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Melancholy Science Fiction Classic Feb. 18 2013
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Isherwood Williams is away in the mountains pursuing his graduate field studies in geology. In our iPhone, instant connectivity world it is hard to imagine the isolation this kind of trip entailed in the 1950's when George Stewart wrote his book. Recovering from a snake bite, Ish stumbles back from the hills to find most of humanity wiped out by disease. We follow Ish through the remainder of his life as he comes to terms with a changing Earth--an Earth on which humanity is a barely noticeable presence.

The absence of humanity is not only a stark fact, but is emphasized by the author's writing style. Ish is a clear introvert and we experience much of the Earth's change through his internal monologue. Even when he encounters, interacts with, and teams up with other people, this produces very little dialogue. This style underscores the aloneness of the book's characters. It's not loneliness, in the emotional sense, but a continuing reminder that other people no longer play a significant role in the world.

The Earth itself becomes an evolving character in the book. We experience the successive rise and fall in populations of insects, rats, dogs and other species as seasons in the Earth's changing life. The diminishing resources scavenged by human beings from cities and storehouses are important to their survival, but also serve as markers of change as the Earth sheds the thin layers of Man's influence. This change is not progress, nor is it overly mourned as decline. It is thoroughly described and documented as inevitable change. Ish observes it and reacts to it. But neither he nor the other characters influence its path or pace.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very gripping read Jan. 31 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent story. Perhaps my favorite post-apocalyptic novel. Very sad at times, uplifting other times. Interesting political, social, and religious commentary within some episodes and chapters. I strongly recommend this book to anybody. I can't believe I hadn't heard of this novel before.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasantly slow demise May 1 2007
By Krypter
Earth Abides is not a typical post-apocalyptic novel. It doesn't present a world of mutants, giant cockroaches or bands of marauders. It simply shows the slow and inevitable decay of man and all his works, in the teeth of attempts by the protagonist to restore the old ways of civilization. In that it succeeds beautifully and shows us the grandeur of our world and the majesty of what we have wrought...then compares it to the greater majesty of nature and the eternal gaze of time. The novel works best as a family drama, more Swiss Family Robinson than Mad Max, and has no sensational adventures to offer other than the daily tribulations of life. For man may be a great creature, but he is still small and the world doesn't really need him at all...

Earth Abides is the most meditative and serene post-apocalyptic novel I've ever read, and it's recommended for more thoughtful readers who won't be easily bored.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Earth Abides by George R. Stewart Feb. 16 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I first read this book back in 1967. At that time I was a kid and the whole story seemed to be nothing but "science fiction." I read about the way Ish went through his life, with a disbelief that it could ever happen here and now.
However, today I look at the possibility that civilization could be shattered by the loss of what we have come to consider the essential necessities of life - electricity, water, gas, gasoline, telephone, computers, drug stores and grocery stores. Now when I read Earth Abides, I realize that this story could actually happen to us. The problems that Ish had to deal with are now possible. As I read this story, I found myself wondering how I would handle dwindling supplies, the threats of animals and disease, the decreasing availability of items that spoil or evaporate, the social interaction with people, both good and bad. I wondered how I would deal with the lack of food, water, and medicine? Would I be able to survive in a deserted city with no electricity? With terrorists threatening to destroy our way of life, this book could be a survival guide for the modern man.
I especially found the greatest distress in this book was the way knowledge was lost. First Ish wanted to read and then it became less important and then the books fell apart. Ish became an antique with knowledge of things that meant nothing to the younger generation that was growing up around him. This book should be used to teach us all a lesson - that we must keep the flame of knowledge burning all the time or we could lose it so very fast.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Beware, the main character is extremely unlikeable
For the first time in my life, I could not finish a novel. The author definetly set new ground with this book and I can see how it had wow factor at that time. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2011 by mycrysie
2.0 out of 5 stars An overestimated classic
Having heard so much about Stewart's book, I finally decided to give it a try. I attempted to do so while still bearing in mind that, like "War of the Worlds" and... Read more
Published on Sept. 14 2005 by Simon-Pierre Paquette
5.0 out of 5 stars After the pestilence Humankind abides.
I had read this book several times in the past and before reviewing it I read it again.
His author was more than fifty years old when he wrote it. Read more
Published on May 30 2004 by Maximiliano F Yofre
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written
This book reaches across time and avoids the technology trap. It hits home in many circumstances and is an excellent read. I liked its energy and symbolism. Read more
Published on March 23 2004 by Michael Dodson
2.0 out of 5 stars Sorry, I just didn't get it.
I see many people loved this book, but having just finished it, I just don't get the appeal it has for so many people. I found it incredibly boring and tedious. Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2004 by Donald P. Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally believable sci-fi
It blows my mind to imagine a book like this having been written over 50 years ago as it deals with the end (and reformation) of civilization in a way that is believable and... Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2004 by Neil Sorenson
4.0 out of 5 stars Ages well...
A worldwide virus has killed off nearly all the world's population. Ish starts exploring a world with no rules and few people. Read more
Published on Jan. 14 2004 by Thomas Duff
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