Earth Abides is an interesting kind of post-apocalypse novel in that it is about a plague, which wipes the vast majority of earth’s population out (not turning them into zombies or vampires); it is however, dreadfully boring. The novel does not hold much in the way of fast paced adventure, or the things that a contemporary reader would expect from the post-apocalypse novel that is typical of today. The first hundred pages of the book are really the hardest part, if you can get past that, then you can read the whole book.
Stewart tries very hard to create a world in which all things are considered. Through his main character, Ishwood, he tries to show how the world would be affected after a plague. I think this is the mistake he makes, his plot line suffers because he is trying to convey almost a tour of the US in the beginning of the book, and highlight areas that would be recognizable to readers, but this is poorly accomplished because it is simply uninteresting to read. There are some interesting points brought up by Stewart as he himself ponders the reality of a world ending plague. There are several characters during the first leg of the book that show how he thinks that it could play out. There is the drunkard, who the author seems to have a grudging respect for, the lunatics who snap under pressure, and the people who pretend that nothing has happened. The thing that all of these different types of characters seem to hold in common is that they are all kinds of suicide. There is not a single one of these people who will very likely make it through the first year without civilization.
Despite the lack of plot in the beginning of the book we do being to get an interesting observation about how the structure of society can very quickly breakdown, and how little our rules and morals actually mean. In the post-apocalypse era people are more than willing to abandon the memories of their loved ones or spouses for basic human company. A lot of the people that Ish meets have already found someone new, and are pretending that nothing has happened, as if they were together all along. This says a lot about the adaptability of humans to their changing circumstances, which is an issue that the author grapples with a lot. I think also that the author grapples significantly with the insignificance of humans in the grand scheme of things.
Stewart discusses more than once how little we would be missed if all humans were to disappear. I think this is an interesting study of how important we actually are in the world, because as we disappear other species seem to have their day, and the world becomes more naturally balanced yet again. He also grapples with the idea of society and rules, and how easily it can be broken down. This can really be seen in the decision to murder Charlie, he is killed because he has STD’s which is rather similar to euthanasia, and I think perhaps a product of the author’s time. In a functioning society someone would not receive the death penalty for having STD’s they would probably receive medical help. The society that is created by Ish and Em is not perfect and rivals on being dystopian.
I think that a few minor changes would go a long way with this book. It is an interesting read and presents some interesting ideas to try and grapple with when talking about the future, but I was much less interested than I typically am in post-apocalyptic stories, and would like to have had more of a plot to follow.