Just re-read a late-1940s sci-fi classic, Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. It’s a precursor of The Stand and I Am Legend and I think the first sci-novel to postulate the virtual elimination of the human race by disease. I read it a long time ago and only remember the first part, up to the point where the main character Isherwood Williams meets another survivor he wants to hook up with. I loved when I read it the first time though it’s not very good, really. But this time, I still loved the first part where Ish drives across the country from the Bay Area to New York and sees how already in the first months the structures, physical and social, that man has built are deteriorating.
But the second two-thirds of the novel I really found annoying. Ish and his mate, Em, and the few others they find and bond with are so utterly passive and stupid. Within a generation, Ish gives up on teaching the children reading and mathematics because they aren’t particularly interested. And instead to get a jump start on the reversion to savagry builds a bow and arrow from scratch. Okay, the bow and arrow is a good idea but come on, reading? Couldn’t even read those kids Duck Skates by Lynne Berry? Or Goodnight Moon? Apparently reading to kids hadn’t occurred to him.
And I started thinking of all the fun you could have with this. If it were me, I’d go and make my home in a beautiful university campus somewhere far enough South to avoid the worst of the snows and far enough north to avoid the malaria and alligators. Like Duke maybe, though I’ve never even been on the Duke campus. Or UVA?
And in Earth Abides they are so lazy they won’t even haul a gas-powered refrigerator up their hill. I don’t believe that. Think of how hard what’s her name in Cold Mountain worked when she was left alone in the wilderness to keep her farm going. People just aren’t that lazy. If my sister-in-law Carla survived the plague she’d have the whole East Coast’s power back on in a few months.
I just looked it up on Amazon and damned if Del Ray hasn’t reissued it (2006) and it’s 7,000 something on the sales ranking. Whoa!
Also started Tree of Smoke but know I won’t finish it. It’s too intense. I already dread reading each new chapter because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen and don’t really want it in my mind. Brilliant, of course. The writing is just what great writing should be. Crisp, invisible, inevitable and occasionally piercing.
So I have only re-read books so far for 2008:
1. Earth Abides, George R. Stewart
2. Captain Salt in Oz, Ruth Plumly Thompson