An Apocalyptic Tale From 1949: “Earth Abides”
George R. Stewart’s 1949 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, “Earth Abides”, tells the story of Isherwood “Ish” Williams, a naturalist who, after barely surviving a rattlesnake bite, discovers that 99% of the world’s population has succumbed to a deadly virus.
The novel reflects the fears of a post-WWII nuclear apocalypse in American society, making it Stewart’s most recognized work and one that inaugurates the genre of apocalyptic fiction.
The novel, structured in three parts, focuses on the initial catastrophe, life 20 years after and 40 years after. Its protagonist, Ish, observes the decline of advanced human civilization and the regressing of human capabilities due to a lack of resources, creating a situation where surviving finds its own gravity and people regress to a tribalistic-like state.
Unlike other works in the genre, Stewart takes an ecological stance and his characters are not the smart and the fit, but simply people at fate’s whim. The novel is an intriguing exploration of the fragility of modern society and puts an emphasis on nature’s resilience.