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FriedEgg

FriedEgg

Earth Abides (SF Collector's Library) - George R. Stewart This post apocalyptic account of a man (Isherwood) that survives a rampant virus that virtually wipes out all of humanity is a worthy addition to the SF Masterworks series.

We see how, from immediately after the "great disaster" the trappings of civilization begin to collapse and malfunction. One by one, the lingering benefits of our technological age cease to be available to the survivers and they are forced to revert to more primative ways of sustaining themselves. We see the effects on nature, particularly on those plants and animals most dependent on man, unfold. Many domesticated species either quickly die or revert to the wild and parasitical species populations (like ants and rats) initially explode and then dwindle again. And finally, when the few survivers begin to find each other and form new social bonds again (those who aren't driven mad by the shock of it all), we see the problems that they face and must deal with. High infant mortality rates, how to organise effectively to get anything done and how to respond to threats that require a unity of action.

The book is divided into three parts, the first feels more like an extended prologue that some might feel too slow moving without much happening. It is basically a chronicle (and written as dryly) of Isherwood's first year, his learning of what has happened to humanity and his gradual coming to terms with his new reality. The second part is the real "meat" of the story and follows one year (22 years after the disaster) in his small social group in a particularly troubling time. The last part is like an epilogue when Isherwood is a very old man.

What was particularly interesting was Isherwood's battle to see civilization re-establish itself, for knowledge from the past not to be lost but those born since the disaster just don't seem that interested. He wants to see them become more than mere scavengers on left overs from the past, to thinking and creating things for themselves again. He is forced to question whether humanity is actually any different than it had ever been and face up to the probability that much that went before will remain irretrievably lost.

The story is deeply sad and nostalgic but at the same time hopeful and uplifting. A flawed masterpiece.