Earth Abides
By: George R. Stewart

Quick-take: Slow burn with little payoff.

Dan's Review

Isherwood "Ish" Williams wakes up one day from his cabin secluded in the woods and finds the world has completely changed. It seems that he is one of the few survivors of a pandemic that wiped out a very significant portion of the human race. Thus, this non-story begins.

There does not seem to be any real story here. This book could best be described as a general survey of the United States after a virus wiped out all but a handful of stragglers. How long will X technology that we all take for granted hang on if there are no maintenance crews? The unsung heroes that patch-up of roads, faulty pipes, and making corrections when something is out of alignment is the very backbone of our society, and we don't even really know it.

The book goes into details about when something breaks. A slow leak in a pipe is noticed by an inspector making his rounds. No biggie. He just gets out some sealant to patch it up, and the pipe is good to go for at least a few more years or possibly longer. What happens if it never gets patched? Repeat that scenario for everything: roads, electrical wiring, or any other industry.

Humanity does a good job of automating, but eventually a lack of maintenance catches up. If I had to pick a plot line in this book, it would probably be that. This book can be best described as both warnings and adulation for technology being taken for granted. Ish frequently makes speeches to his family that the technology they are using needs to be re-learned. while it is still functional, besides just using it like black magic.

I wanted to enjoy this book more, but I was getting flashbacks of The Andromeda Strain, which is another book about a pandemic that managed to also put me to sleep.

Ish frequently complains that their "Swiss Family Robinson" or "Robinson Crusoe" style of life is content and slow, and he wishes there was more motivation to explore outward and see how other families are faring. I sure wish the same thing. "Other than being bored, we are doing OK." is not compelling story-telling.

There was an area in the middle where I thought something would actually happen. Motivated by a water line failure, the "tribe," as they are calling themselves, decided to do some exploring to see how others are faring. I was getting excited. Maybe they will meet some other families that are actually interesting? They did! However, I never got to meet them myself. Instead, when the crew came back, it was just described.

The book eventually ended with a whimper. Score 3/5. The one fascinating piece was that despite this book being 75 years old, many of the references are still relevant. We sure do like our indoor plumbing, refrigerators, light bulbs, automobiles, etc. I wish I could tell them that indoor plumbing and cars would be even better unleaded (though it is likely his own pipes were copper.).

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