Warning- I hated this book and will spoil it, if you’re a fan please don’t read this because it will only make you angry
In 1949 George R. Stewart wrote Earth Abides a pioneering work of science fiction that even today impresses with it’s rigor and curiosity. After a global pandemic wipes out a majority of the earth’s population, the remaining people band together but notice all too late that their grip on the world was never firm.
What makes the book an evergreen classic is Stewart’s exceptional attention to detail. Following what becomes a single tribe of white survivors, Stewart dons many hats. His keen eyes detail the slow decay of the great American cities without specialists to run them, he notices the flora and fauna rebound and the farm animals run wild. While our tribe gradually runs out of things they can scavenge they notice the cattle, livestock and dogs grow- generation after generation- to suit their new roles in the wild. While the third generation of children finally breaks away from the shadow of their grandparents’ memories they slowly begin to develop their own priorities of pastoralism and gathering while their parents struggle to inform them of a world that has passed. Dregs of the old world remain in what is shaping up to be a sort of priestly class. Across the mountains and on the plains other tribes, black and native rebuild in their own way. Slowly the tribes of men flourish, raiding the abandoned cities only for metals, and coins to turn into arrowheads.
The book closes on a man of science, a biologist, a teacher who slowly realises the profound capacity of the earth to change, the limitations of modernity and power. So great a novel written in a promising age for the USA, when they were on the cusp of empire. Admirable intelligence, restraint and vision colour the novels many subjects. Yet here I am pissed about “The Stand”. The Stand is King’s perhaps King’s worst work with his usual over indulgence, over production, excessive sentimentality strewn over a thousand pages too many.
King was always what political scientists may call a “shit lib”. Never has the man been able to consider society as something capable of producing it’s own villains. It’s fine when he’s writing about alien clowns or crazed dogs but woe befalls any reader caught in his web with a few characters too many. There’s a reason he hated Kubrick’s “The Shining”. In his boring book a psychic child has psychic powers while his dad is driven insane by a hotel. Kubric elevates this wasted premise encapsulating in the hotel the brutality of colonialism, the genocide of the Native American’s, the callous and negligent stewards of empire handing over responsibility to a violent man who hates his family. The hotel did not do anything to drive him crazy, he always belonged in it’s madness. It is an utterly boring movie but it has got substance.
What happens in King’s attempt to encapsulate the epic spirt of the Lord of the Rings? What happens in a novel that critics praised as being believable and captivating? Middling, guilt ridden white protagonists who could have easily appeared in his million other books drive Vespa’s around the country in search of a magical n***o while an early prototype of an Incel and a guy called the “Trashcanman” attempt to foil their nascent all American republic/theocracy. Seriously he’s called the Trashcan man and he takes down the Sauron archetype with a nuclear bomb. Were the editors tied to bed by over zelous fans? In a talent exclusive only to new American author’s King sails through an apocalypse with no curiosity, eyes firmly closed to any new possibilities arriving at the same old vices with a post-apocalyptic aesthetic. It’s incredible how easily it fits in with the exhausted zombie movie craze that refuses to die.
If you’re ever looking for a good lead onto the decline and fall of the US empire, something like the Sopranos but for literature, look into why something like this would be successful while a novel like the Earth Abides is banished to obscurity. King has always leaned close to campy-ness but this is just the slop they feed hungry pigs.