No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Earth Abides / Steam-Driven Boy

Earth Abides, by George Stewart, is a fascinating post-apocalyptic novel. A disease wipes out perhaps 99.999% of the population, and the novel follows one of the survivors, Ish [incidentally & coincidentally, The Last of Us includes a number of notes left by "Ish"].

While the first part of the novel has Ish crossing the country and returning, meeting a few other survivors along the way, the novel really takes off when he returns to the Bay Area and slowly builds a new civilization of sorts. It was interesting to read about crossing the Bay Bridge, shortly around the time of crossing it. Back in 1949, trucks and buses rode the lower level, while passenger cars were on the upper. Nowadays, the two levels travel opposite directions.

One of the other great features about the book is the occasional brief interludes, which have a very modern feel, in which Stewart points out the changes that will ensue from the loss of (almost all) mankind. But they ignore mankind itself, since man is no longer the star of the show, as far as the world is concerned. Many are brutal, unsentimental, detached, and... awesome. This is not the indifferent cosmos of Lovecraft, but an indifferent planet. Our planet

As for the cats, they had known little more than five thousand years of man's domination, and had always accepted it with reservations. Those unlucky enough to be left penned inside houses, soon died of thirst. But those who had been on the outside managed better than the dogs to scramble along one way or another. Their hunting of mice became an industry, not an amusement. They stalked birds now to satisfy the quick pang of hunger. They watched by the mole-tunnel in the uncut lawn, and by the gopher-burrow in the vacant lot. They prowled the in the streets and alleys, here and there discovering some garbage-can that the rats had not yet looted. They spread outward from the edge of the city, invading the haunts of the quail and the rabbits. There they met with the real wild-cat, and the end was quick and sudden, as the stronger inhabitant of the woods tore the city cat to pieces.

It's a little creaky with age, and in at least one way it made my head spin. Without spoiling too much, Ish eventually shacks up with a woman. After they get it on, she has a little freak-out... he's worried that she's worried about getting knocked up.

"Oh, it's not that! It's not that!" she cried out, still trembling. "I lied. Not what I said, what I didn't say! But it's all the same. You're just a nice boy. You looked at my hands, and said they were nice. You never even noticed the blue in the half-moons." He felt the shock, and he knew that she felt the shock in him. Now everything came together in his mind — brunette complexion, dark liquid eyes, full lips, white teeth, rich voice, accepting temperament.

You never even noticed the blue in the half-moons.

What the fuck?

This the fuck.

Perhaps the last vestige of a race code from the 19th century that has now expired so far as I know. (Likewise, Ish realizes that race codes largely expired with 99.999% of the population. Besides, he found himself a light-skinned gal with an 'accepting temperament,' like all black women.)

Another interesting aspect of the novel is that, although Ish is an avowed religious skeptic, he is prone to using religious imagery in his thought and speech, and there is also his struggle with the cult of personalities that arises, as his grand and great-grandchildren begin to look at the 'Americans' with a certain amount of religious awe. The Americans built the bridges and the water system and filled the cans and stocked the supermarkets that (partially) feed them in their world.

Good read.

The Steam-Driven Boy, by John Sladek.

I like Sladek a lot. Unfortunately(?), many of the stories in this collection are early in his career and too dependent upon the New Wave aesthetic. You know the sort of thing -- or maybe you don't... advertising slogans inserted randomly throughout the text of the short story. That sort of thing.

But the more satisfying part of the book are his parodies of other science fiction authors. Some scathing, some adulatory, but some are real works of art. I think the best of them (perhaps due to my personal preferences) is "Solar Shoe-Salesman" by 'Chipdip K. Kill'.
Tags: book

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