I recently had a chance to read George Stewart’s classic, Earth Abides for the first time. For anyone who hasn’t read it, it focuses on one survivor of a plague that has wiped out almost the entire human race. As the story unfolds, the man attempts to find other survivors and start rebuilding some semblance of civilization. Recently, the book might be most well known for having inspired Stephen King to write The Stand.
What I first noticed about Earth Abides and what I enjoyed so much about it was that it doesn’t focus on the same “us versus them” or zombie apocalypse types of scenarios you tend to find so often, where the few survivors waste their time battling each other rather than rebuilding humanity. It was that same sense of frustration with most apocalyptic fiction that drove me to create the world of the Great De-evolution and write books like The Man Who Watched The World End and A Different Alchemy. Like Earth Abides these are books that focus on the long term effects of a decline in mankind—the wildlife that once again flourishes, the isolation felt by the few survivors and its impacts, the many parts of civilization that fade away and the few aspects that linger.
If you look at the two worlds at face level they seem very much alike. Both focus on the rare survivors, have little action, are very introspective, analyze the zoological and sociological aspects of the apocalypse, etc. What I quickly noticed, however, was that even with all of these similarities, The Man Who Watched The World End and A Different Alchemy are very much polar opposites of Earth Abides in many respects. The plague in Stewart’s book has already wiped out most of humanity and has run its course. The plague in my books lingers to the very end of mankind. Stewart focuses on the rebuilding efforts after the plague while I focus on the inevitable extinction of the human race. By themselves, these differences result in two starkly opposing views of the apocalypse. Stewart’s is filled with hope because of the slow re-establishment of law, order, and civilization. Mine is bleak because of the gradual fading away and extinction. Two similar approaches still result in contrasting endpoints.
Even after all of the similarities between my apocalyptic books and Earth Abides, there are still just as many differences between them as there are between Stewart’s book and The Stand and between The Stand and other “good versus evil” apocalyptic stories, etc. Whether it’s a difference in tone, theme, the story’s resolution, or any other aspect of storytelling, there are always new stories waiting to be told and whose slight differences will lead to something new and unrecognizable from the classics. We will never run out of great stories that need to be told. And if you’re a writer like I am, there will always be another story that needs to be created.