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HAF Book Club: April poll and discussion -- plague edition

Started by Sandra Craft, March 18, 2020, 08:44:55 AM

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Sandra Craft

Hoping this is not too gruesome a topic, I thought we might use April for a one-time reading of more or less classic plague stories.

Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart.  A 1949 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that tells the story of the fall of civilization from deadly disease and its rebirth.

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson.  An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy the last living man on Earth.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.  A boldly imagined future in which no hope remains, but in which a father and his young son are sustained by love.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.  After a swine flu pandemic kills most of the world's population, a young woman struggles to survive and help rebuild civilization. 

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks.  A novel based on the history of the small Derbyshire village of Eyam that, when beset by the plague in 1666, quarantined itself in order to prevent the disease from spreading further.



"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany


If religions were TV channels atheism is turning the TV off.
"Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt." ― Richard P. Feynman
'It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.' - Terry Pratchett
Remember, your inability to grasp science is not a valid argument against it.


I wouldn't mind folding in these into the regular fiction books.
Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.

billy rubin

Married pilot snorts coke off topless woman, then tries flying packed plane.

Sandra Craft



"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany

Sandra Craft

Just finished last night.  I did enjoy this book at lot, it's well and intelligently written altho I'll be honest that the parts where Ish is interacting with other people were more interesting to me that the parts where he's physically alone or isolated by age and just living inside his own head.

Now for the quibbles. This was written in 1939 and, in my opinion, didn't always age well. The most amusing clunkers were the times when Ish sprayed everyone down with DDT as a sanitizer. It's a wonder only two members of their group died of cancer.

The more problematic, and I realize this is because of when it was written, are the ethnic and eugenic issues.

By the end of the book it's become clear that all the surviving pockets of humanity are composed of people from the same general ethnic background. I think that if this book were written today, ethnically diverse groups would have been a given since that's what many of us are already used to.  It's true that Em is revealed early on to be "black", but is so obviously mostly of European ancestry that she has to actually tell Ish that in the Past Time she would have been considered a negro.

Ish magnanimously brushes this off as unimportant, tho earlier when he'd been driving thru what used to be Oklahoma he'd come across a tiny post-plague black family and couldn't think of any way of relating to them, if he stayed there, than as their master. There's also a tendency on the author's part to treat Em as the "magical negro", tho yes I know, that wasn't something white writers were aware of doing back in the 1930s.

Then there was the pure blood business that came along with Evie, reflecting the interest in and support of eugenics still prevalent at the time (Hitler putting most people off that sort of thinking was still a few years in the future).

Ish is very concerned that Evie never be allowed to reproduce because they couldn't risk any half-wit children bringing down their bloodline and handicapping them -- really, that was exactly how it was stated, not once but every time Evie showed up in the story.

When Ezra first brought Evie to the group, Ish considered killing her just to have the problem dealt with immediately. When Evie finally dies of natural causes in middle-age, Ish thinks of her living out her life with them as a misguided humanitarianism left over from the Old Time, since her life had been potentially dangerous to them and unhappy for her. And I'd say that would probably have been true since no one made the slightest effort to make her life a happy one.

It does interest me that the author has George, portrayed as no mental giant himself, bring up the possibility that Evie was not a half-wit, but suffered from permanent emotional shock after seeing everyone around her die suddenly and being left to fend for herself as a child. I thought that idea was worth a deal of consideration, but Ish brushes it off since, without doctors and tests, there's no way to know and it's safer just to treat her as a non-human lump if they aren't going to put her down. Chilling, but that was common thinking back then. Common still today among some, but thankfully no longer popular.

My favorite quote from the books comes when Ish asks Jack, his great-grandson, if he is happy:

"Yes, I am happy. Things are as they are, and I am part of them."

Yeah, I think that's about the size of it.


"Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet."  Sarah Louise Delany


I had a lot of the same issues.

I was also sensitive to the odd sexism of yesteryear where men and women seem to have different emotional roles that rarely ever cross.

I did like how after the end of civilization, trying to hold onto the old ways didn't make sense anymore, but I think there is a middle ground between strictly re-creating society and throwing it all away to rebuild all over again from hunter/gatherers.

Sorry, yet another terrible review, I'll try better next month.

I did enjoy the book overall. Parts did not age well, but there were a lot of the book held up.
Always question all authorities because the authority you don't question is the most dangerous... except me, never question me.