I had low expectations for Earth Abides (1949). The word ‘abides’ sounds old fashioned – but don’t let that put you off. This is a cracker.
The book’s been somewhat overlooked in recent years, but it’s had a fair amount of influence. Stephen King cites it as an influence on The Stand, for example. Yes, like The Last Man (1828), and The Stand, this is yet another post-apocalyptic novel featuring a plot based around a deadly viral pandemic.
What can I say? Earth Abides is an intelligent novel. It’s cli-fi before cli-fi. It feels a bit like I am Legend before I am Legend. It’s Five, the first post-apocalyptic Cold War film, before Five. It’s One Second After, before One Second After.
Earth Abides is an intelligently handled, well-written story. George R Stewart was a smart guy with eclectic interests, a bit like Tolkien, and it shows in this novel. Stewart was writing disaster stories, in the vein of 1970s Hollywood, in the 1940s. He was a historian, and an English literature academic. The writing is accessible and there’s loads of remarkable observations about the environment as the human world is slowly re-wilded. This might be on my top ten list of post-apocalyptic novels.
Working out the plot of a new novel
Like anything in life, plot is something you have to work out yourself. You have to figure things out as you go along. Everything takes longer than it otherwise might.
For people who’ve done this before, they are operating from an existing knowledge base and experience. They have a readymade process to start from. They have context and the reassurance that they’ve done this before. When I started writing, I didn’t plan. I just sat down and wrote. Some people call this ‘pantsing’, because you’re doing it by the ‘seat of your pants’. It’s definitely a thrill ride, discovering what happens in the story as you write it. But, it can be risky. It can lead to dead-ends, and many other issues with the story. Some of these can be difficult and time-consuming to fix.
These days I write a simple pre-panned bullet point list, chapter-by-chapter. This gives me a framework to get the pacing right, and to deliver the story with sufficient tension and plot interest. While I have the basic framework (navigation waypoints), I don’t know how the specific dramatic action unfolds. This keeps it interesting for me as I’m writing the story.
The Book of Boba Fett
I don’t consider myself a Star Wars fanboy. I like the Star Wars world, but I don’t nerd-out on it, if I’m being completely honest. I still think the old stuff is probably the franchise at its best. I’ve enjoyed the more recent offerings too, and in some cases it’s come in for unfair criticism. The Mandalorian was the previous Star Wars spin-off ‘TV’ series, and it was a lot of fun. It reminded me of those now-classic 1960s, 70s and 80s US TV series, like The Fugitive, or the A-Team. An outlaw, or a group of outlaws, moves from place to place, solving problems and helping people they meet along the way. That was in the days when TV series didn’t have a long arc. Each episode was a self-contained, and highly formulaic, unit:
- The protagonist(s) arrive in a place that’s out of balance, and witness an injustice.
- They fight the injustice.
- They are victorious. The balance is returned, and they leave.
This is basically a modernised version of the knight-errant story. Watching The Book of Boba Fett has been a welcome accident. What makes it such an enjoyable watch? Well, you’re getting cinematic quality special effects, slick storytelling and acting, and plenty of action. And with only seven episodes it shouldn’t outstay its welcome.