This isn’t a book review, but I need to briefly allude to some of the details of “Earth Abides“, a dystopian fiction novel first copyrighted in 1949 by George R. Stewart. While it’s a good novel as it is, it’s dated because it wasn’t set in the future; it was set in the present day of the time it was written. Because of the current Copyright law of the United States and the fact that Stewart died in 1980, this book will not enter the public domain until at least 2050.
Dated Issues from the Novel
The first time I read the novel was when I was in my early teens, possibly even younger. I know that it was prior to 1974 (and I was 13 years of age at that time). At the time, I didn’t notice anything amiss and I probably shouldn’t have, given my age. I’m in the process of reading it again and I’m about halfway through it. This time I’ve already noticed a few things.
It should be obvious why only radios were mentioned for news broadcasts. The black and white, cathode ray televisions were prohibitively expensive until the early 1950s. Prior to that, only the rich people in America could afford them. It makes me wonder what kind of television programming existed prior to the TV set becoming a mainstream product. Nevertheless, the news about the plague which wiped out most of humanity was obtained from an old newspaper.
Ish, the main character in the novel, has no problem filling his station wagon with gasoline at any pump that still has gasoline available. No one had to turn on the pump from inside the service station and he didn’t have to pull out a debit or credit card to buy the gas. These days, he probably wouldn’t have been able to use any of the modern pumps for very long at all even if he had a gas card of some kind because the funds probably wouldn’t adjust properly with the entity that funds the card.
I won’t get into the descriptions of food packaging and such — the word “plastic” was never used as far as I can remember. “Nuclear” wasn’t used either, although I believe “atomic” was used once or twice. There’s no mention of computers, cell phones or any other modern technological gadgets. Huge room-sized computers were only available to the military before 1950 and everything else came into being much later.
“Earth Abides”, in the hands of good author, could easily be rewritten to make it believable in modern times. Many other books (including Stephen King’s “The Stand”) and movies were inspired by the original — how many more could be inspired by an up-to-date theme?
Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution (adopted in 1787), known as the Copyright Clause, empowers the United States Congress:
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
Please note that it gives the congress the power to enact laws which perform the above. The current copyright law (or combination of laws) is unconstitutional and anyone who say’s it isn’t should be ashamed of himself. Which part of the life of the author plus 70 years translates into “limited time”?