On a field expedition, Ish Williams, a young graduate student of geography, is bitten by a rattlesnake. He lies near death in a cabin, unaware that a virus is wiping out humanity. When he finally staggers down from the mountains, he finds deserted towns, empty highways, dead bodies, looted stores, and other signs of an incredible disaster. He is unable to make any telephone or radio contact. Old newspapers tell of the plague ravaging every continent. He believes that the rattlesnake venom in his system must have counteracted the virus and saved his life.
Ish decides to drive across the United States, helping himself to supplies along the way. The few survivors he finds seem too stupid, immoral, or psychologically traumatized to qualify as long-term companions. Eventually he returns to Berkeley, with only a dog for companionship.
Although Ish feels lonely, his situation is enviable in some respects. He has unlimited quantities of everything he needs, including a million books at the university. He has been a quiet, studious person all his life and does not need human companionship as much as do others. There is no danger from animals yet, nor any reason to fear other humans because of the abundance of goods.
Ish encounters a woman named Em who has been living alone. They soon become lovers, entering into a form of marriage by pledging their vows. Over the ensuing years, they have a number of children. A handful of men and women join...
(The entire section is 587 words.)