George R. Stewart’s STORM is getting stop-the-presses-treament.
This month, the New York Review of Books Press is re-publishing Stewart’s classic novel – the first ecological novel – and offering it as the August selection for those in the NYRB Classics Book Club. It’s available for purchase from their site (or your local bookseller).
The book has a new introduction, written by novelist and historian Nathaniel Rich. Rich joins a small, distinguished company of those who’ve written introductions for earlier editions of the novel – Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner and Ernest Callenbach.
It is as timely a read as Stewart’s FIRE, profiled here recently. Already, flash flood warnings are going up in areas still burning as recent rains rush over the now-burned-bare ground. Those dangerous conditions will continue for some time, until new ground cover and trees grow large enough to slow the speed of rain water hitting the ground. So mudslides, floods, avalanches, and debris flows will be the norm in those areas.
Stewart’s book, his first ecological novel – in fact THE first ecological novel – is the autobiography of a massive winter storm that sweeps across the central section of California, bringing floods, blizzards, massive banks of snow in the mountains – and death. As in FIRE, GRS writes in the best STEAM manner – weaving science, technology, engineering, art, and math together in a compelling manner to create a book which is still a page-turner, and still accurate, even after the 80 years since it was published. He is so successful that the book can be found on sites or in other books about weather science, literature, or history. It is a true interdisciplinary work.
Stewart’s novel was a best-seller and a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, read by millions, It was referenced in literature (James Jones “Some Came Running”) and the movies (Disney filmed a version for his TV show which had about 35,000,000 viewers per week). In addition to giving readers a fine literary adventure, it educated them. Anyone who reads the book learns the details as well as the drama and sacrifices of humans in the vast community we share, to keep the roads open, the towns dry, the airplanes or trains safe and running, the phone lines connected.
Stewart teaches readers about the incredible web of life all lifeforms share on this Earth. He also ntroduces the science and the vision of ecology. Beginning with STORM and continuing with FIRE, EARTH ABIDES, and SHEEP ROCK, he would give tens of millions – or maybe hundreds of millions – an eco-epiphany, and teach them the knowledge that underlies it.
By 1948, in a reply to a publicist, Stewart realized, or at least admitted, what he was doing: he wrote that he was “might be called an ecologist.”
One of the results of STORM probably came from a decision to distribute a portable pocket version to US soldiers during WW II. At least GRS thought so. He assumed thousands of troops read the novel. When they returned to peacetime America,some of them became meteorologists, and they thought Stewart’s idea to name his storm made sense.
There are human characters; but most are unnamed, only known by the titles Stewart gives them: The Young Meteorologist, The Pilot, The General. The primary name is reserved for the storm itself: Maria (“pronounced in the old-fashioned way” as Mariah). The result, which has spread around Earth, is that storms are now named.
Few people today alive know Stewart’s work (although that is changing) but almost everyone knows we name the storms. And most of us know that the wind is named Mariah.
“She was a wild Woman On The Loose!” The military version with tantalizing cover art. What young soldier could resist?
A more sedate version that could be taken home to share with the folks
(Much harder to find now!)
Stewart’s novel also shaped the life of a young Californian who would become a pioneer of the Space Age. James D. Burke spent some of his formative years living with his family in a cabin near Big Bear Lake in the Transverse Ranges of Southern California. While there, he read STORM. Stewart’s ability to teach another lesson – about how humans work together to solve problems or explore new worlds – led Dr. Burke to NASA_JPL. There, he became the first program manager for the Ranger program, then worked on many other projects as well. And he gained another distinction which GRS, place name expert that he was, would have found most satisfactory – Dr. Burke has an asteroid named for him: 4874 Burke.
STORM is still a wonderful read, teaches the reader about ecology using the techniques of STEAM, and as the book gives us the practice of naming storms is well worth a read. The NYRB re-issues of Stewart’s novels have excellent introductions and are bound ruggedly. I’m anxious to read the new Introduction by Rich. And, although I have many editions of the novel in my collection this edition’s rugged cover will make it perfect to carry in the Toyota Chinook micro-camper for camp reading.
Highly recommended to all.