This is certainly the Year of Earth Abides, Year 71 to carve on Indian Rock, and there will a new printing of Earth Abides in October to celebrate. It will be notable for two reasons:
Most of the previous covers for the novel have focused on people or the ruins of a post-pandemic world. The new printing has a distinctive, beautiful cover featuring Ish’s Hammer.(The Hammer of Ish is one of two major symbols in Stewart’s work. The Pitcher in Sheep Rock is his female symbol. The Hammer of Ish, his male symbol.)
to be released October 13, 2020
Its “Introduction” is by distinguished writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Even if you already have a copy of the novel, buying this edition will bring the Hammer of Ish and Robinson’s excellent survey of the book and Stewart’s life and work to your library. (You can preorder it from Amazon or your local independent bookseller.)
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Robinson’s “Introduction” joins two other essays on Earth Abides to make a trilogy of considerations of novel and author. Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Introduction” is a wonderfully-written, well-researched essay about the book as influenced by Stewart’s life, and in comparison to his other work. James Sallis’s fine essay is a poetic consideration of the book as great literature. Pat Joseph’s article for California, the University of California Alumni Magazine, is written with an eye to Berkeley and the University’s role in the novel; and it examines the parallels with Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague.
Pat Joseph’s article is a fine contribution to the book’s data and lore. His research turned up a few things I wish I’d found in my George R. Stewart scholarship. But better late than never, and his discoveries have enriched my understanding of the great work.
Joseph’s framing of the article in the context of U. C. Berkeley means this will be of special interest to those who know the University. For those who don’t, his article, like Stewart’s novel, may well act as a draw when our pandemic ends. At least one Stewart scholar, Steve Williams, was so drawn by his reading of Earth Abides; his trip from England to the Bay Area resulted in a lengthy article and substantial contributions to the Bancroft Stewart Papers – gifts for future scholars.
Joseph’s comments about The Scarlet Plague are provocative. The parallels are strong. The major differences I note – and they are significant – is that there’s more science and deeper philosophy in Stewart’s book. And there’s no Em, one of Stewart’s greatest characters, in London’s novel.
James Sallis’s essay in the Boston Globe, “Earth Abides: Stewart’s dark eulogy for humankind,” gives a more global look at Earth Abides. It also emphasizes that the novel is far more than a science fiction book. It’s great literature – one of our finest novels – and has a profound effect on readers. It’s a beautiful bit of writing, musical in its effects. No accident, since Sallis is a poet and a novelist.
The third essay in the trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson’s, gracefully surveys Stewart’s work and life, putting Earth Abides into the context of both. As Robinson is careful to point out much if not all of Stewart’s work can be considered, in the truest meaning of the words, “science fiction.” Storm, Fire, Sheep Rock, are works with strong underpinnings of science – that is to say, works of fiction about science. Other books, like Ordeal By Hunger and The Years of the City, also have that sense of human events dramatized within Stewart’s seminal belief that “….the land is a character in the work.
The “Earth Abides Considerations” trilogy now joins other essays about Stewart’s work, focused on different books or more general appreciations. Matt Weiland’s “Introduction” to the New York Review of Books Press printing of Names On the Land. Christine Smallwood, “Stewartsville,” The Nation, December 8, 2008, pp. 25. Patrick T. Reardon’s overview of Stewart’s work in The Chicago Tribune, “George R. Stewart: Unrestrained by Literary Borders”. Wallace Stegner’s “George R. Stewart and the American Land,” published in his collection of essays, Where the Bluebird sings to the Lemonade Springs. Ernest Callenbach’s “Introduction” to the California Legacy printing of Storm.
You may want to pre-order Stewart’s fine novel from your local bookstore or Amazon and re-read it; then review the “Trilogy of Considerations.” Compare Robinson’s “Introduction” to Pat Joseph’s article and Sallis’s essay. The three complement each other, so when you finish you’ll have a much deeper understanding of the novel, its relationship to the University of California, Berkeley, and Stewart’s life and work.
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On October 13 of this year, the new Mariner Press printing of Earth Abides will be released. Since the book was originally published on October 7, 1949, the date puts it just inside the boundary of its 71st year.
If the Tribe was to record it they’d carve “71” on Indian Rock near Ish’s House in Berkeley. Modifying a phrase borrowed from Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Introduction,” they might decide to name Year 71 “The Year Earth Abides‘ time has come.”