October, 2020 – A Stewartian lunch, and a new printing of Earth Abides

 A package arrived last week carrying copies of the new printing of Earth Abides, with its splendid “Introduction” by Kim Stanley Robinson.  Even if you have a copy of EA, this very affordable printing is worth buying for Robinson’s Introduction to the novel. (Buy from the non-profit Bookshop.org and a percentage of the sales will go to support independent bookstores.) 

 I consider the cover of this printing one of the three best EA covers. (And there have been many covers)

The original cover, by H. Lawrence Hoffman,  is a fine piece of art depicting a ruined city after the fall – a city which looks to be San Francisco.  EA Morleys

But as wonderful as Hoffman’s cover is, images of ruined cities speak of loss.   My other favorites, which include the one on this new printing’s cover, focus on the Hammer of Ish — a powerful symbol of rebuilding, and thus hope.  One of them is the cover of this new printing, with the Hammer centered over what appears to be a view of Earth from above the clouds.  That overview encourages readers to keep a Whole Earth in mind as they read the gripping, encouraging story set during a pandemic not unlike the one Stewart describes. 

91PMvVHUlgL._AC_UY218_ML3_My third favorite is by Alan Ligda, a hero of Earth Abides. 

When Random House decided to stop publishing the book, Ligda acquired the rights from Stewart.  His edition is  a beautiful work printed by Hermes Press, his family’s small fine quality press.   

 Ligda centered the Hammer of Ish on the cover,  juxtaposed over an open book.   The cover makes an important point:  LIke the Hammer, books are tools — for such as Stewart, Ligda, and all writers and readers.  

(Sadly, as heroes often do, Alan Ligda died young.)

Hermes EA


My order of the new  Earth Abides was shipped on the publication date. October 13.   On October 14th, by coincidence (or Jungian synchronicity?) I shared lunch and conversation about things Stewartian with Ed, George and Ted  (Theodosia) Stewart’s grandson and the current keeper of the family rights. We hadn’t seen each other since his grandmother’s memorial service, about 30 years ago, so we spent some time catching up.Then we turned to matters of the GRS Legacy that he manages.  No need to go into great detail, but thanks to his request for advice about book contracts and followup suggestions from my agent, Sally van Haitsma, it looks as if Ed and the Legacy are about to get an excellent agent.  (The agent’s in Berkeley where most of Earth Abides takes place. He once managed a legendary bookstore, Cody’s.   And he’s looking for clients.) The agent is also familiar with film options and contracts.  Since there’s now  interest in filming another of GRS’s other books should be a marriage made in heaven (as they say)..

All-in-all, the middle of October 2020 has been a milestone time for the Legacy of George R. Stewart, and Earth Abides.


It’s been  6 decades since a kind, wise librarian walked into the stacks, pulled out a book, and said “Here.  I think you’ll like this book.”  The trail from there has been like that of Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow:  winding, up and down and back and forth, often through the dense fogs of life.  But the winding path has always been  lit by the lessons George R. Stewart teaches in Earth Abides.   Learning that Kim Stanley Robinson generously mentioned the GRS biography in his Introduction to the new printing of EA, brings this life arc almost full circle –  from reading the book as a 12-year old to finding myself in the book.  It is a pleasant summiting.  Lunch with Ed while we chewed over things Stewartian were gifts of the summiting, after that decades-long wandering saunter. 

Seeing Ish’s Hammer beautifully displayed on the book’s cover makes my spirit sing.  During those many years, the Hammer of Ish has been an encouraging (if symbolic) companion.  Like a lantern or a grail, it has been a life-gift.  As has Earth Abides

Ish's Hammer(1)

Ish’s Hammer

….By gifted artist, schoolmate of Lennon and McCartney, and playing an important role in the story of George R. Stewart and Earth Abides, Steve Williams (AKA The Pilgrim). 

Want to buy a print of the painting?  Here’s Steve’s  website; contact information is near the bottom:


Three Days and Counting


If you’ve been waiting to buy the “glorious” 2020 Mariner Press edition of Earth Abides, with an Introduction by distinguished author Kim Stanley Robinson, this is the week.  The new printing of Earth Abides will be released on October 13th.    (But not necessarily shipped;  Amazon sent a notice that they would alert buyers when pre-orders ship.  Other places to buy the book include your local bookstore.   Or Bookshop, which helps support local bookstores.)

Even if you have a copy, you may want to purchase this new edition — published 71 years after George R. Stewart predicted a major pandemic which would affect the entire human race.  This is the novel that inspired Stephen King to write The Stand, and poet/novelist James Sallis to write a poetic review of the power and glory of Stewart’s novel.

Sallis writes, in part,

This is a book, mind you, that I’d place not only among the greatest science fiction, but among our very best novels.

Each time I read it, I’m profoundly affected, affected in a way only the greatest art — Ulysses, Matisse or Beethoven symphonies, say — affects me. Epic in sweep, centering on the person of Isherwood Williams, Earth Abides proves a kind of antihistory, relating the story of humankind backwards, from ever-more-abstract civilization to stone-age primitivism.

Everything passes — everything. Writers’ reputations. The ripe experience of a book in which we find ourselves immersed. Star systems, worlds, states, individual lives. Humankind.

Few of us get to read our own eulogies, but here is mankind’s. Making Earth Abides a novel for which words like elegiac and transcendent come easily to mind, a novel bearing, in critic Adam-Troy Castro’s words, “a great dark beauty.”

Note to Facebook Followers

WordPress is a fine site and one I’ve used for years.  But now the site has decided to change the way we enter or edit posts.  Fortunately, we can still use the previous editor, which is much more intuitive than the new one; HOWEVER, when I published my first post in the classic editor the site warned that  I needed to log into FB to renew the link to that site.  Since I no longer use FB, except for re-publishing of my WP posts I do not intend to log in.  (We’ve learned much about FB’s theft of our data and many are leaving that site.)

My hope is that these WP pages will still go to that FB page.  If not, I apologize to those followers who are inconvenienced.  You can, of course, follow this WP site instead, here:


Again, sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

New Edition of EARTH ABIDES will be released on October 13th

The new “glorious” paperback edition of Earth Abides will be released in mid-October.  It can be pre-ordered now  through your local, friendly, independent bookseller via BOOKSHOP  or via Amazon.  

This new printing is from Mariner Books (A division of Houghton Mifflin).   It has, I think, the best cover for the book since the cover on the first edition in 1949:

91PMvVHUlgL._AC_UY218_ML3_Mariner Press Printing 2020

EA Morleys

Cover of the  First Edition, Random House, 1949

It also includes an Introduction by distinguished author Kim Stanley Robinson.   He offers a brief but focused biography of Stewart; then describes the novel in terms of its place in similar literature and in Stewart’s fine body of work.  He also makes the obvious and timely comparison between the events of Stewart’s novel and the current pandemic – a reminder that this is the best of times to read Stewart’s encouraging novel. 

Even if you already own a copy, this edition is worth buying for Robinson’s excellent Introduction. Or to read or re-read Stewart’s fine novel, to see how the amazing thinker and writer George R. Stewart imagined our time, 71 years ago, and wrote a novel to help us deal with it. 

The Year 71

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.)


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 SpringsErnest 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.


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.”


GEO.S: George R. Stewart and Earth Day

am earth


Many people credit the Sierra Club’s Exhibit This Is The American Earth and the subsequent Sierra Club book based on the exhibit as the foundation of Earth Day.  Others credit the first Whole Earth photographs taken by the Apollo 8 crew.  Both are important events.  I believe, however, that the initial inspiration came from the widely-read works of George R. Stewart – published and widely read decades before the exhibit or Apollo 8’s photograph.




In 1936, Stewart’s Ordeal By Hunger opened with a view of Northern Nevada from low Earth orbit, so precisely described that eventual ISS images of the area closely matched his text.  And Stewart closed the history with the comment that “…I consider the land to be a character in the work.”  That is a remarkable statement of the ecological viewpoint 34 years before Earth Day I.   Since the book was (and is) widely read, readers were learning the Whole Earth viewpoint long before there was a Day to celebrate it.

In the next decade, Stewart wrote 3 ecological novels.  Two of them – 1941’s Storm and 1949’s enduring classic Earth Abides – included passages with the view of Earth from space.  All three were profoundly ecological in nature.  In fact, in 1948, before Fire was published George R. Stewart identified himself as “what might be called an ecologist” –  – 22 years before Earth Day I.

Storm gave us the practice of naming storms.   To make the point that the storm in his novel was the main protagonist Stewart didn’t name most of the human characters, but named the storm.  It’s a excellent read, still frequently re-printed, as is Fire, his novel of fire ecology.   Both novels are tour de forces of ecology, weaving lifeforms, landforms, climate, humans, and human history and myth together with a deep sense of “the land.”

EA Morleys

Earth Abides is Stewart’s extraordinary never out-of-print classic.  It prophesied the current coronavirus pandemic 71 years ago.  When protagonist Isherwood Williams learns most humans have been wiped out by disease he decides to survive so he can observe the ecosystem adjust to the removal of humans — in what we would call the post-Anthropocene.  Ish observes what we are now seeing – the return of wildlife to human areas and humans experiencing a world without the noise, pollution, and similar nonsense of the Anthropocene.

(Earth Abides  is scheduled to be reprinted next October; it can be pre-ordered now.)



Stewart published a fourth ecological novel, Sheep Rock, in 1952. It was the first work he called ecological – “in the older sense, that is, all the things that go to make up a place.”  It is possibly his most controversial novel, praised by some, criticized by others.  He stretched his already innovative style beyond the limits of the day – it’s been called the first post-modernist novel – and did not have the enduring and widespread popularity of Storm, Fire, and Earth Abides.

The other three ecological novels had and have huge readerships.  They were best-sellers,  and two were Book-of-the-Month Club selections.  Those two, Fire and Storm, were also made into Disney TV films; Disney kept their ecological underpinnings, especially with Fire.  Other authors referred to them in their works.

So long before This is the American Earth was printed in book form and  Apollo 8’s Anders, Borman, and Lovell took the photo of Earth from the moon,  George R. Stewart was educating his huge readership in the principles of ecology, and doing it in the best manner, through dramatic narratives.    He was a prophet, in an intellectual wilderness, preparing humans for Earth Day I.

It’s interesting (and disappointing) that there’s been so little honoring of this great ecological prophet. But Stewart would be fine with that.  A teacher above all, he would know that his work taught millions upon millions about ecology and the land and that would be sufficient.


(A personal note – on Earth Day I my students and I worked on a Golden Gate Park cleanup.  It was an eye-opener.  No litter was visible.  But under the shrubs, out of sight, it was voluminous.  The City simply did not have the manpower to clean up after humans.   In our two hours, they filled several large leaf bags with trash.  Discussing it later, the students decided their tiny efforts locally were the key to solving such problems globally.  I hope and believe that stays with them.)


Ish's Hammer(1)

If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
All over this land
I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning…


George R. Stewart had a Hammer. Ish’s Hammer.  He used it well, preparing us for Earth Day I AND the current pandemic.

One final comment:  “Geo,” the abbreviation for George, means “Earth.”  How appropriate for this pioneering ecologist and geographer, who taught so many of us about our Earth system.

On this day,  Earth Day 50, we honor him.








A Short update for Brother Ray’s performance with Keith and Donna

This is an update to the link for the YouTube video of the Keith and Donna concert at Winterland on 10/4/75, which highlights a long guitar solo by my talented brother Raymond John Scott.   If you simply want to see the concert  this link will  take you directly to the concert video.  But if you want to read more about Ray’s career, which included some performances with the Grateful Dear, here’s a longer post about this.

Keith, Donna, Ray, and Jerry Garcia met in high school.  They played together several times over the years.  The first time I attended one of their gigs, before they were well-known, the group played bluegrass.



Is Coronavirus the Earth Abides plague?

George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

In his first great work, Ordeal By Hunger, he told the story from an ecological (or Ranger’s) point of view.  But he began with the Astronaut’s point of view from Low Earth Orbit.  Not bad for a book published in 1936. (It’s still the best book about the Donner Party).

As he prepared for the publication of his ecological novel Fire he sent a letter to a Book-of-the-Month club publicist that prophetically explained:

“I consider the main theme … to be the problem of the relationship of man to his environment.  I really think of myself, in most of my books, as what might be called an ecologist. ”  (From a letter in the Bancroft Library’s George Rippey Stewart Papers. Published here by permission of the Stewart family.)

In the Third Book of The Years of the City, Stewart predicted how societies fade away, in a novel with disturbing parallels for today.

And in his classic work, Earth Abides, he predicted the end of the Anthropocene – the human era –  through a disease that spreads rapidly throughout society, decimating most of the human race.

EA Morleys

His interest in the idea came from his own experience.  After graduation from Princeton University in the Class of 1917 (one of his classmates was F. Scott Fitzgerald), Stewart, like many of his classmates wrapped in patriotic passion by the US’s entry into WW I, enlisted.  Like other army soldiers – young healthy men expected to be the most resistant to disease – he contracted the Spanish Flu.  It nearly killed him; and it would interfere with his health for decades – eventually leading him to have one lung removed.

The flu infected ONE THIRD of the human population of the Earth.  It may have killed as many as 50,000,000 people.  And, like other recent epidemics, it became deadly when some component of a virus jumped from animal populations into a strain of human flu.  This is exactly what caused the launch of coronavirus – almost certainly from a live animal market in China.   Read about the 1918 epidemic.    It killed perhaps 50,000,000.

(An excellent article about the Spanish Flu epidemic, In Flew Enza, focuses on the effects at UC Berkeley — discussing Stewart’s experience, and  Earth Abides.)

So far COVID has killed about 6000, and has a 95% cure rate.   This is not meant to discourage prudence but to point out that we are far from the 1918 pandemic.

Be prudent.  Don’t panic.

If this already frightening disease, coronavirus, should mutate, Stewart’s prophesy could well become (at least partially) true.  There are still isolated human populations – as many as 100 tribes, the Sentinelese being the best known – which might avoid the disaster.

Will this be the Earth Abides virus?  Hopefully not.  At least Stewart helped prepare us with his novel.  The book is so widely-read and in so many languages that certainly many of those who are in the leading roles to battle this epidemic have likely read it, and have thus been thinking for decades about what to do if and when such an epidemic should happen.  It has in fact been impressive to see how quickly they have begun to respond to it.  So we shall wish them well and hope for the best.

In the meantime, you may want to re-read Earth Abide.

POSTSCRIPT, on the first day of spring 2020:

There is major economic and social disruption today – the economic weakening of a society, and the isolation of neighbors from each other when cooperation and high social capital are needed but prevented by locking down a town.  A city with which I am familiar (as was George R. Stewart) has one case. They have demanded the closure of all businesses except food and drug stores and the hospital.  Businesses can’t pay rent or employees; employees can’t pay rent or buy food.  For ONE case in a city of more than 50,000.

And there are proposals to close the national parks – the best places for people to get the medical benefits of fresh air and exercise with the best of social distancing.

This would be a good time to consider Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF – especially the first few lines:



by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,


Let’s also follow the example of the locked-down Italians:  Sing songs of hope.

Be prudent, keep your head, keep the faith.  And sing from your balcony.


The More-or-Less Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post

Here’s the annual re-post of a story of the close connections between George R. Stewart and Jimmy Stewart, and between the mythical town of Bedford Falls and the real  town of Indiana, Pennsylvania – the boyhood home of both Stewarts.  



It’s A Wonderful Story

This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 34th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and   It’s a Wonderful Life.     The local theater in Arroyo Grande, California, owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.

To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost.  Today we watch movies on TV, often alone, and usually less intently than in a movie theater.  Yet at a showing of Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus.  How long since you’ve experienced that?

For many people It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans will be interested in the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart spent his boyhood in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson,  planned to be a teacher and even helped found a school nearby (it would become the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family so he went into the mercantile business.  He  had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they  shared only one possible distant relative.  And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.  Their paths apparently never crossed.  12-year-old GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905,  the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways.  GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California.  Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California.  GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed.  Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love.   GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself.  Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions.  Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Even though their paths never crossed, during the Christmas season we should remember there is one thing they shared:   The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century.  Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place.  For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Here’s a passage from the biography of Stewart,  about Indiana, Pennsylvania as Bedford Falls:

George R. Stewart’s boyhood town was so archetypically American that it could pass for George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact, the town was “Bedford Falls” – at least for the movie’s male star. Indiana, Pennsylvania, was also the boyhood home of James Stewart,  “George Bailey” in Capra’s film.   Although the movie’s “Bedford Falls” was built on a studio backlot in the San Fernando Valley, Jimmy Stewart said that when he walked onto the set for the first time he almost expected to hear the bells of his home church in Indiana.

Although the film’s Producer/Director, Frank Capra, is said to have modeled his mythical town on the upstate New York town of Seneca Falls,  for Jimmy Stewart Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he and George R. Stewart grew up, was the place he had in his heart as he brought George Bailey to life.

Each year, Indiana holds an It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, with a parade, hot chocolate,  tree lighting, and continuous showings of the film at the Jimmy Stewart Museum.  It’s a winter festival so the people lining the streets in their warm clothing bring life to a snow-bound town, like the movie brings life to the streets of the movie set town.

As you watch Capra’s great film this Christmas, keep in mind that GRS celebrated his Christmases in a town which for another Stewart,  Jimmy, was the model for iconic,  Bedford Falls.

Merry Christmas to all.


  1. A Christmas gift, for 2019 readers – a link to the radio interview with “Tommy Bailey,” one of the Bailey children growing up in Bedford Falls, setting for It’s a Wonderful Life. 

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