(1935-2009) US poet – specializing in the haiku – professor of literature and author who won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1983, and who was known in the sf field almost exclusively for his Pelbar Cycle – comprising The Breaking of Northwall (1981), The Ends of the Circle (1981), The Dome in the Forest (1981), The Fall of the Shell (1982), An Ambush of Shadows (1983), The Song of the Axe (1984) and The Sword of Forbearance (1985) – set, 1100 years after a meteor shower Disaster has instigated a devastating nuclear World War Three, in the balkanized and barbarian heart of a Ruined Earth America at a time when fragmented local cultures must begin to come together once again, hopefully without warfare. This sequence is unusual – and in deep contrast to Survivalist Fiction – in its disregard for violence and its lack of gear fetish, and in its hopeful focus on the successful matriarchal Pelbar culture centred along the Mississippi River, which is to say the heart of the heart of the country; it has been compared with Edgar Pangborn's Davy books. The Dome in the Forest, which tells of the discovery of an inhabited nuclear shelter, interestingly explores the psychology of the Keep (see also Pocket Universe); later volumes, in which the tempo of technological change begins to increase, are perhaps less engaging, though the Native American colouring of the renascent polity is attractively conveyed. The series as a whole suffers from a certain leadenness of narrative diction, but never fails to question generic assumptions about the nature of a Ruined Earth civilization.
The Gifts of the Gorboduc Vandal (1989; exp as coll, vt The Man from Far Cloud 2004), not part of the sequence, carries its protagonist from the planet Gorboduc through interstellar travels in search of a just civilization. [JC]
see also: Anthropology; History in SF.
Paul Osborne Williams
born Chatham, New Jersey: 17 January 1935
died Elsah, Illinois: 2 June 2009
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