(1895-1980) US author who obtained his MA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1920 and his PhD from Columbia University in 1922, afterwards becoming a professor of English at the University of California and concentrating his attention – through novels, literary studies, popular history, etc. – on the Pacific Edge of America (see California). His first book of any importance, Bret Harte: Argonaut and Exile (1930), was an extended biographical study of Bret Harte, focusing on his beginnings there as a regional writer. His novels Storm (1941) and Fire (1948) dramatize the titular natural Disasters as their protagonists: respectively a Pacific storm called Maria (leading the US National Weather Service to adopt the practice of naming storms in this fashion) and a forest wildfire known as the Spitcat.
Stewart's only sf novel, Earth Abides (1949), set in the San Francisco region, tells of the struggle to survive and rebuild after a virus-based Pandemic has wiped out most of humanity. The protagonist, Isherwood Williams, lives for many decades after the Disaster, breeding children with one of his rare fellow survivors, and watching his world gradually turning into a Ruined Earth and the Long Night begin, as his descendants gradually lose all sense of the civilization he represents; but the fruitful natural world abides. The sense of requiem and rebirth promulgated in the novel, enriched through a "literary" style typical of the Mainstream Writer of SF, is rendered all the more complex for readers aware of the implications of Isherwood's nickname, Ish, a direct reference to the historic Native American, Ishi (circa 1860-1916), last survivor of the Yana people, who became famous in the early years of the century as the last living representative of his tribe, just as Ish is one of the last living representatives of the civilization which has destroyed his namesake's world. Ishi in Two Worlds (1961) by Theodora Kroeber (1897-1979), who was Ursula K Le Guin's mother, serves as a telling complement. One of the finest of all Post-Holocaust/Ruined Earth novels, Stewart's superb elegy was the first winner of the International Fantasy Award; Stephen King acknowledged its influence on The Stand (1978; text restored 1990). [MJE/JC/DRL]
see also: Genre SF; History of SF; Pastoral; Shared Worlds; Sociology.
George Rippey Stewart
born Sewickley, Pennsylvania: 31 May 1895
died San Francisco, California: 22 August 1980
- Storm (New York: Random House, 1941) [hb/]
- Fire (New York: Random House, 1948) [hb/]
- Earth Abides (New York: Random House, 1949) [hb/H Lawrence Hoffman]
about the author
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