Originally published in 1941, Storm has been credited as the first example of eco-fiction. The novel tracks a developing storm privately named Maria by a junior meteorologist in San Francisco, following its progress to and beyond the shores of the United States through the eyes of meteorologists, linemen, snowplow operators, a general, a couple of decamping lovebirds and an unlucky owl.
... the novel proceeds mosaic-like, providing glimpses of the characters charged with managing the storm while keeping the tempest itself very much in the foreground ... Storm alternates descriptions of Maria with short philosophical essays, glimpses of the natural world, and views of the civil servants who try to limit the impact of the ecological disaster they can’t control. These sections are scrupulously arranged so as to drive home specific causal points ... Everything, both manmade and natural, is connected in Storm’s ecosystem; everything that happens has wide-ranging consequences, the butterfly effect in full force ... Intensely dedicated to the study of process, the result of immersive research on his part, Stewart lovingly recounts the intricate details by which these people go about attempting to limit the damage of the storm. In genuinely suspenseful set pieces involving such dangerous situations as a flooded underpass and a snowed-over road, Stewart shows these people at their best, dutifully playing their part in the systems that humankind has developed over its many years of existence to prevent the unnecessary death and destruction that it has also, inadvertently, helped cause.
Storm is the second-strangest book ever written about a storm ... As Stewart elevates the storm to protagonist, and demotes his human beings to animal passivity, what seems at first a high-concept premise develops into something more radical ... Storm’s drama hangs on the influence of environmental conditions on human fate, on the revelation of indirect but profound connections between erosion, ice melt, and vermicular digestion on the intimate lives of Americans ... Stewart’s prose is never more rhapsodic than when he charts profound transformations that unfold over vast, inhuman stretches of time ... He is...a poet-ethicist in the tradition of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Annie Dillard, a dramatist of the natural order and our fragile standing within it.
Stewart...presents meteorological detail with obsessive care, although not without wry humor ... pages of isobars, barometric pressure, physics equations and meridians. Where humans appear, they are almost incidental ... Stewart misses no opportunity to philosophize ... But by looking down on society from the height of a tempest, he frames all human and animal lives—earnest and ignorant, shaped by forces they forget to consider—as being on the same side as they strive for meaning and survival ... Storm is a product of its era in ways both troubling and benign. Stewart sometimes invokes ethnic slurs and stereotypes, particularly disturbing for a book whose central—if subtle—moral is that we all ought to get along. The book has been called the first eco-novel, and falls prey to a common shortcoming of the genre, at least among white American writers: An author fancies himself neutral, capable of the pleasant illusion of stepping outside humanity, and thus projects his cultural biases onto nature itself. Storm is also a testament to attention spans of the past; it’s hard to imagine a novel with more science than plot selling a million copies today. For the first few chapters, I felt I was reading a highly unusual textbook, albeit an often beautiful one. But by the middle of the book, the humans in their small lives seemed dear, and I rooted for each as I would for, say, a hamster digging in shavings for a pellet of lost food.