Stewart, Sean 1965- (Michael Sean Stewart)
Stewart, Sean 1965- (Michael Sean Stewart)
Born June 2, 1965, in Lubbock, TX; son of Louis Irwin (a biochemist) and Kay Lanette (an English professor) Stewart; married Christine Beck (a neuroscientist), June 20, 1987; children: Caitlin Beck, Rowan Stewart. Education: University of Alberta, B.A. (honors), 1986. Religion: "Atheist, but not proud of it."
Home—Davis, CA. Agent—Martha Millard, 204 Park Ave., Madison, NJ 07940. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, novelist, entrepreneur, and alternate reality game designer. Worked variously as database manager, actor in shopping mall promotions, and writer/actor/director in live, interactive, fantasy, and murder mystery games. 42 Entertainment, cofounder.
Science Fiction Writers of America, Science Fiction Canada.
Arthur Ellis Award (Best First Novel), Crime Writers of Canada, 1992, and Aurora Award (Best English-Language Canadian Science Fiction Book), 1992, both for Passion Play; Aurora Award, 1993, and Canadian Library Association's Award (Best Young Adult Novel), 1994, both for Nobody's Son; New York Times named Resurrection Man one of the top one hundred novels and a Notable Book of 1995; New York Times cited Mockingbird as a Notable Book of 1998; Mockingbird was selected as Speculation magazine's Best Book of the Year and was a nominee for a World Fantasy Award; World Fantasy Award (coawarded), 2000, for Galveston; Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, 2001, for Galveston; Nebula Award nomination for best novel, 2005, for Perfect Circle.
Passion Play, Beach Holme (Canada), 1992, Ace/ Berkley (New York, NY), 1993.
Nobody's Son, Maxwell Macmillan (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 1993, Ace/Berkley (New York, NY), 1995.
Resurrection Man, Ace/Berkley (New York, NY), 1995.
Clouds End, Ace (New York, NY), 1996.
The Night Watch, Ace (New York, NY), 1997.
Mockingbird, Ace (New York, NY), 1998.
Galveston, Ace (New York, NY), 2000.
Perfect Circle, Small Beer Press (Northampton, MA), 2004.
Star Wars: Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Firecracker, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2005.
(With Jordan Weisman) Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233, Running Press Kids (Philadelphia, PA), 2006.
Worked with Microsoft on the A.I. web game known as "The Beast."
Author Sean Stewart combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery in his novels to tell moral tales about truth and identity. Praised for their wit, pacing, and social commentary, Stewart's works have won awards in Canada (where the author once resided) and have gained applause from American critics. "Stewart has always been gifted with acute observation, which in turn lends itself to the sparse and affectionate way in which he creates and reveals characters, peeling away layers of present and past until almost everything is exposed," observed Michelle West in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Several reviewers have highlighted the author's unusually strong female characters and the psychological realism embedded in his fantastic plots. "I want to write ‘meaning-of-life thrillers,’" Stewart once told Paula Simons in Saturday Night. Well known examples of this type include Shakespeare's King Lear, Melville's Moby Dick, and Conrad's Heart of Darkness. "In other words, stories that tackle the big questions, but don't skimp on the sword fights."
Stewart's novels are usually considered science fiction or fantasy, genres the author finds closely related. Both offer him the opportunity to explore what he referred to in a Locus interview as "cosmological issues," an important topic for someone raised by an atheist mother and evangelical Christian grandparents. Stewart remarked, "The cosmological questions or sacral questions … are dealt with in their own quirky way in science fiction and fantasy, and almost nowhere else. There's a huge God-shaped hole in popular writing. It's hard for me to see books outside of science fiction which are filling the emotional gap left by Nietzsche's ‘death of God.’" Another thread running through Stewart's fiction, according to the author in Locus, is "the truth thing. It doesn't have to look like life, it's just got to be about the truth. One of the ways I think of when I'm looking at my fiction is looking at ordinary people under the pressure of larger significance. That's what fiction is about, in some sense."
Born in Lubbock, Texas, Stewart moved with his mother to Edmonton, in the Canadian province of Alberta, when he was four years old. Apart from summers spent in Texas with his maternal grandparents, who were born-again Christians, Stewart was raised in Canada among intellectuals who were often atheists. "My Canadian experience has allowed me to look at my American experiences with an outsider's eye and an insider's eye at the same time: a kind of double vision," Stewart remarked in Locus. Having decided to become a writer at age seven, Stewart often skipped school in order to spend the day at the library and has produced three to four hundred pages of writing each year since he was seventeen.
Stewart's first published novel, Passion Play, explores both the supernatural and the quest for truth in what the author has called "a theatrical murder mystery." Passion Play evokes a dystopic vision of an America ruled by fundamentalist Christians, recalling for some reviewers the oppressive world created by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale. Diane Fletcher, the novel's main character, is a "shaper," or empath, who uses her ability to sense what others feel to help the police solve crimes. As the novel opens, the country's most famous actor, Jonathan Mask, has been electrocuted on the set of a new rendition of the Faust story. There is some question whether the death was a murder or a suicide, and Fletcher is called in to help decide the matter. The theatrical setting "knits" together the science fiction and fantasy elements, "and gives the novel a surprising texture and substance," according to Locus contributor Gary K. Wolfe. "The whole theatrical milieu, together with the Faust theme, becomes increasingly entangled with the larger dynamics of Stewart's imaginary society and Fletcher's own problems of guilt and responsibility, until the novel takes on a denseness that you wouldn't at first suspect," Wolfe explained.
Passion Play was well received by critics and won awards in both the science fiction and mystery categories. A Publishers Weekly reviewer singled out Stewart's psychic detective Fletcher as "a memorable character [who] contributes significantly to Stewart's fast-paced yet thoughtful debut." While several critics noted such flaws as occasional overwriting and a failure to resolve all the consequences of the futuristic scenario Stewart envisions, others praised it. R. John Hayes of Quill and Quire found Passion Play "fast-paced, literate, and interesting."
Nobody's Son, set in a magical medieval kingdom, is Stewart's second novel, an exploration of what happens when a commoner becomes a hero and sets off to live happily ever after. Shielder's Mark, an illiterate young man abandoned long before by his father, succeeds where more noble men have failed and breaks the spell of the Ghostwood, claiming the magical sword as well as the king's third daughter as his reward. But after that, nothing happens as it ought. This episode, according to J. Kieran Kealy in Canadian Literature, "is but a brief prologue to the real quest this hero must face, that of becoming a man, of discovering an identity, of proving that there is a place for one who, like him, is ‘nobody's son.’" Accompanied by the fiercely independent princess, her maidservant, and a gentleman scholar, Mark battles first the intrigues of the royal court and then the evil magic unleashed when he broke the centuries-old spell of Ghostwood.
Barbara L. Michasiw commented in Quill and Quire that the numerous, extended conversations conducted by the four main characters of Nobody's Son "are witty and revealing as they probe the actions and the themes of the story with subtlety and sophistication." Although Michasiw and Kealy both complained that Stewart fails to give his other characters the three-dimensionality of his hero, Kealy found this a minor flaw in comparison to the novel's accomplishments. "Nobody's Son," Kealy concluded in Canadian Literature, "provides a thoroughly engaging portrait of a man trying to discover his uniqueness and discovering that we are all, inevitably and inexorably, on our own…. With his second novel, Sean Stewart clearly emerges as one of Canada's most important fantasy writers."
In the Locus interview, Stewart described his third novel, Resurrection Man, in the following terms: "It's a warm, human book about family relationships that opens with a man performing an autopsy on his own dead body…. It's different in that it's neither a traditional science fiction setting or a traditional fantasy setting. It's set in a 1994 precisely like this one, with one single difference: magic in some sense has been creeping back into the world since the end of the Second World War. Magic not in the sense of spells and wizards, but of some of that ‘sacred made visible’ thing, the Universal Unconscious made visible." When Dante Ratkay finds a replica of himself lying dead on top of a magical mirror, he and his siblings undertake to perform an autopsy to uncover the cause of death. What they learn forces Dante to finally accept his own magical powers and search for the key that unlocks long-kept family secrets, which will ultimately save him from suffering the fate of his duplicate.
Like Passion Play, Resurrection Man is set in an alternate North America different from ours in the role that magic plays in ordinary life. But, though "Stewart shows a true talent for inventive and intelligent fantasy," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, the novel's magical elements are not its only assets. The critic cited the author's detailed settings and inventive characterizations as positive aspects as well. Booklist reviewer Carl Hays likewise argued that Resurrection Man displays the many facets of Stewart's talents: "Stewart has a mystery writer's instinct for suspense … and a poet's gift for richly metaphoric language," Hays concluded.
The critical response to Stewart's next two books was more mixed than he had previously received. Clouds End sets a woman and her "haunt," or double, on a quest to save the inhabitants of the Delta. Library Journal reviewer Susan Hamburger recommended this "lyrical fantasy," but a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews castigated the novel for its "vague, flimsy plot, indistinguishable characters, [and] elusive backdrop," concluding that few readers would find the story satisfying. Simons stated in Saturday Night: "Clouds End … may surprise fans of Resurrection Man. It's Stewart's moodiest, most lyrical work, a feminist homage to Tolkien with a tincture of Haida mythology, inspired by the years Stewart spent in Vancouver while his wife worked on her Ph.D." In The Night Watch, Stewart returns to the world he created for Resurrection Man with a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of imminent war. Though John Mort, a reviewer for Booklist, complained that the author mostly fails to rise above his "rather too dreamy and idiosyncratic … atmospherics," a reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised "this beautifully written novel." Stewart's flawed plot and pacing, according to the reviewer, is an aspect of his "tremendous talent for illuminating the interior lives of his characters."
Stewart turned to more concrete settings and ordinary dilemmas (without foregoing the magic) in his next novel, Mockingbird. Here, thirty-year-old Toni Beauchamp becomes heir to more than her mother's financial debts when she drinks the potion her mother left as her bequest. Suddenly, Toni is prey to the same spiritual visitations her mother endured throughout her life, becoming the mouthpiece for six "Riders" known as Mockingbird, Preacher, Sugar, Pierrot, Widow, and Mr. Copper. During the course of the novel, Toni is also pregnant and trying to find a father for her unborn child, she helps her sister Candy marry her boyfriend, learns to trade futures on the stock market, and weathers a hurricane. "Toni's rambling first-person narrative is vivacious and entertaining," attested a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Stories about the riders are interwoven with the details of Toni's complicated life, adding "an element of dark whimsy to the narrative," the reviewer added. Other critics similarly remarked on the earthy humor of Mockingbird. Booklist contributor Ray Olson dubbed the novel "sort of a Fried Green Tomatoes rethought by Stephen King … earthily charming and hilarious rather than heroic or horrifying." Biblio contributor Bruce Holland Rogers observed that, "above all, this novel is a story of a pregnancy, and it is the funniest account since Anne Lamott's nonfictional Operating Instructions."
Mockingbird is set in Stewart's occasional home state of Texas, as is his seventh novel, Galveston. In this novel, the Texas city of the title exists on two parallel planes, the one ordinary and the other magic-infused. Young Sloane Gardner, son of the woman who has run the island city for a quarter of a century, holds the key to uniting the two cities, and along with Josh Cane, an apothecary, must create a new hybrid society for all. "The characters are believable and complex, which makes the ever-present magic all the more dramatic," remarked a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
The protagonist of Perfect Circle is Will "Dead" Kennedy, also known as DK. An aged punker who has finally grown into his thirties, Kennedy is beginning to realize that alternate lifestyles and anarchy are not going to pay his bills. He has been divorced for twelve years, and he is still in love with his ex-wife and dearly loves his twelve-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother. Complicating his situation even further is a peculiar ability—he might call it a curse—that he hass had all his life: he can see ghosts, the still-walking spirits of people who have unfinished business in the physical world. To him, the spirits of the dead look much like the living, except in black and white, and he has even wrecked cars trying to avoid a ghost he thought was a corporeal being. Kennedy tries his best to keep this ability a secret, and he certainly does not want his daughter finding out about it and starting to think that he is crazy. After once again losing a menial, dead-end job, Kennedy is in need of money. When a cousin offers him a thousand dollars to help identify and exorcise a ghost in the garage, Kennedy thinks his money woes are solved for the moment. However, the identity of the ghost becomes problematic when he realizes it is the spirit of a woman who may have been the victim of a murder. The run-in with the ghost puts him in the hospital, and some ill-reasoned words spoken under the influence of painkillers brings him publicity he did not want. When he is released, he faces a gigantic hospital bill and no employment prospects. Then, he realizes the only commodity he owns is his ability to detect the dead, and reluctantly, he goes about trying to sell his services to those in need. "In the process, he discovers that he, too, is haunted; that haunting has many forms and many functions, and that a person is never truly haunted for no reason," West commented in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Reviewer Charles de Lint, also writing in the Magazine of Fantasy of Science Fiction, was especially impressed with Stewart's characterization. He remarked that "Stewart has done a wonderful job with the Texas setting, but has particularly outdone himself with his characters. While even the walk-ons feel fully developed in just the few lines they get, it's the main cast that shines with depth. Kennedy himself is particularly believable and complex." Stewart's novel "is alternately poignant and hilarious, with some genuinely creepy moments and one or two powerful jolts," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. West called Perfect Circle "well, well worth the reading. A highly recommended work," while Booklist reviewer Paula Luedtke named it "all-around terrific."
Stewart has branched out with his writing into other fictional worlds and universes, In Star Wars: Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, he enters the popular Lucasfilm franchise for a novel about one of the series' more popular characters, the ancient Jedi master Yoda. In this story, Yoda has just received a message from former student Count Dooku, who left Yoda's tutelage and turned to the dark side of the Force. Dooku tells Yoda that he wants to discuss a peace agreement between the republic and the separatists. Yoda knows that Dooku is lying to him, but he does not know why. He agrees to meet, regardless of the danger, in hopes of bringing his beloved former protege back to the fold. Yoda selects two young Jedi knights and their students to accompany him, but when one of the apprentices begins to have disturbing dreams of disaster, the future of the group's mission seems headed to no good end. "Stewart delivers an exciting, fast-paced tale," commented Kristine Huntley in Booklist.
Stewart returns his focus to his own material with Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233, a strikingly original book that expands the boundaries of interaction between author, novel, and reader. Written in collaboration with Jordan Weisman, Cathy's Book boasts working cell phone numbers, links to Web sites and Web logs, a package of facsimile documents, and other interactive features that let readers explore different angles as they work to piece together the story of seventeen-year-old Cathy Vickers. The book is structured as an illustrated, handwritten diary created by Cathy and left to her best friend, Emma, in case anything happens to her while investigating why she was dumped by twenty-three-year-old boyfriend Victor Chan. When she goes to Victor's house to confront him about his behavior, Cathy discovers that he has disappeared. She searches through his desk for some clue to his whereabouts and finds a number of papers and documents that suggest Victor had not been telling her the truth. The unfolding facts of Victor's double life become more ominous as Cathy discovers connections with vicious Chinese businessmen, forbidden scientific experiments, and an ancient Chinese mythological figure brought to life. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "readers will be drawn into Cathy's fast-paced adventure," while TeenReads.com reviewer Sally M. Tibbetts called the book "a gamer and a reader's treasure." Tibbetts remarked that Stewart and Weisman "have gone out on a limb with some daring ideas and succeeded in creating an interactive, totally hands-on reading experience that teens will go wild for."
Stewart once told CA: "Serious art has some responsibility to cut deeply. To want to tell a hell of a good story is admirable; it does not excuse me from also making a personal commitment to telling the truth. The book is more important than the author. Its ideas are deeper and stronger. Be patient and get the hell out of its way. Listen listen listen."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December, 1998, Tom Easton, review of Mockingbird, p. 135.
Biblio, February, 1999, Bruce Holland Rogers, review of Mockingbird, p. 60.
Booklist, July, 1995, Carl Hays, review of Resurrection Man, p. 1866; October 1, 1997, John Mort, review of Night Watch, p. 312; August, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Mockingbird, p. 1979; June 1, 2004, Paula Luedtke, review of Perfect Circle, p. 1714; December 15, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of Dark Rendezvous, p. 715.
Books in Canada, December, 1992, review of Passion Play, p. 55.
Canadian Book Review Annual, 1994, review of Nobody's Son, p. 502.
Canadian Children's Literature, fall, 1995, review of Nobody's Son, p. 79.
Canadian Literature, summer, 1994, J. Kieran Kealy, "The Morning After," pp. 165-166.
Canadian Matters, January, 1994, Alison Mews, review of Nobody's Son, p. 26.
Children's Book News, winter, 1995, review of Nobody's Son, p. 15.
Entertainment Weekly, September 29, 2006, Jennifer Armstrong, review of Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1995, review of Resurrection Man, p. 677; June 1, 1996, review of Clouds End, p. 792.
Kliatt, March, 1994, review of Passion Play, p. 21; September, 1995, review of Nobody's Son, p. 24.
Library Journal, December, 1993, Jackie Cassada, review of Passion Play, p. 180; June 15, 1995, review of Resurrection Man, p. 98; August, 1996, Susan Hamburger, review of Clouds End, p. 120; August, 1998, Jackie Cassada, review of Mockingbird, p. 140; February 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of Galveston, p. 202.
Locus, September, 1992, review of Nobody's Son, p. 63; January, 1994, Gary K. Wolfe, review of Passion Play, p. 46; February, 1994, review of Nobody's Son, p. 59; December, 1994, interview with author, pp. 5, 81-82.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, fall, 1996, review of Resurrection Man, p. 39; July, 1998, Michelle West, review of Night Watch, p. 45; September, 2004, Michelle West, review of Perfect Circle, p. 34; July, 2005, Charles De Lint, review of Perfect Circle, p. 37.
New York Times Book Review, August 13, 1995, review of Resurrection Man, p. 30; December 3, 1995, review of Resurrection Man, p. 90; August 30, 1998, Gerald Jonas, review of Mockingbird, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, November 15, 1993, review of Passion Play, p. 75; May 22, 1995, review of Resur-rection Man, p. 55; October 1, 1997, review of Night Watch, p. 60; July 27, 1998, review of Mockingbird, p. 58; January 24, 2000, review of Galveston, p. 296; June 7, 2004, review of Perfect Circle, p. 37; August 7, 2006, review of Cathy's Book, p. 60.
Quill and Quire, July, 1992, R. John Hayes, review of Passion Play, p. 38; May, 1993, Barbara L. Michasiw, review of Nobody's Son, p. 34.
Saturday Night, March, 1996, Paula Simons, "Forming New Hobbits," p. 73.
Science Fiction Chronicle, January, 1994, review of Passion Play, p. 32.
Texas Monthly, July, 2004, Mike Shea, review of Perfect Circle, p. 46.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1994, review of Passion Play, p. 386; December, 1995, review of Resurrection Man, p. 318.
Washington Post Book World, November 26, 1995, review of Resurrection Man, p. 6.
Blogcritics,http://blogcritics.org/ (January 3, 2006), Jonathan Zabel, review of Perfect Circle.
Encyclopedia Hanasiana,http://www.hanasiana.com/ (January 25, 2006), "The Story Doesn't Care: An Interview with Sean Stewart."
Intellinuts,http://www.intellinuts.com/ (October 3, 2006), interview with Sean Stewart.
Sean Stewart Home Page,http://www.seanstewart.org (January 10, 2007).
SFReader.com,http://www.sfreader.com/ (January 10, 2007), Sean T.M. Stiennon, review of Star Wars: Yoda: Dark Rendezvous.
TeenReads.com,http://www.teenreads.com/ (January 10, 2007), Sally M. Tibbetts, review of Cathy's Book.
TheForce.net,http://www.theforce.net/ (January 10, 2007), review of Star Wars: Yoda.