Sean Stewart is the first to admit his beginnings were humble. Born in Lubbock, Texas ("the buckle of the Bible Belt";) on June 2, 1965, he moved to a fatherless home in Edmonton at age three. Introverted, without siblings, he had "an unremarkable childhood of roughly the usual length." Stewart graduated from reading The Hobbit at age seven to a broad appetite for serious fiction (Jane Austen, Joyce, Faulkner) and a passion for high school fencing. Then came girls and theatre. "From my drama teacher I gained many valuable insights, such as the fact that if you salt the donuts at your concession stand, those who purchase between the first act and the second will be back for a pop between the second and third."

Still not setting the world or his hair on fire, Stewart graduated from the English program at the University of Alberta, married his high school sweetheart "and put in the requisite years of writing very badly and getting rejected, followed by the requisite years of writing half-decently and continuing to be rejected." He worked at a variety of jobs (roofer, busboy, computer specialist), wrote interaction fantasy games and moved to Vancouver where he worked for the Vancouver Cultural Alliance. He eventually published the fifth novel he had written, Passion Play (Beach Holme / Tesseract, 1992), endorsed by William Gibson.

In Passion Play, according to his own promotional blurb, "The Redemption Presidency has transformed America. Adulterers are stoned. Executions are televised. But sin still exists. And so does murder... It is a dark time. The great cities are dying, like the country, from the heart out. The Redemption Presidency tolerates vigilantes who kill according to Biblical example. The police subcontract freelancers to bring in criminals for quick and televised execution. Diane Fletcher is one of these freelancers: a "shaper" cursed with the gift of seeing and feeling the emotions of others. Armed with hunter skills, she takes on the mysterious death of Jonathan Mask, a great actor found electrocuted in the costume of a demon. But even a shaper can become lost in the human labyrinth, where patterns of innocence, guilt, passion and deception lead inevitably into that treacherous territory between justice and vengeance.";

Passion Play received the 1992 Aurora Award for best Canadian SF novel in English as well as an Arthur Ellis Crime Writers Award for debut fiction, but his big break came from White Dwarf Books. The owners of Vancouver's leading SF store urged the local sales representative for Ace Books to read Passion Play. A copy reached Ace Books senior editor Susan Allison and -- shazam -- Passion Play appeared from a major U.S. publishing outlet in 1994. It has been followed by a fantasy novel Nobody's Son (Maxwell Macmillan, 1993) in which a village commoner breaks the centuries-old Ghostwood's spell, wins the princess for his prize, and then his problems begin--plus six more novels.

That's the end of Act One in Sean Stewart's success story in progress. Since then Stewart has moved to Monterey, California where he has become a rising star in the cutting edge field of Internet gaming mysteries, working with programmers from Microsoft's Entertainment Business Unit. Born as a marketing campaign to hype the movie A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), Stewart's collaborative Alternate Reality Game was dubbed The Beast simply because the first draft of an 'art asset' list came to 666 items. "The game was freaking pastiche Armageddon," Stewart has written on his website. "It started from a Spielberg script inflected with Kubrick notions from a Brian Aldiss short story with echoes of Dune and Clockwork Orange, for God's sake. Political tracts. Corporate boasting. Sex-kitten catalogues. Mysterious Oriental Gentlemen. Wistful midlife crises. Suicide notes. Gibsonian cyberpunk. I stole or hot-wired or tweaked up Shakespeare and John Donne and Tim O'Brien, Ovid and Iain Banks and Puccini and Bladerunner. I wrote every genre character ever invented, I think--bounty hunters and kept women and a bad guy made of nightmares, religious zealots and angry teenagers and streetwise hackers. Hookers with hearts of gold available on request from Belladerma SRL, in sizes petite to extra large, or (in one of the game's creepiest phrases) cut to fit."

Among the computer-geek set, the maze-like mystery of widespread clues supposedly became as popular as the Speilberg-hyped movie A.I. This Internet project was followed by an new quest game in July of 2004 called I Love Bees, another Internet-dependent Alternate Reality Game (ARG), this time designed as an adjunct promotion for a new video game called Halo 2. The Beast and I Love Bees have apparently succeeded where on-line games to promote other films (such as Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, Swordfish and X-Men) have failed, generating scads of chat groups and would-be detectives picking up messages in designated phone booths around the world. At least that's buzz. The TV reality show Survival clone of this new trend, hosted by some suitably smarmy human puppetmaster, is surely in the making. Just as William Gibson became the SF darling of rock stars and Hollywood during the Nineties, Sean Stewart is now positioned to become the flavour-of-the-decade in the highly competitive realm that is merging SF and virtual storytelling. It's possible ARGs are the fiction of tomorrow--already happening today.

Meanwhile he continues to write novels set in Canada, his native Texas and California. "You know one of the things that bothers me the most about science fiction and fantasy books?" Stewart told Locus Magazine in 1999. "It seems like someone just made 'em up! If you poke the wall, you'll find it's just a flat for theatrical production, and it will fall over. I really like to be able to hit the stone wall and not have it turn out to be the stuff the rocks are made out of on Star Trek, that high-bouncing paper maché. One reason I'm paying an increasing attention to setting is, I just like the feeling that it's real. If it's going to have magic and elves, that's great - I grew up on magic and elves. But I want them to be real magic and elves, I want them to matter."

[BCBW 2005] "Fiction" "SF"