Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ways to Use That Gift Card: A Perfect Circle

If you’re a regular reader of this site, odds are that one of your friends or relatives gave you a gift card for Borders, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon. This loved one certainly realized that you love to read, that they don’t really “get” your reading material, and it would just be easier if you chose your own obscure pleasures. Which is nice.

I was going through all my starred stories in Google Reader--the only RSS reader I use anymore--and came across a Wired story about the massive, immersive game built to support and build anticipation for Nine Inch Nail’s latest album, Year Zero. The company that developed the game, 42 Entertainment, was also responsible for immersive games like the ilovebees game for the Halo 2 launch--a company with an amazing store of talent and creativity. Until recently, it was also the day job of one of my favorite authors, Sean Stewart.

I recently had an opportunity to exchange a few emails with Stewart (mostly because I had written a little bit of a fan letter asking when his fans were going to be seeing a new book) and found him to be one of the most approachable and genuinely friendly writers in the field. I have a standing rule about meeting or speaking with your artistic heroes: keep expectations low. The artist that you read or listen to isn’t the person that you’re going to meet; you’ll have built a construct of the person in your head that generally can’t be met in reality. That’s not to say that all writers and musicians are jerks, just that they probably aren’t who you expect them to be and they might not like being bugged by yet another fan who wants to mine the depths of their works.

Sean Stewart was, via email, pretty damned close to the person that I would have expected: funny, polite, humble, smart, and extremely friendly. Besides that, though, he is also tremendously talented. With a small group of other talented folks, Stewart is starting up Fourth Wall Studios to continue developing immersive entertainment--not simply games, but a combination of the interaction of the Internet, email, phone contacts, and the visual and literary arts to create something less passive than movies and books, but smarter and encompassing than the typical computer game. Not only do I wish him luck with his startup, but I can’t wait to see what he and his crew come up with.

He’s a great guy and it’s hard to imagine anyone who is more deserving of rewards for all his hard work. So…

Here’s a list of books from Sean Stewart that will do your gift card proud. Most of them are best ordered and easiest to find online, so I’ve included links to Barnes & Noble or Amazon (and, no, I don’t get kickbacks from this).

  1. Cathy’s Book. To get an idea of the kind of thing that immersive entertainment can mean to the publishing industry, check out this book for tween and teen girls, but can entertain anyone with an open mind with its combination of Cathy’s diary, phone numbers, clues, and sketches. For anyone with girls the right age, it’s also one to consider as a late present.
    Buy it from Barnes & Noble.
  2. Perfect Circle. One of my favorite works of literary fiction (calling it “fantasy” and sticking it in the genre just doesn’t do it justice) of the last few years. The characters are stunningly close to real, the plot is engrossing, and the writing is compelling. Read my earlier review. Truly exceptional.
    Buy it from Barnes & Noble.
  3. Mockingbird. Stewart is a master of magic realism and this story shines. It has voodoo, dark magic, pregnancy, and a well-drawn portrait of Texas. As a bonus, the Small Beer Press issue of the book is awfully nice.
    Buy it from Barnes & Noble.
  4. Galveston. Aside from the brilliant, but more difficult Resurrection Man, (read my review here) Galveston is his most brutal and bleak book. It has its funny and touching moments, but the characters are harder to like. But it is so well written that I went through it in a few big gulps.
    Buy it used from Amazon.

Stewart won’t be to everyone’s liking. I won’t lean on the idea that if you don’t like his writing you don’t understand his stories; much of what he’s written is emotionally raw in a way that won’t appeal to people who like their magic packaged with unicorns and princesses (although, if that’s you, his book Nobody’s Son might be an effective antidote); when magic intrudes in Sean Stewart’s world, it has huge costs and consequences and rarely resolves itself in anything resembling beauty. That, along with his talent for describing the complexities of relationships, is probably why I like his books.


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