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McMullen, Sean

Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-    ) Australian author whose first professional sf sale was "The Pharaoh's Airship" for Omega Science Digest in July/August 1986. The best of his craftsmanlike stories, several of them involving Time Travel, appear in Call to the Edge (coll 1992), a notable example being "The Colours of the Masters" (March 1988 F&SF), in which a nineteenth-century device, the clockwork "pianospectrum", is discovered to have recorded the playing of Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt. Voices in the Light (fixup 1994) and the Ditmar Award-winning Mirrorsun Rising (1995), both assembled and rewritten as Souls in the Great Machine (1999), begin the Greatwinter sequence, an exceedingly complex Ruined Earth narrative set 1700 years after a devastating nuclear World War Three, in a densely imagined Australia broken into many individual states linked by heliograph and wind-driven trains. The first Greatwinter had been generated by the Holocaust centuries earlier; but a new freezing-down is threatened. The main story involves the gradual perfection of a kind of Computer (here called the Calculor) whose components are slaved human calculators, along with an equally gradual movement towards the comprehension of the "Call" – the title story of McMullen's collection is worked into sequence – which periodically entraps humans and large animals into a fatal trek southwards to the ravening sea. Later volumes of the sequence shift their grounds: The Miocene Arrow (2000) carries the narrative to a balkanized America, where Aliens immune to the Call threaten to end the human race; Eyes of the Calculor (2001) is set again in Australia. McMullen's only singleton of real interest, The Centurion's Empire (1998), follows its eponymous hero from Roman times (first century CE) to the Near Future, via a series of Suspended Animation hibernations followed by Sleeper Awakes revelations. In all his work, though particularly in his sf, McMullen's chaste chill control of narrative devices, and his reticence about too deeply exploring the psyches of his main figures, imparts to what might seem to be no more than enjoyable tales of adventure a sense of solid significance; in a manner more recently intensified by Adam Roberts, he is an author of Thought Experiments.

McMullen's second series – the Moonworlds sequence comprising Voyage of the Shadowmoon (2002), Glass Dragons (2004), Voidfarer (2006) and The Time Engine (2008) – is adventure fantasy set in a world far more deeply manipulated by transformative magics than usually found in multi-volume fantasy sequences. His best work as a bibliographical and critical scholar of the fantastic in Australia is found in Strange Constellations: A History of Australian Science Fiction (1999) with Russell Blackford and Van Ikin.

«Walking to the Moon», a McMullen collection at one time scheduled for 2007 publication by Prime Books, is a ghost title which never in fact appeared. [PN/JC]

see also: Music.

Sean Christopher McMullen

born Sale, Victoria: 21 December 1948





Before the Storm

  • Before the Storm (Ormond, Victoria: Hybrid Publishers/Ford Street Publishing, 2007) [pb/Grant Gittus]
  • Changing Yesterday (Ormond, Victoria: Hybrid Publishers/Ford Street Publishing, 2011) [pb/Grant Gittus]

individual titles




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