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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

Passion Play

Copyright 1992 by Sean Stewart

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (1/5)

I most recently read this on the 16th January 2002.

A murder mystery in a future Christian fundamentalist America.

Diane Fletcher is a detective hanging the end of her tether, brutalized by the crimes and the punishments of the "Redemptionist" religious regime.

She is to investigate the suspicious death of a famous actor amid the tinsel town fakery of a TV dramatic production.

Our detective has a special talent: she's a Shaper who can read the emotional patterns underlying events. She can cut through the artifice, the faked emotions, and paint a picture in her head of what really happened.

This was Mr Stewart's first novel, and it shows. There's real promise here, but in the end it's naive and, well, gauche. William Gibson chose his words very precisely in his cover blurb: "a talent to watch".

I almost gave up on this book (twenty or so pages from the end I came close to just tossing the book into the "Saturn Rukh" Memorial Bin), but I wasn't worried. I already knew that Sean Stewart would turn out OK as a writer, because I'd already read his second novel "Resurrection Man" which is thoroughly enjoyable.

The problem with this novel is that for what is such a simple clear-cut plot, it's a little murky and hazy around the edges. I'm still remarkably unclear as a to what a "Shaper" actually is, although our protagonist goes on and on about what a rare and unwanted talent a Shaper possesses. Apparently this talent is something akin to enhanced pattern recognition, or perhaps intense empathy. Once or twice my laser-like intuition, clearly a bulb or two short, fixated on lycanthropy. Sadly there's absolutely no grounds for lycanthropy, although it's clear to me that Sean would have been more satisfied - and maybe more successful - writing a werewolf book.

So what is a Shaper's special talent? The book fails to provide evidence for anything beyond the skills a normally perceptive person may possess. I doubt that Sean Stewart ever really sorted it out for himself.

Furthermore, I preferred the minor characters Jim Haliday and Rolly French rather more than Diane Fletcher herself, and that's not right is it?

What's it got: murder, mystery, religion, guilt and moral quandaries. Absolutely no lycanthropy.

Loaded on the 31st January 2003.
Cover of Passion Play
Cover by Keith Birdsong

Reviews of other work by Sean Stewart
Resurrection Man