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Sex, Lies, and Theology: Brian Stewart

by Deuce of Clubs

(First published in Planet Magazine, 20jun1995)

Introduction by Laurie Notaro

Laura and I went to an antique store to look at a couch one Friday afternoon. That's how we met Brian Stewart, the owner. He asked what we did for a living.

We told him.

An hour later, Stewart had illustrated three covers for the magazine and pretty much written two stories. He's a writer, he told us. He writes books about demons in computers and demons in dolls.

He had a copy (actually about twenty copies) of his latest book at the store, and he gave one to me, asking if we ever did any book reviews. I had my eye on the portrait of a little boy, and he told me if we did a review of his book, he'd give it to me.

I brought the book back to the office and put it on the desk, figuring I would forward it to our arts editor the following Monday. It never got that far.

Doc came in after I left and recognized Stewart's name, since he already had in his possession another one of Stewart's books that he'd never gotten around to reading.

He took the book home that night and read the whole thing. Then he found Brian's other book and read the whole thing.

The latest edition of Doc's "Black Hole" is the result.

And now I believe someone owes me a portrait.

"You see how smart these machines are? You get a demon operating in one of them, you could have a city full of serial killers."

It's hard to convey the sense of Shadow of Evil. It's about dolls. It's about demons. It's about drugs. It's The Screwtape Letters if it had been written by Ray Dennis Steckler. It's a Frank Peretti novel minus developed characters. (But then again, so is a Frank Peretti novel.)

Mainly, Shadow of Evil is one of Tempe antique dealer Brian Stewart's several attempts to give vanity publishing a bad name. Just how far will Stewart go towards that end? Well, he went to the trouble of having the book printed in Bogota, Colombia—how's that? And that's not the only reason that will compel you to haul your $5.95 over to Apache and McClintock in Tempe to get your copy from Brian RIGHT NOW. Just keep reading. You'll see.

The plot of Shadow of Evil concerns the donation of thousands of talking dolls to children's charities worldwide. Dull, right? But hold on: these aren't Barbie dolls. These dolls are Integrated Microprocessor Prototypes— Imps, for short. Imps = demons...get it? If you did, you're smarter than most of the characters in this book, who act about as intelligently as the victims in the average slasher film. If the name Imps didn't clue in these people, you'd think their suspicions might be aroused by the things these talking dolls say. See, the Imps are kind of like Chucky from Child's Play, except they lack Chucky's finesse; in fact, they're about as subtle as Beldar Conehead, blurting out unprovoked giveaways like "Someday we will rule the world. You humans will worship us."

Unlike the Coneheads, however, the Imps aren't expatriates from France. They aren't even aliens from outer space. No, the Imps are in fact demons from the pit of Hell. And there are thousands of them, with a Cabbage Patch-style following of nationwide Imp-lover clubs. This in spite of the fact that the dolls "program children to murder each other and their parents" as part of a plot for world domination by an evil personage known as Santero—not to be confused with the masked Mexican wrestler Santo—no, even more fearsome: Santero is...the Prince of Darkness himself! (Yes, even the Lord of Evil is working under a pseudonym these days.) Santero's evil plot brings him into conflict with wholesome Bruce Wainright. Not to be confused with the Caped Crusader's alter ego Bruce Wayne—no, even more fearsome: Bruce Wainright is...a church pastor! So, you know right away that these two aren't going to get along. And I didn't even tell you that Bruce is in love with Mia Tannersly, who helped produce the Imps for Santero, and winds up being shot to death, embalmed, and resurrected from the dead immediately previous to her burial, after which—once she finishes complaining about the color of the dress they were going to bury her in—she and Bruce save a grateful, if astonished, world. As one sage journalist thoughtfully observes, with an observation so inappropriately deadpan that could have been written by Ed Wood: "This resurrection from the dead is big news."

What does it all mean? Well, as Bugs Bunny used to say, "Of course you know dis means WAR!" In this case, it means angel war! So, for $5.95 you get it all:

  • Sex! Lies! Theology! (You haven't seen a mixture like this since The Rapture.)
  • Strippers! Dope peddlers! Greedy, soul-dead businessmen!
  • Witheringly awkward angel insults! ("You, disgrace of a misfitted angel.")
  • Witty demon repartee! ("`Oh don't worry about that,' Cadaver snorted. `Where we're sending you, there's plenty of heat.'")
  • Conehead-like observations and non-sequiturs! ("It is not good to remain at the scene of a crime.... He was a bad man and needed to die. You are my friend.")
  • Conehead-like interest in consumables! ("`Ahil?' his mom questioned. `What kind of a name is that?' `It is the name that I have had since before the world was formed when all was blackness except the Circle of Light,' Ahil responded. `I smell that you are cooking. I believe when you are finished, you will have made a delicious strawberry cake.' `Very good,' Virginia Youngworth said, flattered. `I suppose you will be wanting some.' `No, just lithium batteries for me.'")
  • Demonic parodies! Check out this demon-handling of MLK's "I have a dream" speech:
I have a dream. A dream that the earth shall be once again a void and the vermin that the Mighty One has created shall not walk upon it.... I have a dream that those who carry out the wishes of the Mighty One upon the planet shall find themselves subject to us and our wishes.... I have a dream, and you all have been summoned here to carry out that dream. My dream is your dream. Death, destruction, terror, fear, lust, power, hatred, anger, violence, murder, lying, stealing, profanity, jealousy, maiming, starvation, abortion, disease.... This is my dream. You may call me mad. You may call me a visionary. You may call me a genius. You may call me Father. You may call me the undoer of all that is holy, the wrath, for I am who I am. Santero, Lord of All.... Remember the day of destruction is at hand. The day when all who rule in my name shall indeed say, "Santero rules."

He sure does! And he's got a sense of humor. Here's a letter he types up on the letterhead of a charity food organization and sends to their mailing list:

Dear Sponsor,

We no longer need your donation. The child you were sponsoring has been found to be utterly devoid of any spiritual or economic benefit. Please save your twenty dollars. We have decided to wrap up shop. We will be giving dividends to our longtime employees. Myself and my staff will be using the 40 million dollars we have stashed in Swiss numbered accounts and going on a nice, long trip.

U of A grad Stewart, a jack-of-several-trades, according to his bio (novelist, playwright, songwriter, art director) fills his books with plenty of what's currently hot in evangelical fiction: behind-the-scenes spirit world info and lots of wiseacre angel dialogue. Stewart's demon descriptions owe a lot to Chick tracts ("fangs, talons, oversized ears, bat-like features, elephant trunks"). One of the evil angels "resembled a blend between Elvira and Alice Cooper." Yikes! Another demon "controlled the journalists and made sure fear was pedaled in every paper and magazine." (Could he be doing his work right now?)

Naturally, the subject matter of Shadow of Evil leads it straight into the besetting snare of stories of this type, namely, that evil usually turns out seeming more interesting than good. (After all, it's hard to write convincing dialogue for the Almighty.) But you won't care; not even Paradise Lost escaped that trap. And Milton didn't think up weird dialogue like this:

The constant death and savagery of the jungle was too much, even for him. The charm of collecting human ears and wearing them around his neck wore off....
My grandfather used to say, "He who reads lives in two worlds—the past and the present." "What did he mean by that?" Brian asked. "I don't know," Mia said. "He smoked a lot of opium."
"This is California. The whole rest of the country tilted this way and all the fruits rolled in here."

Nor did Milton, so far as I can recall, have his characters plug other books and plays he'd written, as Stewart does from time to time. (One of the satisfactions of vanity publishing—no pesky editors.) Better still, during a radio talk show scene, Stewart inserts a plug for his antique store:

"All right, we'll break for a commercial from our sponsor, Abba's Acre of Antiques. You'll find them right down in the heart of beautiful downtown Tempe with the best buys in antiques. Call them at 437-0047 if you want to buy or sell an antique. Now, next caller."

Sure, one could carp about this and that. Stewart may write a little confusedly. He may say "U2 missiles" when he means V-2 rockets. He may not spell the names of his characters consistently. So what? Cut the guy some slack—you know what he means. Surely a world that awards an Oscar to a movie about Ed Wood, Jr. should be willing to give Brian Stewart a chance. As for me, I can best sum up my opinion with words lifted from the book itself:

"You're strange...but no offense. I like strange things."

You may also want to read....

...Gods of War, another Stewart classic, in which 15-year-old runaway Pamela Hauser falls into the clutches of the porn industry—and Santero. Her father Jerry, a nuclear submarine officer, having set out to track her down instead winds up a porn freak, hiring hookers who resemble his daughter—who, unknown to him, is dead and gone, having jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Santero doses Jerry with Ecstasy (bad choice) and makes a videotape of him performing various sexual perversions. Santero uses the tape to blackmail his way into nuclear capability. ("Never had he enjoyed any type of death as he enjoyed nuclear death," Stewart writes.)

As usual, Pastor Bruce Wainright is called upon to save the day. Bonus points: this is the novel in which Wainright first meets Mia Tannersly—a very oversexed Mia Tannersly. Yowza! You can't lose with prose like this:

"...but when she came down to his studio one night while he was filming a Buster Nightstalker sequel and she watched from the side as Buster had sex with a corpse, she lost what little feelings she had for him."

Someone should enter that sentence in the Bulwer-Lytton Contest.

Yes, Gods of War is another Brian Stewart winner. And another $5.95—but aren't you worth it?

© Deuce of Clubs

Brian Stewart's response to the review

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