Sean McMullen has a rich ancestry that includes Scottish, Portuguese, French and Irish forebears. His first career was music, learning guitar as a teenager, appearing in student theatre and then turning to folk music in 1972. He performed as a guest singer in the 1973 production of the Pirates of Penzance and in 1974 he sang with the Victorian State Opera. He has also sung with the Melbourne University Choral Society, the Trinity College Consort and various other musical groups. In 1975 he took up instrument building, and still plays a 13-string lute that he constructed.
In 1974 McMullen graduated from the University of Melbourne in physics and history and went on to complete a postgraduate diploma in library and information science. In 1978 he spent time in Europe, singing and playing at folk festivals but gave up professional music on his return to Australia.
McMullen's science fiction stories were first published in amateur magazines in 1981. While undertaking a Master's degree, he was elected editor of the Melbourne University's SF Club's fiction magazine Yggdrasil. In 1985 at the World SF Convention he won the convention's writing competition with his short story 'The Deciad'. Since then his stories have appeared in Analog, InterZone, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Eidolon, Aurealis and numerous anthologies. McMullen established himself in the American market in the late 1990s and his work has been translated into many languages including Polish, French and Japanese. McMullen was an assistant editor and primary contributor to The MUP Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction & Fantasy (1998).
McMullen's work includes Voyage of Shadowmoon (2002), a sea-faring fantasy; The Eyes of the Calculor (2001), featuring disparate characters in the future; The Miocene Arrow (2000) and Centurion's Empire 1998), a high-tech SF tale of future intrigue. The settings for his work range from the Roman Empire to cities of the distant future. He has won numerous awards and his writing is well-regarded as being scientifically accurate and sits within the 'hard' science fiction milieu.
In 2008 McMullen submitted his doctoral thesis, comparing medieval stories with twentieth century movies with medieval settings, to the University of Melbourne
Changing Yesterday2011single work novel young adult science fiction 'It's 1901, and Battle Commander Liore has travelled back in time to stop a war that will rage for over a hundred years. But time itself is against her. Whenever she changes history, a new beginning to the war emerges and the world once again teeters on the brink of disaster. To make matters worse, Barry the Bag has stolen Liore's plasma rifle, the most dangerous weapon in the world. The owner is on his trail, and she doesn't take prisoners. Can anything prevent Liore from risking the world's future for the sake of revenge?' (Publisher's blurb)
'Sean McMullen’s “The Spiral Briar” is a nicely delineated historical fantasy, involving the fifteenth century and, as Rod Serling used to put it, “the boundary between science and superstition.”
'Because of what they did to his sister, Sir Gerald would be at war with the land of Faerie, if he could reach them, but the boundary between our world and theirs is too hard for mortals to cross, though elves, goblins and the like cross it at will to wreak their magic and mischief upon humankind.
'He is approached by Tordral, a master armourer also harmed by the denizens of Faerie, who knows that the way to cross worlds is by use of the nascent science, involving the harnessing of steam. Steam can be used to propel boats and to throw heavy objects, like rocks or cannonballs, but to explore these uses will cost money, which Sir Gerald has but Tordral doesn’t. They have a common enemy in Faerie, and Tordral gathers around him others who have been twisted and would like revenge as assistants in his experiments. Their common symbol is a briar rose in a pot, for reasons explained in the story.
'McMullen uses the familiar tropes of science and fantasy in an interesting meld; rather than using today’s scientific terms to explain the workings of Faerie, he uses what sound like authentic fifteenth-century terms in ways that would be consistent with both the science of the time and what in our world would be sheerest superstition but is nonetheless real in the story. And the people of the story act in ways consistent with the time as well.'