His best-known work is the ten-volume fantasy series Malazan Book of the Fallen, which by 2012 had sold over 1,000,000 copies worldwide. SF Site has called the series "the most significant work of epic fantasy since Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant," and Fantasy Book Review described it as "the best fantasy series of recent times." Fellow author Glen Cook has called the series a masterwork of the imagination that may be the high water mark of the epic fantasy genre. In his treatise written for The New York Review of Science Fiction, fellow author Stephen R. Donaldson has also praised Erikson for his approach to the fantasy genre, the subversion of classical tropes, the complex characterizations, the social commentary — pointing explicitly to parallels between the fictional Letheras Economy and the US Economy — and has referred to him as "an extraordinary writer", comparing him to the likes of Joseph Conrad, Henry James, William Faulkner, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. In an interview with sffworld.com, Erikson acknowledged that he originally doubted the series would become "mainstream", and was subsequently surprised at how successful the series has been. He also noted how people "either hate the series or love it".
Erikson was born in Toronto, Ontario, and grew up in Winnipeg. He subsequently lived in the UK with his wife and son, but has since returned to Winnipeg. He is an anthropologist and archaeologist by training and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. For his thesis at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Erikson wrote a "story cycle" of short stories titled A Ruin of Feathers about an archaeologist in Central America. Subsequently, he received a grant to finish the work which was published by TSAR, a small Canadian publishing house. For his next work he co-won the Anvil Press International 3-Day Novel Contest for which he signed away the rights, a mistake he attributes to inexperience. Erikson's third book was also published by TSAR, and consisted of a novella and short stories titled Revolvo and other Canadian Tales. Later, upon moving to England, he sold what he refers to as his "first real novel" to Hodder and Stoughton — This River Awakens — written when he still lived in Winnipeg. Before assuming his pseudonym, Erikson published his first four books, currently out of print, under his real name. In addition to writing, he paints using oil paints.
Malazan Book of the Fallen series
The Malazan world was devised by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, initially as a setting for a role-playing game. Gardens of the Moon began as a movie script but evolved into a novel, which Erikson completed in 1991–92 but failed to sell.
|Gods are always messing with mortals in Erikson's work, but the mortals also, by their patterns of belief, create their own gods, their own greater powers. Everything is in flux. Men and women ascend to godhood; gods die or lose their powers.... It's a messy, complicated business, and there are no easy answers, or clear heroes.|
|—Andrew Leonard writing for Salon.com|
In the late 1990s, Transworld – a division of Random House – bought Gardens of the Moon and requested Erikson write additional books in the series. Using the history of the Malazan world he created with Esslemont, Erikson plotted nine additional novels. After the publication of Gardens of the Moon, reviews spread via the internet, and Orion publications attempted to lure Erikson away from Transworld. However, Transworld retained an option on additional novels in the series and offered £675,000 for the remaining nine books of the series.
Erikson has stated explicitly that he enjoys playing with and overturning the conventions of fantasy, presenting characters that violate the stereotypes associated with their roles. Erikson deliberately began the Malazan Book of the Fallen series mid-plot rather than beginning with a more conventional narrative. Erikson's style of writing includes complex plots with masses of characters. In addition, Erikson has been praised for his willingness to kill central characters when it enhances the plot.
|Word of mouth is very powerful in fantasy, and the net carries its own energy. It made a huge difference – people were picking [Gardens of the Moon] up from Amsterdam to the US.|
|— Steven Erikson|
Erikson's first novel of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, Gardens of the Moon (1999), was well received. It was short-listed for a World Fantasy Award It has also earned him the reputation as one of the best authors in the fantasy genre, and was described as "An astounding début". The novel was acclaimed for its "combination of originality and intelligent, strong and exciting storytelling". The second book in the series, Deadhouse Gates (2000), was voted one of the ten best fantasy novels of 2000 by SF Site.
During a 2008 question and answer session in Seattle, Washington, Erikson stated he had signed a deal to write two more trilogies and six novellas; Erikson planned to use the novellas to continue the Bauchelain and Korbal Broach storyline while one of the trilogies would be a prequel to the main series, detailing the history of Anomander Rake and Mother Dark. He also said that he would write a trilogy on the Toblakai.