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Shepard, Lucius

Entry updated 9 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1943-2014) US author about whose first appearances in print there has been some confusion; he was credited with four stories and four articles in Collins Magazine (variously retitled Collins, the Magazine to Grow Up With and Collins Young Elizabethan) between 1952 and 1955, the first actual piece of fiction being "Camp Greenville" (January 1953 Collins, the Magazine to Grow Up With), where the author is listed (accurately) as being nine years old. Confusion was caused by Shepard's claim that a family member may have written and placed these stories under the name Lucius Shepard. This seems unlikely. The innate storytelling competence, the inclusion in the magazine of an identifiable image of the young author, and clear prefigurations of Shepard's adult voice throughout, make it perfectly plausible that they were in fact essentially written by a precocious child between the ages of nine and twelve. Shepard himself preferred for unknown reasons to claim a birth date of 1947, but 1943 is confirmed by (inter alia) the 1945 census in Florida, where his parents then lived, and by the US Public Records Office record of his 1993 residence in Seattle, Washington. His first acknowledged work was Poetry, and his first book was a poem, Cantata of Death, Weakmind & Generation (1967 chap), whose rhetorical gumption tends to drown content.

Shepard began to publish adult prose fiction of genre interest only with "The Taylorsville Reconstruction" for Universe 13 (anth 1983) edited by Terry Carr, assembled with other early work as Skull City and Other Lost Stories (coll 2008). Between the mid-1960s and the beginning of the 1980s, he had lived in various parts of the world, travelled widely, became – according to his own testimony – marginally and incompetently involved in the fringes of the international drug trade, and in about 1972 started a rock band which went through various incarnations over the following years. Some of the experiences of this long apprenticeship are directly reflected in stories like "A Spanish Lesson" (December 1985 F&SF); but the abiding sense of authority generated by all his best work depends upon the born exile's passionate fixation on place. It is no accident that – aside from the Latin American Magic-Realist tradition whose influence upon him is often suggested – the writer whom Shepard seems at times most to resemble is Joseph Conrad, for both authors respond to the places of the world with imaginative avarice and a hallucinated intensity of portrayal; both create deeply alienated protagonists whose displacement from the venues in which they live generates constant ironies and regrets; and both tend to subordinate mundane resolutions of plot to moments of death-like Transcendence characteristic of Horror in SF.

Kalimantan (1990; exp as coll 1993) evokes, for instance, Conrad himself as well as Graham Greene (1904-1991) in a dark quest tale whose structure and pacing directly homage Heart of Darkness (February-April 1899 Blackwood's Magazine; in Youth [coll 1902]); the action is set this time in Borneo and incorporates at its centre a not altogether convincing transference to an sf Alternate History. Kalimantan is typical of Shepard's mature work, and overflows any normal or necessary description of an sf text; the much later "Dog-Eared Paperback of my Life" (in Other Earths, anth 2009, edited by Nick Gevers and Jay Lake), also intimately evocative of Conrad, locates a similar quest journey along the Mekong River upwards from Cambodia. The Dragon Griaule sequence – comprising "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" (December 1984 F&SF), The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter (September 1988 Asimov's; 1988), The Father of Stones (1988), Liar's House (2004 chap) and The Taborin Scale: A Novella of the Dragon Griaule (2010), all assembled, along with the novel-length "The Skull", as The Dragon Griaule (omni 2012), similarly embeds an undeveloped sf premise, for it may be that the immense dragon Griaule is an Alien from another planet, though it also bears some resemblance to the eponymous City that is in a sense the central character of Paterson Book I (1946) by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963): "Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls / its spent waters forming the outline of his back"; what may be the sequence's final instalment, the posthumous Beautiful Blood (2014), neither affirms or denies any extrinsic premise. In the end any sf implications are drowned out in a fantasy narrative whose claustrophobic intricacies are as entangling as the town of Macondo depicted in One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) by Gabriel García Márquez (1928-2014). In this land of darkness and fixity, using his storylines primarily to expose this extraordinarily rich thematic compost, Shepard created a series of parables in which human Arts can reach fruition solely through a Transcendence that, like the dragon's itself, may be indistinguishable from death.

Shepard's first full-length novel, Green Eyes (1984), again embeds story in the clutches of a jungle-like world, the American Deep South where a research organization has successfully created Zombies by injecting cadavers with bacteria from a graveyard. As an sf premise, this is unconvincing; but Shepard presents the transformation of dead bodies into representative human archetypes, and the escape of one of them into bayou country, with a gripping closeness of touch; the almost synaesthesiacal epiphany at the end (see Synaesthesia), already characteristic of his work, also tests true. His second novel, Life during Wartime (fixup 1987), similarly embeds sf elements – a Near Future setting, advanced forms of Drug manipulation – into a Latin American venue which, essentially, absorbs these elements into its horrified, dense presentation of a Vietnam War conducted, this time, in the Western Hemisphere. "R&R" (April 1986 Asimov's), which won a Nebula, shapes the first part of the book, and a hallucinated, obsessed journey into the heart of darkness in search of some underlying transformation dominates its last sections. A later novella, Aztechs (September 2001 Sci Fiction; 2003), is set in the same general universe: the US and Mexico are now separated by a laser fence; the AI that runs the mysterious AZTECH corporation seems to be laying the groundwork for its becoming a Messiah figure, perhaps as the head of something like a Cargo Cult; but as with many later Shepard narratives, the ending is abrupt and inconclusive. His third novel, The Golden (1993), which won a Locus Award, is a Vampire tale, set in a vast Edifice [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] specifically modelled on Giovanni Battista Piranesi's Invenzioni Capric di Carceri ["Fanciful Images of Prisons"] (graph 1745; rev vt Carceri d'Invenzione ["Imaginary Prisons"] 1761); the final pages of the story, set in sunlight as the surviving vampires head for Asia, are compellingly surreal.

Many of Shepard's works [see Checklist below under Novellas] fall short in length, though not intensity, of full-length novels; it is at points a difficult judgement call to distinguish one category from the other, but any attempt to so lends point to the argument that he was most comfortable with the shorter form; his later publishing career, in which several of these works were given separate release, confirms the sense that the novella was central to his work. Earlier long tales of interest are assembled with shorter fiction in The Jaguar Hunter (coll 1987; with one story cut and three added, rev 1988; exp 2001), The Ends of the Earth (coll 1991) and Barnacle Bill the Spacer and Other Stories (coll 1997; vt Beast of the Heartland and Other Stories 1999). Later major collections – including Trujillo and Other Stories (coll 2004; cut vt Eternity and Other Stories 2005), Dagger Key and Other Stories (coll 2007) and Five Autobiographies and a Fiction (coll 2013), the latter containing only fiction despite the title – also contain longer work, but many of Shepard's novellas were by now appearing on their own. They rank among the finest Fabulations composed by an American writer in recent years, and in addition to the awards mentioned above they were variously honoured: a 1993 Hugo Best Novella Award for "Barnacle Bill the Spacer" (July 1992 Asimov's), a Locus Award for "Radiant Green Star" (August 2000 Asimov's) and a Shirley Jackson Award for Vacancy (Winter [March] 2007 Subterranean; 2009). Most of them are not sf, beyond Kalimantan and Aztechs, both discussed above, though Viator (2004; exp vt as coll Viator Plus 2010) is a study in Perception housed in a Pocket Universe-like stranded ship, told with an effect of driven Equipoise that marks almost all his best work. The Best of Lucius Shepard (coll 2008) and The Best of Lucius Shepard: Volume Two (coll 2021) edited by Bill Sheehan are sufficiently ample to include several of his best longer stories.

Shepard clearly felt comfortable with sf; and the genre benefited from the publication of a dozen tales which assimilate sf into a wider imaginative world; but certainly, despite his aesthetic influence on the genre in the years since his explosive debut (for which he received a John W Campbell Award in 1985), Shepard could best be described as a writer whose works are best perceived glowing through the coils of Fantastika. There is some sense that his large oeuvre has gone relatively unrecognized; there is certainly no question that his work has received insufficient attention from academic critics, perhaps because its explosive ambiguousness of texture and narrative do not paraphrase well. As with other writers whose work is not easily reducible to thematic studies, including Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe, this lack of attention travesties the field as a whole.

In his final decades, Shepard began to publish considerable nonfiction, most notably a regular column on sf Cinema for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, beginning with the December 2000 issue of that journal and continuing until the September-October 2013 issue; his views about American cinema, and American culture in general, were conveyed there with jeremiad intensity. Much of this material, and other work, was assembled as Weapons of Mass Seduction: Film Reviews and Other Ravings (coll 2005). [JC]

see also: Ace Books; Asimov's Science Fiction; Eschatology; Fantasy; Gothic SF; Reincarnation.

Lucius Taylor Shepard

born Lynchburg, Virginia: 21 August 1943

died Portland, Oregon: 18 March 2014



Dragon Griaule

Best of Lucius Shepard

  • The Best of Lucius Shepard (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2008) [coll: Best of Lucius Shepard: hb/Jeffrey K Potter]
  • The Best of Lucius Shepard: Volume Two (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2021) [omni/coll: containing Liar's House above; The Last Time, Aztechs and Ariel below; plus other stories: Best of Lucius Shepard: hb/Armando Veve]

individual titles

Shorter individually published texts are here listed under Novellas: for reasoning see text of entry above.


  • Kalimantan (London: Century, 1990) [novella: illus/hb/Jamel Akib]
    • Kalimantan (New York: Tor, 1993) [exp of the above as coll: pb/Richard Andri]
  • The Last Time (Royal Oak, Michigan/Mission Viejo, California: ASAP/Airtight Seels Allied Production, 1995) [novella: chap: first appeared in Little Deaths (anth 1994) edited by Ellen Datlow: hb/Phil Parks]
  • Valentine (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002) [novella: hb/Archie Ferguson]
  • Aztechs (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2003) [novella: title has also been given as AZTECHS: first appeared September 2001 Sci Fiction: hb/Jeffrey K Potter]
  • Colonel Rutherford's Colt (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2003) [novella: hb/Jeffrey K Potter]
  • Floater (Harrogate, North Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2003) [novella: hb/Les Edwards as Edward Miller]
  • Louisiana Breakdown (Urbana, Illinois: Golden Gryphon Press, 2003) [novella: illus/hb/Jeffrey K Potter]
  • Viator (San Francisco, California: Night Shade Books, 2004) [novella: hb/John Picacio]
    • Viator Plus (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2010) [exp vt of the above to novel-length text plus other stories: hb/Jim Burns]
  • Softspoken (San Francisco, California: Night Shade Books, 2007) [novella: hb/Jeffrey K Potter]
  • Ariel (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2009) [novella: dos: first appeared October-November 2003 Asimov's: hb/Jeffrey K Potter]
  • Vacancy (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2009) [novella: dos: first appeared Winter [March] 2007 Subterranean: hb/Jeffrey K Potter]




about the author


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