September 2, 2013 by Laird
When speaking of Lucius Shepard, you’re speaking of an author who deserves the attention of a scholar or a critic. Because, when speaking of this author, you’re talking about a man who has produced a body of work since the 1980s that is prodigious in volume. A body of work critically lauded for the intensity of its vision and the complexity of its treatment of cultural values, its commentary on morality and violence. This is a writer whose stories and novels have earned awards ranging from the Hugo to the World Fantasy and a blizzard of nominations besides. He ranks among the most tireless and consistently excellent authors of the North Amercan canon of science fiction and fantasy. It is a matter of record.
If you examine that record–the awards, the chorus of critics who avow his importance, the volume of his output over three decades–it is plain we’re looking at the CV of a writer who stands shoulder to shoulder with the Wolfes, the Disches, the Tiptrees, and the Bradburys. An inimitable stylist with a reliably searing political point of view, he has gifted us with a dark treasury of literature that has done its part to inform and to interrogate as frequently as it has served to entertain.
I came to Lucius Shepard’s work late, very late. I’d heard of him, of course. During a stretch of the 1980s he was ubiquitous on the science fiction and fantasy charts, routinely appearing in pro magazines and anthologies. Alas, due to extracurricular activities, the late ’80s and early ’90s were a black hole in regard to my contemporary reading list.
I corrected that deficiency in the early Aughts when his career accelerated into resurgence. Many of us who discovered Shepard just after the turn of the new millennium have Ellen Datlow to thank. She helmed the famous online periodical SCI FICTION and is responsible for editing a string of hits that include “Over Yonder, Jailwise, “Senor Volto,” “Emerald Street Expansions,” “A Walk in the Garden” and Ambimagique.
There have been novels–Viator, Softspoken, and A Handbook of American Prayer, to name three; and sixteen collections as of today’s count. Each of them as brilliant, caustic, weird, and weirdly gorgeous as one might expect. He is a writer who moves deftly from jazz-inflected noir to Central American flavored magical realism, to outright fantasy, to balls out horror. He can wax polemical and he can smack you across the face with a terrifying pulp yarn. Shepard has absorbed and repurposed the influences of so many classical artists, from Borges to Delany, that he has accomplished what all geniuses ultimately do, and that is to create his own microgenre.
I’m not the one to do Lucius Shepard justice. There are professional critics who have, and will again, step forward to elucidate precisely how deeply the field has been scored by his words. All I can say is that he means a great deal to me. I admire his accomplishments, I applaud his boldness, I envy his vision, I am inspired by his tenacity and his dogged toil. He is a rarity in this trade, the kind of writer who will in some way, large or small, make you better for having read him.