Giant Among Us: Lucius Shepard


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.

Lucius Shepard

17 thoughts on “Giant Among Us: Lucius Shepard

  1. marlyyoumans says:

    Great piece (and critic-prod), Laird.

  2. Have you read Vermillion? It’s a short comics series he wrote for Helix. It’s amazing – wild and imaginative and complex, there’s nothing like it.

    • Laird says:


      No. I shall rectify. Thanks for the tip.

      • Bruce says:

        The Vermillion series is sparse at Abebooks…I’ve just the first four and thanks for reminding me to collect the rest.

        Just did a quick count; I’ve 33 books by Mr. Shepard in my office, almost all signed firsts.

        I met Lucius just one time. He was kind enough to blow off a day’s work and hang out with a fan; he even took a train from Neuchatel to Zurich where I was waiting for a plane. Eleven hours of talk, getting somewhat incoherent at the end Vast amounts of beer, wine and food). I have a Zurich map I scribbled notes on when he gave me the opportunity to ask questions. An amazing day; it was like chilling with Hemingway.

  3. Laird says:

    Thanks, Bruce. Chilling with Hemingway, indeed. 😉

    • Dan Nordquist says:

      I envy you the experience. Great piece on a great writer Laird !

      • Bruce says:

        Yes, excellent piece! I wish Lucius the speediest of recoveries.

        Lucius was terrific. The first thing he did when he strolled out of Hotel Adler looking for me – he’s pretty easy to pick out of a crowd – was to put me at ease, and then invited me to ask questions about his writing. It was the first time I heard about ‘Home Run Chicken’ which he completed this year. I scribbled down his own reading recommendations. We spent an inordinate amount of time talking about classic hockey. A fine day.

  4. […] Giant Among Us: Lucius Shepard […]

  5. Hannu Blommila says:

    Wonder, wonderful piece. Lucius Shepard was one of my all-time favorites. What a sad fucking day this has been…
    Oh, and I would recommend Vermillion HIGHLY as well. Awesome stuff.

    • Laird says:

      Thank you!

      • Bruce Chrumka says:

        Excellent piece! Would you mind if a link to it were provided at , Laird? (I note that a site does cite your essay). Looking forward to your next book, sir. A Little Brown Book of Burials rocked!

      • Laird says:

        Thanks, Bruce. I’d be honored.

      • Bruce Chrumka says:

        Most excellent! Thanks, Laird. And love the reference to Gormenghast. The battle between Flay and Swelter is one of the many brilliant scenes from Mervyn Peake’s masterpiece. I wish Dickens could have read the first two books. (The third left me cold, except for the last pages, and haven’t tried the fourth).

  6. Liz Hand says:

    Great piece, Laird. This morning, my partner John (Clute) said exactly what you said: Lucius deserves the attention of academics, and it’s a reflection of how bankrupt the literary establishment is that he never received it during his lifetime. RIP to a great writer and a dear friend.

  7. […] news: Giant Among Us: Lucius Shepard | Laird Barron "If ever man stalked man, Flay stalked Swelter. It is to be doubted whether, when […]

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