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Lucius Shepard, August 21, 1947 – March 18, 2014

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Life During Wartime Lucius Shepard-smallMultiple sources are reporting that Lucius Shepard, one of the most talented writers to emerge from the cyberpunk movement in the mid-80s, has died.

I first encountered him in the pages of Omni magazine in 1988, with his novelette “Life of Buddha.” I remember being astounded with the natural realism of his dialog, which captured the flow of modern speech in a way I’d never seen before. I read his brilliant Nebula Award-winning novella “R&R” — which opens with an artillery specialist in Central America getting a glimpse of a war map and wondering if he’s somehow caught up in a war between primary colors — and the novel it turned into, Life During Wartime (1987). His dark visions of the near future frequently involved inexplicable wars, and he wrote extensively about Central America, where he lived briefly.

Shepard won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 1985. His 1992 novella “Barnacle Bill the Spacer,” which I read in the pages of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, was a vivid character study of a mentally disabled cleaning man on a troubled space station, and his unexpected actions during an attempted mutiny. It won the Hugo Award in 1993 and was eventually collected in Barnacle Bill the Spacer and Other Stories (1998) and Beast of the Heartland (1999.)

He won many other awards during his lifetime. Two of his early collections, The Jaguar Hunter (1987) and The Ends of the Earth (1991), won the World Fantasy Award; his novella “Vacancy,” from the Winter 2007 issue of Subterranean Online, won a Shirley Jackson Award (read the story here).

Shepard published his first short stories in 1983; his first novel was Green Eyes in 1984. For the first few years of his career, he was considered part of the cyberpunk movement, but quickly broke free of that market label with his horror novel The Golden (1993) and titles like Valentine (2002), Colonel Rutherford’s Colt (2003), Louisiana Breakdown (2003), and A Handbook of American Prayer (2004). His final novel, Softspoken, was published by Night Shade in 2007. His acclaimed Dragon Griaule stories, including “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule” and “The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter,” were collected in The Dragon Griaule by Subterranean Press in 2012.

Shepard was still very active in the field at the time of his death. He published Five Autobiographies and a Fiction in April of last year and he wrote a regular film review column (which I regularly enjoyed, although I seldom agreed with him) for Gordon van Gelder’s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He died on March 18, 2014 at the age of 66.

9 Comments »

  1. When I discovered his novellas a few years back, I was blown away. “Well,” I thought, “here’s a guy who’s writing on another level.”

    Since then, I’ve been going back and reading his earlier short stories and novels — riches that I have yet to exhaust. In my opinion, his recent novellas stand among the finest fiction produced in the last decade.

    Besides his being a helluva writer, though, I also discovered — through brief correspondence — that he was a genuinely good guy (even though we often disagreed as film critics). And, as the wonderful tribute Michael Swanwick posted today attests, he was quite a colorful and interesting character in his own right. Regrettably, I never got to meet him in person — a convention we were both slated for, something came up and he was not able to make it.

    The loss of his voice to contemporary fantasy is…beyond words.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - March 20, 2014 4:58 pm

  2. > When I discovered his novellas a few years back, I was blown away. “Well,” I thought, “here’s a guy who’s writing on another level.”

    Nick,

    I know exactly what you mean.

    > In my opinion, his recent novellas stand among the finest fiction produced in the last decade.

    I haven’t read anything from that period. His Dragon Griaule stories weren’t really to my taste. But I’ve been looking forward to reading his earlier collections.

    Thanks for that fine tribute, and for sharing the story of your own correspondence with him.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 20, 2014 6:57 pm

  3. Aside from his writing, I always liked reading his film reviews in F&SF. I didn’t really agree with him most of the time either, and there was so little I recall him actually liking. I loved the way he would describe his loathing for something, especially if it had a lot of Hollywood cookie-cutter pieces to it. I do remember one film he enjoyed – “Let the Right One In” (the original foreign film). He was spot on with that one, so we at least agreed on one film.

    Comment by Matthew Wuertz - March 20, 2014 8:14 pm

  4. And that copy of The Ends of the Earth, his Arkham House collection from 1991 that’s been sitting on the shelf at Uncle Hugo’s possibly since 1991? Today was the day it came home with me.

    (I remember reading it a long time ago, but it must’ve been a library copy or something.)

    Comment by Joe H. - March 21, 2014 6:24 pm

  5. Definitely one of my favorite writers. Though I didn’t always *like* his stories, I always appreciated his elegant and poetic command of the language.

    I am with Matthew Wuertz about not usually agreeing with his film reviews—a curmudgeon I would call him.

    Comment by Allen Snyder - March 22, 2014 7:12 pm

  6. [...] to disregard his fantasy contributions would be a major oversight. Shepard died earlier this month, and to commemorate his profound contributions to the genre we will survey his [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Fantasy Novels of Lucius Shepard: The Golden - March 26, 2014 4:38 pm

  7. [...] Shepard died last month, and to commemorate his profound contributions to the genre, we are surveying his [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Fantasy of Lucius Shepard: The Dragon Griaule - April 8, 2014 12:19 pm

  8. [...] Lucius Shepard, August 21, 1947 – March 18, 2014 [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in March - April 30, 2014 12:44 am

  9. [...] Shepard died on March 18 and, to commemorate his profound contributions to fantasy, we are surveying his books [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Fantasy of Lucius Shepard: A Handbook of American Prayer - May 12, 2014 3:22 pm


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