Friday, November 12, 2004

Ex Libris: Lucius Shepard's The Jaguar Hunter

Seductive. That's one way to describe Lucius Shepard's prose.

When one reads Shepard, one can actually feel his prose start to wrap its tendrils around you. It then proceeds to lift you up towards the sky as it lulls you with his words, leaving you open to his story.

Yes, I'm impressed with this man's wordsmithy (is there a word like that?).

In fact, I can't say enough about him-- or to say anything else: any praise would be gilding the lily against Shepard's fantastic style.

I first heard of this writer via recommendations here and there on the internet but I only really decided to try him out when I found a copy of his collection of stories, The Jaguar Hunter, in a second-hand bookshop. (I know but hey, gotta start somewhere!)

And what a collection this is: a mixture of stories ranging from magical realism, fantastical oddities, eastern ghost stories, the horrors of the Nazi past, aliens both human and non-human, and New England horror.

Likewise, his writing is colorful and poetic, almost lush, yet never pretentious. A combination of Ernest Hemingway and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, methinks. (This was also evident in one other short story of his I mentioned before, Shepard's post-9/11 "Only Partly Here", which was in Science Fiction: The Best of 2003.)

For example, from the Nebula Award-winning short story, "The Jaguar Hunter":

Some hours later, around midafternoon, he was started from his nap by a voice hailing him. A tall, slim, copper-skinned woman was walking towards him, wearing a dress of dark green-- almost the exact color of the jungle walls-- that exposed the swell of her breasts. As she drew near, he saw that though her features had a Patucan cast, they were of a lapidary fineness uncommon to the tribe; it was as if they had been refined into a lovely mask: cheeks planed into subtle hollows, lips sculpted full, stylized feathers of ebony inlaid for eye-brows, eyes of jet and white onyx, and all this given a human gloss.

I've praised only one other short story writer here on this blog and that's Harlan Ellison. But whereas Ellison's wild-eyed ideas pack a visceral punch to the gut, Shepard's word-craft is the heavy-hitter here in his stories. (A reaction I have with another author I greatly admire for his prose: Graham Joyce.)

That doesn't mean that Shepard's stories are entirely lacking.

Some of his stories that blew me away include: "How the Wind Spoke at Madaket", a horror about a vampiric elemental wind; "The End of Life as we Know it", an almost cheesy New Age story that is redeemed under Shepard's almost Hemingway-esque expertise; "The Night of White Bairab", a story that details what would happen if ghosts-- East and West-- meet (disastrously); and "The Man who Painted the Dragon Griaule", an art-meets-life tale that doesn't fit in any fantasy mold currently being published today.

There were other stories that were great but the aforementioned were what stayed in my mind's eye after the last word had been read.

My only problem with Shepard is that a number of times his stories end a bit abruptly for my taste, like being immediately dropped down from a great height after flying gloriously through the clouds.

However, I suppose that's one drawback of his prose in that you can never wake up properly from a good dream.

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