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Softspoken, Lucius Shepard

Softspoken is the new novel by Lucius Shepard (lucius_t in the inferior4+1 (theinferior4) blog) and it will be released in April.

To me, there are two versions of Shepard floating around, and I define them by dates. The first Shepard is the author from the 80's and 90's and who produced Life During Wartime, Green Eyes, the Jaguar Hunter, and Barnacle Bill the Spacer (the last two are collections). My experience with the work from then is limited to the last collection, and a few other short pieces, which I thought were nicely written, but didn't say a whole lot to me. Empty, I guess would be the term. The second Shepard, however, is the author who has emerged after 2000, and has produced work such as Two Trains Running, Trujillo, Viator, A Handbook for American Prayer, and Floater. The last, especially, is a favourite of mine. It is a small, dark novel drawn from the Amadou Diallo shooting in New York in 1999. If you don't remember the story, it is where four plain clothes cops stop a young Haitian guy outside his apartment, and when he reaches for his wallet, shoot him forty one times--nineteen hit. Shepard's Floater runs the fascinating tightrope of narrating it from one of the cops point of view as he works through the conspiracy that led him to be part of the shooting (in the book Diallo is replaced by Israel Lara). It's an impressive act.

Softspoken, then, is a new novel from Shepard, and if following the steps of the other post-2000 work produced, is part of the new body of work being created. Less people think that all of Shepard's work is politically and socially motivated, it's not: Viator, which takes place on a freighter on the Alaskan coast, mixes long, twisting prose with the slow disintegration of the casts sanity, and Louisiana Breakdown, a southern gothic novel, has a decided erotic feel to the prose and events in the book. There's more, of course, but my favourite stuff has always been the work that touches the real world. Still, there is a nice breadth in the work Shepard has been producing lately, though if you read a lot of it together, you'll notice his ticks--Shepard does enjoy, for example, putting his characters through a fevered, almost hallucinatory sequence of events in the climax of his work, and a portion of his work during this time can be argued to explore the ideas of masculinity, to the point that female characters are often put in a secondary position. However, Softspoken, at least in the surface, offers to address this last tick by offering a female narrator, Sanie, and in doing so, references back to Louisiana Breakdown, where half the book was narrated from the point of view of Vida. It is interesting, perhaps, to note that both books settle into the southern gothic genre, but I rather imagine there is nothing much to be made of this.

At any rate, if you can't tell, the new work produced by Shepard, as far as I'm concerned, is fine stuff. It has the added advantage of being short and sharp and, with very few of these novels crossing the two hundred page mark, not an ounce of fat on them. Softspoken, arriving some five or six books into this output since 2000, promises much, and will, I hope, deliver.

(That is the cover up the top, by the by. The Amazon version is an advanced copy and has an ugly whiteness on half of it, so I used this. It's prettier.)


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Mar. 28th, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)
I keep thinking I should read something of Shepard's, but he's so very prolific that I just can't figure out where to start.

I swapped out the stuff on my list for this one, though, after the Locus review.

(I do appreciate him, if nothing else, for the Year's Best Lucius Shepard joke from a while back.)
Mar. 28th, 2007 12:54 am (UTC)
what was the year's best joke?

with shepard's stuff, it's just jump in. nothing related to anything else, so it's pretty easy to do as you've done, and just pick up the most recent. A HANDBOOK FOR AMERICAN PRAYER is worth the buy if you see it round--it and FLOATER are my favs.
Mar. 28th, 2007 03:25 am (UTC)
I like his old stuff. I like his new stuff.

His work has been making socio-political statements all along...and that's fine with me.

And of course he's meditated on the man/woman interaction all along as well.

Familiarity happens. As you read more and more of his work then it becomes obvious.

But he hasn't written trilogies or series and as Ben says his works are short. But not sweet :)

Many good things have been said and will be said about his latest novel.

I would urge the unfamiliar to consider reading his work.
Mar. 28th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
I almost think of three Shepard periods - the first with passionate and visceral Life During Wartime, Jaguar Hunter, etc, the mid with things like his vampire novel The Golden, and The Scalehunters daughter stories, more restrained and formal, and then the latter work (which I have not been keeping up with as I should have). I guess what I'm saying is I think it would be worth reading his early work, and seeing if you still think its empty, because I like it a lot -- but agree that there was some work after that that was unsatisfying.
Mar. 28th, 2007 03:00 pm (UTC)
my plan with some of the earlier work is to pick up a best of book that subterreanen press is doing in (i think) 2008. i'll be better positioned to fill out the earlier theory--i'm the first to admit i haven't given it a lot of attention. i do have a copy of THE GOLDEN, though, which i haven't read yet...

the new work is fine, though, as i say. you should still be able to dig up the novella 'jailwise' on scifi.com, which ir ecommend totally.
Mar. 28th, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC)
Well the Jaguar Hunter collection made his reputation. Well that's not entirely true :)

But regardless of whether Lucius actually likes it or not, now, it's damn well worth essential reading...and when you read it you'll realize that all the social/political/sexual stuff is right there.

Mar. 28th, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC)
i'm pretty sure it was there all along--i didn't mean to imply it wasn't. when i said empty... i dunno, it's a comment related to the work now, which seems to have more purpose, more drive. it's a very intangible quality. maybe one of those personal ones.
Mar. 29th, 2007 01:42 am (UTC)
Ben, I think that when you read some of his earlier stories that you may change your mind.
Mar. 29th, 2007 01:48 am (UTC)
i dunno, man. it's not like i haven't read some of it--i figure the new stuff is always going to hold more interest for me.
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