Lucius Shepard (1943-2014)

Celebrated sf writer Lucius Shepard died in Portland (OR) March 18 at the age of 70. He reportedly suffered a stroke last year and had been in poor health for some time.

He won a Hugo and a Nebula, and a host of other awards, but the truest measure of his popularity in the sf genre may be the Locus Poll, where he registered eight wins between 1985 and 2001 – for seven pieces of fiction and a collection.

Shepard attended the Clarion Writers’ Workshop at Michigan State University in 1980 and sold his first story, “Black Coral,” in 1981 to New Dimensions, an anthology edited by Marta Randall.

Critics found in his work the influence of his travels throughout Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and concern for impoverished third-word countries generally. During the early 1980s he worked as a freelance journalist covering the civil war in El Salvador. Thereafter he primarily wrote fiction. His first novel, Green Eyes, appeared in 1984.

Fans grouped him with the cyberpunk movement. In 1985 he won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. His novella “R&R,” which won a Nebula in 1986, later became part of his novel Life During Wartime (1986). He won a Hugo for his novella “Barnacle Bill the Spacer” in 1993.

He was also an award-winning poet whose “White Trains” received a Rhysling Award in 1988.

Update 03/20/2014: Deleted reference to service in armed forces. Corrected age at death.

13 thoughts on “Lucius Shepard (1943-2014)

  1. I read the sad news today about Lucius’ passing and while I knew he had been incapacitated by a stroke, it was still a shock. I first met him in the late 1980’s when he was a GoH at a Disclave and we featured an interview with him in the second issue of SCIENCE FICTION EYE in August 1987. Getting to renew my acquaintance with him after we moved to Portland was one of the great things about coming here. He was quite a character. Talented, complex, and the worst housekeeper I’ve ever met. But, man, was it fun to sit around with him and share a drink and listen to him talk about his many adventures, as well as his misadventures.

    He had an extended career as a rock musician in the late ’60s in Detroit, I believe, and traveled to many obscure and fascinating spots around the globe in search of the strange and unusual to inspire him. Unfortunately, he had to really struggle to get much of what he had in his head onto paper and considering that, we are very fortunate that he wrote as much as he did. Thankfully he was able to spin his lifelong interest in film into a column for F&SF that lasted for at least a decade, and that helped keep the wolf from the door.

    He often came off as a mysterious and gruff so-and-so, but inside he was a sweet man with a lot of enthusiasm for and belief in the creative life. It is a sad loss. He was an important writer and a world class dreamer.

  2. There is some confusion over his birth year, mostly due to Lucius ….

    The Disclave he was GoH was in 1989. Art GoH was J. K. Potter.

    “his service in the Vietnam War” … er, as far as I know he was never in the military. Lord knows he probably visited Vietnam, but if so, strictly as a civilian.

    I’ll miss him – and his writing.

  3. Mike: Seems like I had the right birth date in the headline but copied the incorrect age from another source and never noticed the discrepancy. I have now deleted the reference to serving in Vietnam — you’re right, it makes no sense and the bio on his official website just says he traveled to Southeast Asia, nothing about being a veteran. I had picked up that datum from the Shepard obituary by Kathryn Baker on the SFWA Blog. Thanks for steering me straight!

  4. I’ll let someone else send a correction. I’ve already sent one – which was quickly acted on. Plus I’m tired – and depressed- and should go to bed.

  5. In an interview (click on website link of this comment), Lucius Shepard refers to himself as being 33 years old when he attended Clarion in 1980. That would place his year of birth in 1947 via simple subtraction. I suppose he could have been lying to the interviewer, but it seems unlikely.

    Lucius was the right age to go to Vietnam as a soldier and some of his interviews about his Vietnam-based stories seemed to infer he served, but he never put it into any official biographies nor outright stated he served in Vietnam. Unlike many writers his life was *not* an open book, he wasn’t exactly J.D. Salinger but he was still a very private man. So did he serve in Vietnam? Since he never said either way, it’s unknown. Someone who cared about such details could probably find out for sure, but I’d rather go back to my bookshelves and read some of Lucius’s mind-blowing short stories off the shelf of “Best of the Year” anthologies. Much more relevant, in the end — Lucius is dead, but his stories live on, if only in “Best of” anthologized form.

  6. Interesting that his GoHship at Disclave came after his appearance in SF EYE. I thought it was the other way around. I designed that year’s program book for the con, so you’d think I’d have remembered that detail. Thanks for the correction, Mike.

  7. Dan: Was there a Shepard bio in that publication and does it have any details relating to Vietnam etc.?

  8. Eric: To make the link a bit mopre obvious — Clarkesworld Lucius Shepard Interview.

    It is the interviewer who states that Shepard was 33 when he went to Clarion. Shepard’s answer is “As far as the age thing goes, I came to Clarion at the perfect time.” Ordinarily one would not need to look beyond that exchange, in which Shepard seems accepting of the stated age, however, if we were to discover the facts are different it could also be seen as a deflection.

    It would be interesting to learn more about the SF Encyclopedia’s reasons for picking the earlier date.

  9. A quick look-see at Lucius’ lengthy interview in SF EYE #2 — trying to read it word for word was too tough, as I kept hearing his voice in my head — reveals no mention of military service, though war and Viet Nam are discussed a lot. It would appear that he escaped the US in the late ’60s and spent several years bumming around Europe and the Middle East, living mostly in Spain while touring through other areas like Egypt, Afghanistan, and he mentions actually walking across Turkey at one point. I think his attitudes about the war in Asia was greatly informed by vets he knew and movies he saw.

    He returned to the States in 1972 and moved to Detroit where he spent the rest of that decade in rock bands with names like The Cathouse Band, Demon, Cult Heroes, and his best — in his opinion — Mister Right, which featured a brass section.

    I get the impression that a lot of his ideas about war and combat and the life around that state of mind came from his extensive travels in Central America, where he spent a lot of time in Nicaragua and El Salvador. At one point in the interview he says: “I’ve seen combat situations in Central America — supposedly covert operations. […] I’ve seen Honduran troops in El Salvador and things like that. I know something about what a combat situation is.”

    He says that he’d only written a handful of stories before he went to Clarion, which his soon to be ex-wife got him interested in after his last band fell apart. She apparently wanted to get him out of the house. The marriage didn’t last much longer, but he kept writing for the rest of his life. And he continued going into Central America until his health stopped him from doing much traveling about 10 years ago or so.

    I hope this helps some. The interview is quite interesting and full of, as you might expect, interesting stories and opinions — just like he was the last time I saw him. It also gives one the idea that he probably left behind a whole lot of incomplete manuscripts, including a rock and roll novel named after his last band, “Mister Right.” I hope somebody has archived them all for posterity, if nothing else. *sigh*

  10. Of his age: when I met with him last year, I was surprised that he was only 6 yrs older than I am, which makes him 66 (or depending on month, 67), born in 1947.
    He also referred to being a reporter in Vietnam, which would have put him there in his early 20s. Whether this can be corroborated is another thing.

    His mind was very clear, and we talked of quite a few life experiences once he warmed up.
    I just found out today, from another favorite author who told me kindly “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…” Honestly, I’m still in shock.

    I see his recent works on my To-Read Shelf and don’t want to read them, because then all my Lucius books will be done.

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