Reading Eternity and Other Stories (2005) reminded me, decades after the fact, of how huge an influence Lucius Shepard was during my formative writing years. I read and re-read his collections The Jaguar Hunter and The Ends of the Earth in high school and college. I found his work powerful, immersive and transporting. (And, heh, he was probably exactly the wrong author for me to try and model my writing after…oh well, live and learn!)
Eternity and Other Stories is a good, solid collection of seven quite long pieces from the early 2000s, some of which are re-reads for me. It didn’t have the impact, today, that those earlier collections did for me back in the day, but it’s still quite absorbing. It opens with its heaviest hitter, “Only Partly Here,” a beautiful Twilight Zone fantasy about a Ground Zero worker in the aftermath of 9/11. This one stands out in my memory as one of the best genre reflections on the attacks, and it still holds up — incisive and poignant, and a powerful memory trigger for those dark early days of the twenty-first century. The terrorism-transformed American zeitgeist is examined further in the follow-up piece, “A Walk in the Garden,” which is a spectacularly visceral science fantasy about U.S. soldiers in the Middle East examining a gate into Islamic hell. A stunning work full of vivid, memorable imagery.
Those two pieces stood out, but the rest of the collection is quite good as well. For me, Shepard’s long, flowing, convoluted style works better the more purposeful it feels, and the less exploratory. So for me, the stronger pieces are “Crocodile Rock” (an atmospheric dark fantasy set in Africa) and “The Drive-In Puerto Rico” (a politically charged Central American fantasy), which have more propulsive narratives. Meanwhile the more metaphorically ambitious novellas, “Jailwise” and “Eternity and Afterward,” feel a little overwrought; even so, they dazzle at times and are quite worthy overall. The only real miss in the book is “Hands Up! Who Wants to Die?,” an unpleasant tale of trailer park SF about a strange gang of career trouble-makers on a southern crime spree. All in all, though, an engrossing sampling of long form speculative fiction from one of my early favorites.