Got a bit carried away there.
Where was I?
My Lucius Shepard experience so far has mostly been limited to short stories, and of those I have read a lot. Also, as mentioned above, two of these count among my favourite pieces of writing in the whole wide world. So naturally my expectations for Barnacle Bill were high. I am glad to say that I was not disappointed.
As with a lot of Shepard’s writing, I would not have minded for some of the stories to be longer. That is especially the case when it comes to the title story, where you only get a glimpse of what our world might look like in the future. It’s not pretty, but I’d like so see more.
As for the other stories: both A Little Night Music and Sports in America suffered from a certain blah-ness, but I suspect that is because I found the topics to be to my disliking. The writing is as always superb.
The Sun Spider is Shepard at his best. I don’t think anything will ever be able to eclipse the story about the sleeping dragon Griaule and Meric Cattanay the man who painted him, but this one comes close. Like Lem’s Solaris or the 2007 movie Sunshine by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, this story manages to convey the sense of awe and wonder that I imagine has to beset one if confronted with something as mind-boggling as the sun or, as in Lem, a creature too alien to comprehend.
We are taken to Egypt in All the Perfumes of Araby and from there on towards Israel. A setting that made me pause, given the current political situation in that region. The story is twenty years old, true, but from my viewpoint not much has changed in that time, so what would Shepard’s take be? Surreal, is the answer. And once again too short. The story seems to end when the protagonist’s journey is just beginning. If you ever read this, Mr. Shepard, personally I wouldn’t mind reading a novel about Danny Shields. Just so you know.
Finally, maybe the most surprising story of the collection: Beast of the Heartland. I didn’t think much of it when I started reading the story. Actually I was sorely tempted to put the book aside at this point, only that’s against my honour as a reader. The problem was that I could once again tell that this was a subject that didn’t draw me much. Now, after reading the story, I am very grateful that I did read on, because this story about a washed-out boxer is amazing. It’s not too long and not too short, sad and joyful at the same time and full of mesmerizing imagery.
All in all Barnacle Bill the Spacer is a thoroughly satisfying read, although I would recommend the more recent Eternity and Other Stories to first-time Lucius Shepard readers. But then again, if you want to get really hooked read The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule, now there’s a story…