Lucius Shepard, RIP, and Readerly Notice

I did not know Lucius Shepard, beyond seeing him across the room (at the bar) at some con, perhaps the Portland Westercon in 2001, looking back at my schedule. But as a reader of his, I have the following observation. Like many another writer in the sf/f field, he gained huge attention in the first decade or so of his career, and then tended to fade into being taken for granted in terms of major awards nominations, and perhaps best-of-the-year anthology inclusions, even though he continued doing good and great work for his entire life (based on the occasional later works of his that I read). There are numerous precedents for this pattern (I’m thinking of names I could mention but perhaps I won’t), and it’s a pattern that’s understandable in terms of readers more interested in celebrating hot new talent rather than rewarding continued good work from veterans. I’ve read many tributes here on Fb that mention his early two novels and his couple early collections – but really, he did lots more great work after that. And it’s an unfortunate pattern of many writer careers that sustained work often goes unnoticed, and unrecognized. Alas, Shepard did not live long enough for any of the various Grand Master or Life Achievement awards.

–Captured from a Facebook post last Thursday evening. It got some comments from Gardner Dozois and Terry Bisson, plus a private email from a big name in the field who agreed with my point about the focus on newer writers but felt it untoward to say on Facebook.

There’s more to be said along these lines. As a reader, I discovered certain writers who opened up worlds to me early on, in my early teens, and whom I stuck to for years as I read through their works. I discovered other writers, at first by random chance, picking up their books off newsstands or in bookstores, mostly influenced by cover art and also by publisher brand [I was big on Bantam Pathfinder and anything Ballantine, in those late ’60s]. Some of them were turkeys, others opened worlds I had not seen in my earliest passions for Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke. (In particular, late ’60s and early ’70s Silverberg revealed more to me about life than what I’d gotten from those writers.) And once I became aware, originally through P. Schuyler Miller’s columns in Analog, of the various awards, and then through awards news in Locus, which I first discovered as a mimeographed stapled fanzine at A Change of Hobbit bookstore back when it was a one-room shop above a laundry-mat, a few blocks south of UCLA, where I went to college — then I became a proactive reader, seeking out writers I’d not already discovered.

Years and decades pass. My point is that any adventurous reader, I would think, checks out new writers all the time, and at some point, maybe after one book or a couple, decides to abandon this or that writer, no matter how popular or acclaimed, in order to focus one’s time on the writers that continue to reward attention. There is only so much time in anyone’s life.

My notion in my original post about readers always on the search for the next new thing is like that to some extent. I think literary culture does tend to take for granted many reliable, productive writers, who continue to produce good work even though they may never develop passionate fan bases that launch their visiblity into Hollywood notice. It’s up to dedicated readers, and literary reviews ‘zines like (ahem) Locus and The New York Review of SF and others, who have reviewers who do keep up with such writers, to keep them in the attention of readers.

Not sure I’ve wrapped up this line of thought, but that’s all the time I have tonight.

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