Friday, 7 January 2011
Viator Plus, by Lucius Shepard — reviewed
Though the stories are substantial, the main course is “Viator”, an excellent and bewildering short novel. Viator is a ship, a “freighter whose captain had steered her into the shore at so great a speed, she had ridden up onto the land, almost her entire length embedded among firs and laurel and such”. Wilander is one of five men engaged to live aboard the ship, for reasons initially unknown. Frightened by the eccentricity of his crewmates, he is more frightened yet by the sense that he is just as bad. Whether the ship is moving or not, they are men on a mission, and he is determined to see it through. I loved this novel; it’s perhaps the best novel I read in 2010. Given the layers of meaning, the astonishing writing, and the remarkable ideas, this book would repay much more careful study than I can offer it here. One notable feature is its extraordinarily long sentences, often used to carry you along with Wilander as he experiences the stranger parts of his adventure: the previous quotation comes from a sentence that is in total half a page long. Another point of interest is the importance of the age fourteen throughout the collection: it's the apparent physical age of the girl-thing Wilander encounters in "Viator", the age at which Palmira Miguez went missing in Chinandega, the age at which the narrator of "The Ease With Which We Freed the Beast" struck his father in the face, and the age of the prostitutes imagined by Pederson.
"Viator" is a novel that could be read and read again to draw out such themes. Like those shorter pieces in the book it crosses genres, or rather draws on them all, perhaps reflecting that in fiction why things happen (often the dividing line between genres) can matter less than how those events affect the protagonists. Is “Viator” science fiction, fantasy, or horror? Readers may come to different conclusions, or to none at all, but it’s a brilliant novel, of that there’s absolutely no doubt.
Viator Plus, Lucius Shepard, PS Publishing, hb, 366pp.