Any new book by Lucius Shepard is to be welcomed and snapped up eagerly, and Barnacle Bill the Spacer and other stories is no exception. A collection of seven very long stories (I think most of them are novellas), Shepard has the room to develop ideas and explore character. It’s been said that the novella is the perfect length for science fiction and this collection supports that argument admirably. Ironically, the weakest piece in the collection, for me, is the title story, winner of a Hugo in 1993. A Heinlein pastiche with added style, it failed to grab me. I guess I’ve tired of space opera type stories and Hugo voters haven’t.
There are three outstanding stories, however, which more than justify the price of entry: ‘A Little Night Music’, about a music critic writing a review of a concert given by a band of zombies, ‘Sports in America’ about two hitmen on their way to bump off some poor unfortunate and ‘Beast of the Heartland’ about a boxer who is slowly going blind but who keeps on fighting.
At times Shepard is a little verbose, almost purple, in his attempt to maintain a literary style, but he just about pulls it off and you are left with the feeling of having read something worthwhile as well as entertaining. Recommended.
Barnacle Bill the Spacer and other stories by Lucius Shepard (Gollancz, pb, 256pp)
US title: Beast of the Heartland
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