Too many writers are dying these days. A couple of recent shocks, within the last month or so -- Lucius Shepard and Michael Shea. Shepard was 70, Shea was 67.
Shepard was a Big Deal in science fiction in the '80s. He had a ton of short stories published, then made a big splash with his first novel, GREEN EYES. He was a forceful, passionate writer -- his stuff sometimes seemed to burn off the page with its intensity.
But for awhile I remember wondering what all the fuss was about. I seemed to somehow miss the point of his stories, though I could see he was urgently trying to get SOMETHING across.
His first story to really grab me was "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Graiule," which I thought was really beautifully imagined. Some of his other short stories were almost hallucinatorially intense and visual, even if they didn't always completely work for me as stories -- "R&R," "Fire Zone Emerald," "Delta Sly Honey," "Only Partly Here," etc.
Later in his career, Shepard published a really creepy zombie-rock-band piece called "A Little Night Music" that really showed off his strengths in his control of mood and ominous atmosphere. An early story, "A Spanish Lesson," to me wasn't much as a STORY, but the last few pages were a passionate moral lecture of the kind NOBODY writes anymore, and it was memorable just for that. If you want lots of Ray Bradbury-ish atmospheric mood, try to find "Journey South from Thousand Willows" -- it was printed in one of Terry Carr's UNIVERSE anthologies back in the early '80s. "How the Wind Spoke at Madaket" is a memorable sea-going horror story with lots of foreboding, creepy mood.
I tried to read his novels -- I got halfway through GREEN EYES before I gave up. It was intense and vivid, but something there just didn't grab me. It's still on my bookshelf for when I want to try it again. I got all the way through THE GOLDEN, which at the time I thought was the most boring vampire novel I'd ever read. Written in a dated style to reflect the setting (late 1700's), I could never re-read it now -- though a review of the book by John Clute convinced me awhile back that I'd probably missed the whole point. I tried to get through the stories collected in LIFE DURING WARTIME ("R&R," "Fire Zone Emerald," etc.), but couldn't get to the end.
Shepard was always passionate and deeply engaged in moral issues. It was clear that he'd seen a lot and was burning to write about it. He put together more big novels and HUGE short-story collections in his later years, and it always seemed like he was destined for major success, though I don't think that ever quite happened for him. His books are still out there.
Michael Shea was a fairly big deal in SF & horror circles in the late '70s and early '80s. "The Autopsy" is a TRULY creepy science-fiction horror story that you can find reprinted in David Hartwell's huge horror-overview collection THE DARK DESCENT. "The Angel of Death" is equally creepy, and "Fat Face" is ... ugh ... somewhere beyond creepy. Shea also had a wicked sense of humor -- some of his shorter stories show off that side of him.
I could never get into his award-winning novel NIFFT THE LEAN, though I've read rave reviews of it. Could be that kind of medieval-heroic-fantasy just wasn't meant for me. But Shea wrote other things too, like Jack-Vance-ish science-fantasy, and other horror-style adventures.
It bums me that some of my writer heroes from my childhood are dying -- first Ray Bradbury and Algis Budrys and Thomas M. Disch and John Brunner from awhile back, then Frederik Pohl last summer, and now these two. And there've been others along the way. I feel pretty good, myself.
I'm currently reading Douglas M. Winter's FACES OF FEAR (1985), a collection of interviews with horror writers -- about half a dozen of those folks are dead now, too. But the interviews are pretty great and pretty detailed -- I don't remember seeing the pieces on Peter Straub and T.E.D. Klein and Alan Ryan anywhere before. I got a couple of really nice rejection slips from Ted Klein back in the days when he was editing TWILIGHT ZONE magazine and I thought maybe I could write spooky stuff. Well, not quite.
Even the Stephen King interview has some new stuff in it. Worth tracking down if you're a horror fan.