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  • TITLE: Viator
  • AUTHOR: Lucius Shepard


You can't start a Lucius Shepard telling without first noticing the precision of the words and the original way they are strung together. He's not showy or experimental, just careful in his choices while wrapping around an event, a character, or a fresh notion. Granted, he uses too much ribbon sometimes, but the package is guaranteed to be a wondrous presentation, even if you don't particularly care for what secrets are inside.

Viator is a short piece—170 pages—but it showcases the author's command of the short form. Few authors make their home in 50,000 words or less, but Shepard refined the novella into a concise, economical vehicle for his inexhaustible fancies. His characters get enough time to breathe, the storyline remains taut without heavy introspections, and his prose remains crisp throughout those multitudinous participles between commas. "He is one of those very few fiction writers whose craft has developed to the point where he can succinctly capture in words anything his imagination can conceive."(1)


—It's not that I can explain any of it in rational terms, Lunde said. All events have a genius. When two people meet and fall in love, it can be explained. Biology. Social reasons. But there's an inexplicable genius at its heart. We can't explain it, so many of us pretend we're being rational by ignoring,. You and I, though . . . We realize the genius of certain events cannot be ignored. Somehow Viator became alive and saved herself from the breaking ground. She has lain dormant for twenty years, denied the energy she needed to continue on her way. By the time men returned to her decks, she had rusted. Her life, her newborn vitality, had rusted as well and it took her months to be revitaliazed. To make repairs. Well, she's made them and now she's on her way. Where she's bound, you have a better idea than I.

—I don't know, said Wilander.

—Lunde, p.132.


Some twenty years ago, the man quoted above—identified as Jochanan Lunde—on the final voyage to a Central American boneyard to be cut down for scrap, mysteriously put the worn-out freighter Viator into All Ahead Full and aimed her at the Alaskan coast. She ran aground, miraculously staying upright, and buried herself into the forest, becoming a "black speck on her stern . . . like a period set between beautiful dark-green sentences"(p.1). Presently, one of the men hired to supposedly re-mount the salvage job, says, "Viator had penetrated the forest and consummated a marriage between the organic and the inorganic"(p.7).

Viator is finally going to complete her momentous voyage, her purpose, if you will, to seek its own remarkable providence.

Lunde has hired four men who are already busy on the ship when Wilander—our third-person, limited narrator(2)—arrives. He is given the captain's quarters and all assume he'll distribute assignments toward final purpose. He doesn't have a clue and finds the ongoing endeavors by the men—one is blow-torching cutouts in the steel hull that'll fit in CD jewel cases, another is collecting shards of glass that hold strange reflections—to be bizarre and unfathomable. The old tub will never put to sea and cutting her down for scrap with only 5 men is ridiculous. Wilander decides to hoof it into Kaliaska—"a horrible place. Drunks and snarling dogs and hostile stares"(p.7)—and ends up taking up with the local Trading Post owner, Arlene Dauphinee. She's uncomplicated, self-sufficient, strong willed yet charitable. Wilander immediately senses her "unadvertised beauty" and deems her "a woman who might be someone's fate"(p.18-9), seeing a possible companionship that'll help build over the wreckage of his wasted life.



1) Jeffrey Ford's introduction to Floater, PS Publishing, UK, ISBN 190288079X, c.2003, p. vii.


text only © copyright 04/19/2015 by Larry Crawford

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