The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"Over Yonder" by Lucius Shepard: An Appreciation by Tim Pratt

One of the greatest things about SCI FICTION was the certain knowledge that, probably sooner rather than later, there would be another major story by Lucius Shepard published there, something beautiful and brutal and wrenching and strange. When I look over the remarkable number of stories he published at Sci Fiction during the magazine's life, I'm seized with the desire to re-read them all--"A Walk in the Garden," "Jailwise," "Abimaguique," "AZTECHS," all the others. But my prime favorite among this clutch of favorites is "Over Yonder," the tale of Billy Long Gone, who hopped a train out of Klamath Falls and found himself in a strange new world, a hobo jungle beyond the limits of the rational world. It's as if Shepard considered the notion of the "Big Rock Candy Mountain"--that free-booze-and-stew paradise for tramps and hobos--and, finding it too sugar-coated by half, imagined instead a different sort of complicated haven for the citizens of the road. The story explores the knotted contradictions of the wanderer's spirit, the desire to travel as something distinct from the desire to reach a destination. Even once the rail-riding Billy Long Gone reaches the fabled land Over Yonder, and learns to navigate its more obvious dangers and begins to discover its deeper strangeness, his desire to see the next new thing becomes overwhelming, and he lights out again, for the land beyond the land beyond. He isn't satisfied with mere transcendent experience--he wants to transcend the transcendent. This is a story of willful trains, once-human monsters, uplifted intelligence, and dirty complicated love. It's weird, ambiguous, flat-out beautifully written, and it refuses the false consolation of uncomplicated happy endings (as Shepard always does). Ellen Datlow did us all a service by bringing this story, and Shepard's others, to the public, and for paying him a decent rate for his words. I hope he continues to find good homes for his fine long stories, and I'll seek them out wherever they appear, but I'll miss the comfort of knowing that, if I just wait a little longer, there will be another Shepard novella appearing at SCI FICTION. It was a little like watching the sky for shooting stars--you don't know when they'll come, but you know they'll be along eventually, and burn brightly, and be beautiful. Farewell, SCI FICTION. Thanks for taking me Over Yonder and elsewhere all these years.

Link to story.


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