24 December 2007

Lucius Shepard, Kalimantan, 1990

A highly textured novel with aspects of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, though in many ways Lucius Shepard seems to pick up where Conrad left off. Curtis MacKinnon is an intemperate and disreputable American in Borneo, and dangerous too after he discovers a drug used by a lost native people known as the ‘dream wanderers’. The drug enables him to alter reality in a way that upsets the balance of both nature and the hidden world, and the ‘dream wanderers’ believe MacKinnon must be killed before he goes too far. But, being merely departed spirits, they also need a real human to do the job for them, one who must follow MacKinnon through the door into both the spirit world and the Borneo jungle. Kalimantan is a cornucopia of human uncertainties in the face of a variety of hidden powers: nobody is actually quite what they seem, even to themselves, or certain of anything except the dangers posed by MacKinnon, who is naïve as to what to ultimately do with his drug-induced abilities. The scenes where the spiritual becomes visible are well handled and, to Shepard’s credit, in a variety of ways, and it’s only really the (perhaps unnecessary) inclusion of extraterrestrials that marks out Kalimantan as science fiction as opposed to fantasy. A richly imagined book that’s soaked in atmosphere, unanswered questions and facets of life, nature and motive that defy explanation because they just are.   PY

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