Filler content with floaters

And this originally appeared in The Third Alternative #37:-

FLOATER: LUCIUS SHEPARD

PS Publishing pb, 154pp, £10

William Dempsey is a NYPD officer on sick leave after an incident in which he and two fellow officers shot an unarmed civilian. Dempsey is troubled by a floater, a congregation of matter in his eye that is obscuring his vision, and which the Department psychiatrist puts down to psychosomatic causes, the guilt he feels at what happened. Then Dempsey learns that the man he shot, Israel Lara, was a Haitian emigrant and heavily involved in voodoo. Dempsey may just be the victim of a curse, but as he investigates further, driven on by the visions that come to him through his damaged eye, an even more chilling reality becomes apparent. He has unwittingly become the pawn in a conspiracy that has cosmic implications, with the power of a member of the voodoo pantheon up for grabs to a human contender, and Dempsey’s life is the only thing that stands between his rival and the ultimate prize of godhood.

This short novel is Shepard returning to familiar ground, its otherworldly battle reminiscent of that between two shamans in “Kalimantan”, but whereas the earlier novel was set in a remote and obliquely fantastic milieu, this is as ordinary and real as the city streets we walk each day, and therefore even more immediate and alarming. This sense of contemporaneity is emphasised right from the start, with a situation that has become horribly familiar from our TV screens in recent years, that of police officers accused of a race killing, and the trauma that this results in, the guilt and despair Dempsey feels, is handled with a rare sensitivity, the picture of a good man who finds himself in an intolerable situation portrayed with a conviction that wounds. Shepard paces the book beautifully, each step along the way on Dempsey’s voyage of discovery timed to perfection and logically following on from what has gone before, until both he and the reader have no alternative than to take at face value the fantastic things occurring and react on their own terms. And, while I have no idea what research Shepard has done, the background information on voodoo sounds convincing and gives the book an extra depth, offering us a fascinating insight into an alternative belief system. The climactic battle between Dempsey and his nemesis, which takes place on another plane of reality, is handled with panache, a real sense of otherworldliness about it for all that what is happening appears quite ordinary in some senses, reminiscent of nothing so much as the inevitable scene in a Western movie where two gunfighters shoot it out in a town street, and then Shepard pulls the rug out from under the reader’s feet with an ambiguously slanted ending that challenges our perceptions of reality.

Floater is an excellent short novel from one of the leading exponents of the fantastic, and very attractively packaged with an introduction by Jeffrey Ford and full colour wraparound cover by Edward Miller.

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