LIFE DURlNG WARTIME by Lucius Shepard


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Bantam's new trade, paper line has so far been trendy fluff (see Hood, p. 655; Vannucci, p. 822; and Listfield, p. 952). Shepard's novel is a sharp contrast: a dark vision of a near-future Central American war. Shepard has already won acclaim as a science-fiction writer (the first section of this novel was published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, then collected in The Jaguar Hunter, p. 518); here Bantam introduces him to a wider audience. Stuffed with dreams, hallucinations and stories-within-stories, this sprawling work has four major clements: a love story, a family blood-feud, a struggle for mind control, and an endless, stalemated war. It is the war that is dominant; though several degrees more hellish than Vietnam, and incorporating new drugs and new technology, it has a quality of absolute believability: this is how it will be. At the start, protagonist David Mingolla, 20-year-old draftee, arrives in a Guatemalan town for R and R, along with his buddies Gilbey and Baylor. Their nerves are shot to hell from a Cuban assault on their firebase. Gilbey deserts to Panama; Baylor goes berserk on drugs and is shipped home; Mingolla meets Debora, a Guatemalan Indian revolutionary. They are both super-powerful psychics, able (after graduating from army drug programs) to influence and even ""field-strip"" the minds of others. Mutual attraction is immediate; love is not. Mingolla fears Debora is manipulating him to defect, and vows to kill her; but then she saves his life, his suspicions melt, and the pair are free to love, to couple, and to focus their attention on the real manipulators, the rival Latin families whose centuries-old blood-feud is the root cause of the war. Many adventures and countries later, the lovers reach Panama City in time to witness a brittle peace treaty; this is followed by more mayhem and an atomic explosion, but by now Mingolla and Debora have moved on to their Shangri-La in the Panamanian mountains. This is a hard work to assimilate, and will leave some readers feeling cheated; no through line, no resolution, bothersome questions about mind control left unanswered. Furthermore, the language is often too gaudy, and the lovers are indeed ""scarcely more than children with guns."" Yet the rewards are great too, as Shepard explores the forms of war and death and martial decadence, probing the south-of-the-border nightmare that is waiting to happen. His work is daring and unsettling in the way that art should be.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Bantam