The Ends of the Earth

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A sequel to THE JAGUAR HUNTER (1987), THE ENDS OF THE EARTH transports readers to Caribbean islands, Central American warzones, and the late Republic of South Vietnam, as well as the frontier of “Bound for Glory.” Here, soldiers, expatriates, vagabonds, and bored travelers seek transcendence from meaningless lives, hoping to make contact with gods, goddesses—even the devil himself. All of Shepard’s people open themselves to contacts which often turn into spiritual takeovers.

In these stories, two despairing men on a tropical island play a ruinous Mayan game which leads them to madness and murder; a minister directs his mental energy toward the rape of a parishioner, a hot-blooded woman kills herself with a black clay statue as she makes love to it; a soldier in Vietnam learns how to murder.

In Shepard’s universe, darkness reigns: Any light is either dim and fitful or tropical and consuming, of no help to anyone caught up the nightmarish murk of existence. Here, good defers to evil, which is strong, vibrant, sought after, and wholly destructive of minds, bodies, and spirits. God gives way to lesser deities, allowing them to control the destinies of Shepard’s misfits and drifters.

If love and peace are denied Shepard’s characters, they have death and mayhem to rely upon: They break taboos, searching dense jungles, spider-infested caverns, bloody battlefields, and menacing borderlands for spirits which inhabit those places. Some spirits are unsought, however, like those who board the phantom train of “Bound for Glory”—terrible beings which claw and creep their way onto a ghost train headed for a place misnamed Glory. The ghosts of Mayan warriors enter the soul of the protagonist in “The Ends of the Earth” after he has played their macabre form of chess.

Life has failed Shepard’s characters as much as they have failed it. Losers devoid of concern for others, cunning, deceitful, lecherous, and alienated, they are harried by furies of boredom and self-hatred into encounters with dark spirits, inhabitants of parallel universes which at times interpenetrates our own. These deities, however, promise far more than they deliver, and after frenzied unions with him, mortals are left with an aching void and total desolation.

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Lucius Shepards second story collection contains fourteen stories from the late 1980s. In the title story, author Raymond Kingsley leaves New York City for Livingston, Guatemala, referred to as the End of the Earth. There he meets Ryan, Carl Konwicki, and Odille LeCleuse, each fleeing some misery. Konwicki and Kingsley begin to play a Mayan board game. LeCleuse and Kingsley become lovers, and Kingsley writes a novel. He has frightening dreams about stone temples where aliens torture humans. He gradually changes into the character of one of the game figurines, and he kills Konwicki and some townspeople. His spirit is now trapped in the figurine. LeCleuse returns to Paris and Kingsley to New York, his new End of the Earth.

“Delta Sly Honey” is the story of a young soldier, Randall J. Willingham, who works on corpse detail during his tour in Vietnam. Moon, a sadistic top sergeant, makes Willingham his victim and whipping boy. Each night, the ordinarily withdrawn Willingham radio broadcasts to the platoons in the field, finally addressing a mythical, ghostly Delta Sly Honey patrol. One night the patrol answers him. Willingham goes AWOL, and the Delta Sly Honey company materializes and kills Moon. Willingham returns and is, in time, seduced by Delta Sly Honey.

In “Bound for Glory,” an unnamed man and his partner Tracy leave the southwestern town where they have been living. Traveling toward Glory by rail through the Patch, a dark place on Earth where mutant creatures live, Tracy metamorphoses into a strange animal. The...

(The entire section is 633 words.)