That erosion of good into evil is central to the conceits of most characters in this collection. New values always seem to be a decline from the old ways, but either can be a formidable obstacle depending upon a characters nature. Esteban Caax, taught to revere the old ways, sees television and modern society destroy his life; it is only with the black jaguar in a place inaccessible to modern people that he can find peace. On the other hand, Eliot in “The Night of White Bhairab” is a former Peace Corps volunteer whose permanent residence in Katmandu does not bring him contentment. He notes that he “usually reached [the edge of a breakdown] just before taking up residence at Mr. Chatterjis”; Chatterji has been established as a “Westernized Indian.”
Shepards short stories are fraught with people who do not fit into their society. A few are writers by profession, the most prominent among them being Peter Ramey and Raymond Kingsley in the rather autobiographical title story to Shepards second collection, The Ends of the Earth (1991). Many others are artists.
One recurring theme of Shepards work is the aspect of men searching, often (as in “Black Coral” or “Salvador”) with the use of hallucinogenics. Such themes and elements led John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993) to compare Shepard to Joseph Conrad. Shepards characters, though, almost always view failure as inevitable. Esteban Caax sets...
(The entire section is 418 words.)