Saturday, 7 July 2001

Lucius Shepard: Life During Wartime (1988)

Edition: Grafton, 1988
Review number: 865

The central character of Shepard's second novel, David Minghella, is an American soldier in a pointless jungle war, this one in Guatemala rather than Vietnam. The mind powers of the Psicorps play an important part in the fighting, but Minghella won't volunteer when he passes their tests. A meeting with a beautiful psychic woman changes his mind, and after his training he discovers that the war isn't what it seems; it is actually part of a centuries old feud between two families of psychics.

The novel is about American imperialism, about the sort of war that might have come out of the Contra rebellion in Nicaragua. Seen from Minghella's viewpoint, what Life During Wartime has to say is definitely from the American side, if one which is not jingoistic, and is more about his suffering and that of his comrades than the former inhabitants of the deserted villages. The psychological effect that the Vietnam War had on many of its American veterans is obviously the inspiration behind the chilling descriptions of the zombie-like armies of those who have had their minds destroyed by too much psychic manipulation.

By using the genre to say something about the effects of war and the nature of American imperialism which could not be said in a traditional narrative, Shepard has created one of the more interesting and thoughtful science fiction novels of the eighties. He didn't go on to become the major nineties author - at least, not that I noticed - that many fans expected at the time; a pity.

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