On Lucius Shepard and Life Achievement

I have mixed feeling about posthumous recognition. There is no doubt in my mind that acknowledging a person and their work, and acknowledging them and it fulsomely, during the person’s lifetime is the best and most appropriate approach when it comes to presenting awards, prizes and so on. There’s a feeling though, which I share to some extent, that if the person being acknowledged isn’t able to enjoy that recognition, it is somehow unnecessary or pandering or flawed.

This overlooks or undervalues a context for recognition that has value. Awards, especially career awards, are intended for their recipients, but they also act as part of our cultural memory. The recipients of lifetime achievement awards are admitted to a hall of fame where they join the company of their peers, so that they are counted when we look back our shared history.

This is very much why I welcome the recognition of Samuel R. Delany with the SFWA Grand Master Nebula, and why I continue to call for that recognition to be extended to C.J. Cherryh (both happily very much with us to enjoy the honour). But it is also why I continue to consider allowing posthumous recognition for some of these awards to be an idea that has merit.

The reason I am raising this now is that, very sadly, Lucius Shepard died recently at the age of 70. A Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award winner, Shepard for more than 30 years wrote some of the most incendiary and memorable fiction the field has ever seen. Classics like “R&R”, “The Jaguar Hunter”, “Delta Sly Honey”, “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Graiule”, “The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter”, and many, many more. Were he still alive he would, in my opinion, be an obvious choice for the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. That award, however, can only go to living recipients, or to recipients that have died during the year of nomination (in other words, 2014 is the final year Shepard could be recognised with the award).

And so I am curious, oh readers, what your thoughts are. I probably will nominate Shepard for the award, but do you think it’s an idea that has merit?

3 thoughts on “On Lucius Shepard and Life Achievement”

  1. Funny you mention this.

    I recently completed a speadsheet of all the various genre Lifetime Achievement awards, and it is obvious that, as you say, posthumous recognition has its place. Otherwise, what does one do with people like H. G. Wells? Or Stanley G. Weinbaum, a true-blue genre star who burned as brightly as anyone, but passed too soon.

    Fortunately we have the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in Seattle, which will (presumably and eventually) fill in the gaps and correct the injustices.

    The SFWA Grandmaster award remains one for living authors only. It makes for a great list of honorees, but it will always be flawed as long as Theodore Sturgeon isn’t on it. Why not change that? For the dead, it will never be too late.

    By the way, there’s an entertaining 1990s rant about this by Harlan Ellison on youtube, complaining about A. E. Van Vogt not being recognised. Fortunately Van Vogt lived long enough to become a Grandmaster.

  2. The British Fantasy Society Awards has faced similar issues when someone dies suddenly and too early. We have awards named after Karl Edward Wagner and Robert Holdstock and Iain Banks was the recipient of the BFS special award (named after Wagner) last year. There has been discussion about naming one of the awards after Joel Lane. Also, the BFS Award for Best (Horror) Novel has been named after August Derleth for as long as I have been a BFS member. (Disclaimer: I am a former BFS Chair and Awards Administrator but wasn’t at the time of any of the above decisions.)

    I can see the urge to recognise the recently departed, especially those who did not live to a ripe old age and/or die unexpectedly. At 70, Lucius left us at a relatively young age compared to some other distinguished names in SFF. A one-off award such as a Life Achievement or Grand Master, which he surely would have been in contention for if he had lived longer, would be appropriate while we can still award it to him, That’s an award fixed in time, and says at that time then that author’s contribution to the field was considered to be greatly significant and was recognised as such.

    But reputations rise and fall over time, and naming an ongoing award after someone risks a reaction of “Who?” ten or twenty years later. I’d suggest that is the case with Derleth now. Some writers whose reputations may have seemed unassailable at the time of their death go out of print – which is something you have discussed on the podcast before now.

    I certainly think that a WFA (and BFA) award to Lucius this year would be appropriate, as there is no doubt he has been a major figure in the genre (and mainly in short fiction, albeit longer novelettes, novellas and short novels) over the past 20-30 years. I hope he will be still being read in twenty years time, but that’s for posterity to judge and not really our business now.

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