*This is my review of the novelette published by Lucius Shepard in 1985. The Jaguar Hunter is also the title of Shepard’s 1987 collection of short stories, a book I’m very interested in after reading this novelette.
This is the story of Esteban, a retired hunter living with his wife in Honduras. His wife gets into debt with a local businessman and Esteban agrees to hunt and kill a black jaguar to settle the debt. After entering the jungle on the jaguar’s trail, he meets a beautiful woman who begins to question him about his intentions toward the jaguar.
This was my first experience reading Lucius Shepard (1943-2014), an American writer whose work was first published in the 1980s. The Jaguar Hunter was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novelette category in 1986. I read it in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection” (1986) edited by Gardner Dozois. At only 22 pages, the story can be read in one sitting.
First off, I have to say that The Jaguar Hunter is a brilliant piece of fiction. I was pulled into the story from the first page and found it hard to put down. It’s interesting that Dozois selected it for his famous annual science fiction anthology. I would describe the story as magical realism, rather than science fiction. But I’m glad it was chosen for this collection as I got to read it.
Shepard’s writing is masterful. He evokes a very sensory, at times sensuous atmosphere throughout this story. There is a clear distinction made between the ordinary, dull, regular world and the vibrant, colourful, natural world of the jungle and beach settings. You can easily see where the author’s sympathies lie. His prose conjures images of exotic places which make you almost wistful to experience them, yet there is a pulsing undercurrent of danger lurking just out of sight.
Here is a brief example of Shephard’s writing:
‘By the set of its ears, and the purposeful sway of its walk, Esteban recognized that it was hunting. It stopped beneath a palm about twenty feet from the house, lifted its head, and tested the air. Moonlight frayed down through the fronds, applying liquid green to its haunches; its eyes, glinting yellow-green, were like peepholes into a lurid dimension of fire. The jaguar’s beauty was heart-stopping.’-from The Jaguar Hunter by Lucius Shepard
This is a BIG recommendation from me. Thanks for reading!