The Jaguar Hunter (1985) by Lucius Shepard

*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.

Cover to the 2001 Four Walls Eight Windows edition. Art by Scott Idleman

Brief Synopsis

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. 


My Thoughts

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!

Wakizashi

The Collection I read this story in. Look at those author names!

21 thoughts on “The Jaguar Hunter (1985) by Lucius Shepard

  1. How are you finding that collection? I’ve avoided that particular strain of “Collection” because it always felt like a “look who is socially popular” and not actually good writers or writing. I’ve never read any though to put that to the test.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s why I chose one of the earliest ones from good ol’ 1986. Hoping it will be better than more recent collections. I’ve only read the first story so far. I’m looking forward to finally reading some names I’ve been hearing about for years: John Crowley, Avram Davidson, R.A. Lafferty, Frederik Pohl, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Silverberg, James Tiptree, Jr., Howard Waldrop, James P. Blaylock, Nancy Kress, Bruce Sterling, Michael Swanwick.

      So, you aren’t a fan of yearly anthologies?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ahhh, I didn’t pay attention tothe year.

        But no, for the most part I am not a fan of “big name” compilations. I read a couple of “orbit X (insert a number for x)” from the 70’s and 80’s and hated them so much that it has colored everything in the same vein. I’m trying to overcome it by adding some “Best of SF” collections by Neil Clarke later this year, but we’ll see what happens 😀

        The good thing about collections like this IS the ability to see what a wide range of authors can do without having to invest a lot of time in them.

        Good luck!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Used to be fond of Lucius Shephard, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read him. I actually have the Arkham House collection by this name. I can’t say I cared all that much for Shepard’s later work that I happened to come across, especially the Dragon Griaule stories.

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  3. I’m absolutely sure I’ve read this before, just can’t remember exactly where. I used to subscribe to F&SF where it was first published, so perhaps that’s where. I do remember enjoying it, and this reminds me of other of his work I’ve been meaning to read, such as The Dragon Griaule, which someone above mentioned. I also used to get each of the yearly anthologies put together by Dozois. My favorite part of those were his intros where he talked about the industry for that year, how things changed year to year. Like you it takes me forever to get through them, and I still have many I’ve not read, but I do enjoy reading a story from them every so often.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s nice to hear, Todd. As I mentioned in another comment, I’ve bought a copy of Shepard’s collection of short stories with the same title, The Jaguar Hunter.

      I also enjoy reading the introductions to yearly anthologies. I’ve read a few by Jonathan Strahan, but this is my first Gardner Dozois anthology. Yes, they are perfect for dipping into.

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  4. I haven’t heard of this author before but your description of his writing has me convinced that it’s actually quite the show! I also noticed that the collection was edited by Gardner Dozois. My first anthology, The Book of Swords, was edited by him too! Guess he likes the collection/anthology game a lot hahah

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shepard is new to me, too. I really enjoyed this story 😎 Dozois was much more famous as an editor. He selected the stories and edited 35(!) Best SF of the Year anthologies from 1984 to 2018. Plus many other anthologies such as the one you mention. I’ve heard good things about his own sci-fi stories, so I picked up his 1977 collection “The Visible Man”. I read the first story and it was good, so I’m looking forward to working my way through it.

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