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Green Eyes

by Lucius Shepard

(Orion Millennium, 5.99, 275 pages, paperback; ISBN 0-75281-613-6. This edition published 2 March 1998; first published in the UK in 1986.)

Of all the monsters in horror's graveyard, zombies are perhaps the most comical. Shuffling hunks of reanimated flesh, they lack the vampire's elegance, the wolfman's primeval savagery and the mummy's ancient roots. Even when munching on some poor unfortunate's forearm, the menace never seems to quite outweigh the idiocy. Personally, I blame George Romero. After he sent the dead shopping in the 1970s they lost much of their ability to scare, and virtually became beings of pity rather than fear.

It is this theme, of the almost baby-like creature, lost and searching for identity, and the associated moral questions, which Shepard explores in Green Eyes.

The plot of Green Eyes is based around a pseudo-scientific project, in which voodoo and biology combine to resuscitate still-warm corpses. The actual process of how a person is brought back to life is fairly incidental, and far more is made of the psychology and personality of the "subjects" once the rebirth has taken place. Said rebirth, it is discovered by the project's leaders, involves the assuming of a different personality, or perhaps soul, to that which the person possessed during life. Hence, the body is observed by Shepard as a host, a mere carrier of spirit. This is an idea around which the entire book pivots, and is conveyed rather eloquently, by an actual zombie, on page 231: "The wind is a soul without a body".

Compelled by a notion that there's more to the project than they're being told, one zombie, Donnell, and his allotted analyst, Jocundra, flee the house in which the experiments are conducted and go on the run. Their intention, which Shepard could have perhaps detailed a little more explicitly, is to uncover the true nature behind Donnell's "new life", a mission which takes them further into the world of voodoo, and further from the seemingly standard horror novel one assumes Green Eyes to be.

Part-way along the path to enlightenment Donnell begins to see things. It's not long before he learns that the peculiar lights he can see are electromagnetic fields, and that as well as perceiving them around objects he recognises them also around people and animals. After a while he works out how to manipulate the fields and discovers he can cure illnesses, a feat that leads to a brief stint as a healer in America's deep south, where the greater part of the novel is set. It's an interesting amendment to the zombie myth. By rights, he should be tearing folk limb from limb, not healing cancers. But the zombies in Green Eyes are very special zombies, due to the way in which they are brought back to life, and as such are characters in their own right, with their own destiny.

Towards the end of the book a decision is made to build a gigantic electromagnetic field: a veve, which is basically a mass of copper on which Donnell can walk. From thereon the novel goes from strange to downright weird. Walking atop the veve, Donnell lapses into another world, namely the towns of Rumelya and Moselantja, in which his real origin, and the true reason for the project, are pieced together in fascinating fashion.

Though a great storyteller (the plot of Green Eyes is circular, and very clever), perhaps most striking about Shepard is his style; colourful, inventive, and at times subtly poetic, it is a decidedly smooth and sophisticated read. On top of this Shepard has a vision lodged somewhere between the romantic, the horrific and the loosely metaphysical. A love-story, for it is, by turns, a love-story, concerning a zombie coming to terms with his "condition" could, in my opinion, be rendered believable only by a stylist of great expertise. Of course, Shepard pulls it off admirably, and not only suspends disbelief but does so in a highly entertaining and impressive manner.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It's the first I've read by Shepard, and as a result I see a writer too original, quirky and intriguing to be ignored.

Review by Jason Gould.

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