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Two Trains Running
Lucius Shepard
Golden Gryphon, 112 pages

Two Trains Running
Lucius Shepard
Lucius Shepard was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1947. He has travelled extensively in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. He lives in Seattle. Mr Shepard has won 2 World Fantasy Awards including one for his collection The Jaguar Hunter. As well, he has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Louisiana Breakdown
SF Site Review: Louisiana Breakdown
SF Site Review: Green Eyes
SF Site Review: Colonel Rutherford's Colt
SF Site Review: Beast of the Heartland

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

Lucius Shepard literally "bums around" in Two Trains Running, another Golden Gryphon Press collection of his award winning work. This volume is a bit different in that it includes a non-fiction piece, "The FTRA Story," a shorter version of which was originally written for Spin magazine, that inspired the characters and settings of the two short stories, "Over Yonder" and "Jailbait."

The FTRA is the "Freight Train Riders of America," a sort of hobo gang that some believe may be involved in more sophisticated criminal activities beyond illegally hitching rides and general pandering. Shepard notes the Great Depression tradition "portraying hobos -- or, as they prefer to be distinguished today, train tramps -- as colorful kings-of-the-road, lazy, easy going, good-time-loving, stogie-smoking gents who might be prone to a little drunkenness, a little petty larceny, but nothing worse than that." However, though not entirely without some justifiably romantic elements (for which a yuppie group of weekend train tramps is particularly susceptible), Shepard's hobo hobnobbing reveals them to be frequently dysfunctional, disturbed, and doped up in a dangerous lifestyle.

"There's no doubt that riding on a freight car as it carries you through some moonlit mysterious corner of the American night is a rush like mystical whiskey for anyone with half an imagination...[but] most train tramps spend far more time in squats and jungles missions than they do on the rails, but riding the trains is the core experience of hobo life and they venerate it because it's the only thing they have to venerate. All men, however debased their state, require a myth to sustain them... it is the trains, then, two-million-ton beasts with electric hearts and diesel blood that function as a god in the hobo pantheon... a god with who he likes to believe he maintains a symbiotic relationship, one who transports him to places and experiences inaccessible to ordinary men, and whom he commonly refers to as the Steel."
It is this myth that Shepard celebrates -- and deconstructs -- in his profile of the various hobos he encounters in his 1998 travels with them throughout the Western U.S. In turn, they become characters in his fiction that does pretty much the same thing -- explicate the myth to reveal a harsher reality.

Originally published online at SCI FICTION and a Sturgeon award winner, "Over Yonder" suggests that while the unexamined life isn't worth living, the alternative isn't necessarily more pleasant. But the truth can still set you free.

Billy Long Gone has hitched a ride to a sort of Big Rock Candy Mountain (the famous folk song about a hobo heaven). There's trouble in Paradise, however. At regular intervals horrific creatures prey on the hobos, presumably someone's idea of reciprocity. While his fellow hobos are complacently content to fall victim to whatever chance circumstances arise, Billy chooses to take a dangerous ride into unknown territory. In the course of which he faces up to some unpleasant truths not only about himself, but the larger meaning of existence.

"Jailbait" is much shorter and new to the collection, less concerned with the mythological than with the basic human need to connect to another person. Jailbait is the nickname (and all hobos have nicknames) of a girl young enough to deserve the moniker. The horrific murder of a traveling companion leads her to seek safety in the company of Madcat, and eventually they become lovers, of sort. Madcat is subject to seizures that include strange hallucinations about not only Jailbait, but hint that he could have been the murderer of her companion. It is a love story that has a much more ambiguous, and therefore perhaps more realistic, ending than happily ever after.

In his introduction, Shepard says:

"The world is made of stories. A man's life is a cloud of entangled narratives, and history a wagging tongue. And so as long as there are stories to be told about hobos, they'll continue in the way we all continue, products of our own myths, heroes in a misperceived and diminutive cause."
You may not actually want to ride the rails after reading these tales. But you'll recognize how you've been there before.

Copyright © 2003 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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