From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

The Extra and Copping Squid by Michael Shea

Reviewed by Colin Azariah-Kribbs

When reading H.P. Lovecraft, one becomes accustomed not only to bizarre and cosmic horrors, but also to narrators who are often every bit as unusual as the circumstances into which they are thrust. With men like Randolph Carter (the dreamer of unknown Kadath) and Richard Upton Pickman (the infamous ghoul-haunted artist of Boston’s North End)—only two of the denizens that populate the world of Lovecraft’s tales—it’s hardly surprising that such fellows are regularly hunted down by eldritch terrors since they’re practically hunting the eldritch terrors down themselves!

In Michael Shea’s world, however, things are a little different. An experienced hand at Mythos writing, Shea knows how to deftly manipulate all the subtleties of Lovecraftian horror, but instead of placing an intrepid seeker of forbidden knowledge at the center of his tales, his heroes are often harmless old ladies, streetwalkers, construction workers, and the like: ordinary people going about their daily business who somehow, in the midst of their everyday banality, find themselves entangled in the horrors of a cosmic, otherworldly power that exists in a dimension beyond our own, threatening to engulf us—usually after driving us to raving insanity first. In his Lovecraftian anthology, Copping Squid and Other Mythos Tales, Shea’s finest shorts and novellas in this vein—all with coastal San Francisco as their setting—are assembled with the deft precision of a late-night Twilight Zone marathon, serving up one deliciously horrific twist after another. With tales with titles like “Dagoniad” and “Tsathoggua,” both references to two particularly squamous sea deities invented by Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, it isn’t hard to guess that many of the doomed heroes in Shea’s stories begin to wish themselves further inland after the first several pages.

In his latest novel The Extra, based on an earlier short story of the same name, Shea moves from a Mythos-besieged San Francisco to a Los Angeles set in the future where everything familiar has changed save one invariable truth: Some people will do anything to make a movie. Poverty has reached epidemic proportions, so one Tinsel Town producer comes up with the brilliant idea of recruiting the impoverished to star as extras in a new science fictional TV series centering around gladiatorial combats between humans and alien robots. The good part: A lucky few of these extras will leave the show as very wealthy people. The downside: Anyone who ends up dead in the show stays that way. Just as in his shorter fiction, Shea’s prose has a wonderfully tight, cinematic quality to it that’s both visually gripping and vivid in its characterization of the twisted minds and desperate circumstances that drive the people populating his dystopic landscape.

Whether exploring the horrors of the Lovecraftian universe or of the future, Shea doesn’t fail to deliver a sense of wonder along with a delightful shudder that fans of horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction will be sure to appreciate.

The Extra
Michael Shea
Tor
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2435-1
288 pages | Hardcover | $22.99

Copping Squid and Other Mythos Tales
Michael Shea
Perilous Press
ISBN: 978-0-9704000-2-4
209 pages | Hardcover | $32.95

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