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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

“The Extra” by Michael Shea (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Michael Shea Website
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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Michael Shea is the World Fantasy Award–winning author of Nifft the Lean as well as many other novels and short stories. Recent releases include the collections, The Autopsy and Other Tales and Copping Squid. Michael is currently writing “The Siege of Sunrise”, a sequel to “The Extra”.

PLOT SUMMARY: Val Margolian, the greatest living vid director, has found the mother lode of box-office gold with his new “live-action” films whose villains are extremely sophisticated, electronically controlled mechanical monsters. To give these live-action disaster films greater realism, he employs huge casts of extras. The large number of extras is important, because very few of them will survive the shoot.

It’s all perfectly legal, with training for the extras and long, detailed contracts indemnifying the film company against liability for the extras’ injury or death. But why would anyone be crazy enough to risk his or her life to be an extra in such a potentially deadly situation?

The extras do it because if they survive they’ll be paid handsomely, and they can make even more if they destroy any of the animatronic monsters trying to stomp, chew, fry, or otherwise kill them. If they earn enough, they can move out of the Zoo—the vast slum that most of L.A. has become—and they’re fighting for a chance at a reasonable life. But first, they have to survive...

FORMAT/INFO:The Extra” is 288 pages long divided over twenty titled chapters. Narration is in the first person via Curtis, and in the third person via Jool, assistant director Kate Harlow, sector chief Sandy Devlin, Val Margolian, chief assistant director Mark Millar, Chops, Japh, etc. “The Extra” comes to a natural stopping point with just a few unresolved issues, but is the first volume in a trilogy. February 2, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Extra” via Tor.

ANALYSIS: Expanding on the short story that was first published in 1987, Michael Shea’sThe Extra” combines hollywood satire, dystopian societies, and themes on media, social realism and class status for a darkly funny and action-packed futuristic thriller that is kind of like The Running Man, Death Race 2000, Mad Max, and Starship Troopers all rolled into one.

What immediately impressed me about “The Extra” was Michael Shea’s writing. Specifically, the stylish prose, his wild imagination, slick execution, distinctive narrative voices, and the overall manic energy present throughout the novel. I was particularly blown away by the Alien Hunger “shoot” which follows several different characters and subplots—uncovering sabotage, exacting revenge, power plays, etc—amid killer Anti-Personnel Properties (APPs—basically giant mechanical monsters), explosions in the sky, falling buildings, and dire odds that was just pure adrenalized brilliance.

Negatively, the world-building in “The Extra” is full of neat ideas like the Zoo (L.A. flatlands), ’Rises, Corps, etc., and Michael does a terrific job of furnishing the society and its inhabitants with its own personality including slang and manner of dress, but as a whole, I never fully grasped the world that the author had created and felt he could have done more with it. So I’m hoping this is an area that will be addressed in the sequels.

In the end, Michael Shea’sThe Extra” is an exhilarating thrill-ride full of creativity, insane action, and accomplished writing. Hugely entertaining, I can’t wait for the rest of the trilogy...


Simcha said...

This sounds like a really interesting book. I'm pretty new to scifi and this sounds very different from anything else I've read yet in the genre. I'll have to check it out.


Robert said...

It is a bit different, but enjoyable :) I hope you like it Simcha!

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