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Michael Shea, July 3, 1946 – February 16, 2014

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Michael Shea-smallFor all of the many obituaries I’ve written, I’ve been fortunate enough to have to write only two for Black Gate contributors: prolific short story writer Larry Tritten, and Euan Harvey, taken from us too young. So it is with a heavy heart that I report the death of Michael Shea, BG contributor and one of the most acclaimed sword & sorcery and horror writers of the last four decades.

In the early 70s, Michael picked up a battered copy of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novel The Eyes of the Overworld in a hotel lobby in Juneau, Alaska. Four years later, he tried his hand at fan fiction, writing a novel-length sequel to Vance’s classic titled A Quest for Simbilis. Not knowing what else to do with it, Shea submitted it to Donald Wolheim at DAW Books. Jack Vance graciously granted permission for it to be published (and declined any share in the advance), and Wolheim released it in paperback in 1974. It was a finalist for the British Fantasy Award and launched Michael’s career — a career that produced some of the most acclaimed fantasy of the past four decades.

Eight years later, Michael published one of the most important works of modern sword and sorcery: Nifft the Lean, a collection of four linked novellas published in paperback by DAW in 1982. It won the World Fantasy Award and was followed by two sequels: The Mines of Behemoth (Baen, 1997) and the novel The A’rak (Baen, 2000). His other novels include The Color Out Of Time, the sequel to Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Colour Out of Space;” In Yana, the Touch of Undying (1985); and The Extra (2010) and its recent sequel Assault on Sunrise (2013). His highly acclaimed collections include Polyphemus (1987), The Autopsy and Other Tales (2008), and Copping Squid and Other Mythos Tales (2010).

I had the good fortune to meet Michael at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2007. We hit it off and a few months later, I found an original novelette of Lovecraftian horror by Michael in my inbox. I was proud to publish “Tsathoggua” as part of the Black Gate Online Fiction line.

I was shocked and dismayed to find that Locus Online reported today that Michael Shea died unexpectedly on February 16, 2014. He was 67 years old. He will be sorely missed.

Michael may be gone, but the gifts he left us remain, and we’ve been surveying them here.

So far we’ve covered:

Nifft the Lean (1982)
The Color Out Of Time (1984)
In Yana, the Touch of Undying (1985)
The Mines of Behemoth (1997)
The A’rak (2000)
The Extra (2010)
Assault on Sunrise (2013)

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

29 Comments »

  1. Shocked and dismayed indeed. Time to reread Nifft.

    Comment by Joe H. - March 4, 2014 1:12 am

  2. A real loss. Nifft blew me away when I read it – a transporter accident blending Jack Vance, Clark Ashton Smith, and Hieronymous Bosch, unique and unforgettable.

    Comment by emcgargle - March 4, 2014 1:16 am

  3. Ah, I remember buying Nifft the Lean so, so long ago. Loved it. Sorry to hear this :(

    Comment by peadarog - March 4, 2014 4:43 am

  4. A real pity. I’d regard ‘Nift the Lean’ as one of the great classics of modern fantasy – A’rak and ‘The Mines of Behemoth’ are both very good, but the first book is still the best in the sequence for my money.

    He’s also one of the few writers who actually transcended his influences (ie, Jack Vance) to produce something utterly original.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - March 4, 2014 5:53 am

  5. Terrible news.
    Shea was my favorite among modern fantasy authors.
    Back when I worked in a bookstore I used Mines of Behemoth to introduce many co-workers, most with literary tastes and little time for any kind of genre fiction, to Shea’s work. That under-rated volume, with its almost supernaturally vivid otherworldly adventures, dark humor, not-quite reliable narrator, and strangely transcendent conclusion, proved a near perfect gateway to both Shea and Fantasy fiction.

    I corresponded with the author for a short time about 13 years ago. Conan Properties had let me know that they were looking for known authors to write fresh adventures of Conan, and I got Mr. Shea to approach them and offer his services. I’m convinced that the fact he was turned down deprived us of something remarkable.

    Mr. Shea was never prolific enough or successful enough to please me. His best work had a mad invention and electric intensity that made it unforgettable.
    I’m going to read some of it now.
    You should, too.

    Comment by John Hocking - March 4, 2014 10:16 am

  6. [...] John O’Neill has posted a tribute at Black Gate. [...]

    Pingback by RIP, Michael Shea | Adventures Fantastic - March 4, 2014 12:23 pm

  7. I was deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Shea’s death. I had the opportunity to meet him at two World Fantasy Conventions, and he was warm and gracious. Later, at BG, I got to read and immediately pass on one of his stories to publisher John O’Neill.

    The man was gifted. And kind. I wish the industry had seen more of him. I wish he were still here, for his family, and for us.

    Comment by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones - March 5, 2014 8:39 am

  8. And when did this happen? Apparently earlier this year!

    (The Color Out of Time ebook)

    http://www.amazon.com/Color-Out-Time-Michael-Shea-ebook/dp/B00I0GPOD4/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1394044540&sr=1-4&keywords=Michael+Shea

    Comment by pmcnamee67 - March 5, 2014 2:38 pm

  9. I haven’t read the Nifft books or IN YANA, and after reading these eulogies I want to correct that oversight. I just popped over to Amazon and eBay to find that his books are commanding pretty high prices, alas — upwards of $30 for a clean copy of the first Nifft paperback, and over $40 for the Baen edition that collected the first two books. Looks like I’ll have to sell a few books before I can get these on my shelves.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - March 5, 2014 2:58 pm

  10. > Time to reread Nifft.

    Joe,

    That’s a splendid suggestion. I think I may join you.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 5, 2014 5:02 pm

  11. > Nifft blew me away when I read it – a transporter accident blending Jack Vance, Clark Ashton Smith, and Hieronymous Bosch, unique and unforgettable.

    EMC,

    That may be the finest one-sentence review of NIFFT I’ve ever read. Bravo!

    Comment by John ONeill - March 5, 2014 5:03 pm

  12. > Ah, I remember buying Nifft the Lean so, so long ago. Loved it.

    Peadar,

    Hard to believe it came out over 30 years ago. I remember buying the original paperback. Ah, the years, they fly.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 5, 2014 5:06 pm

  13. > He’s also one of the few writers who actually transcended his influences (ie, Jack Vance) to produce something utterly original.

    Aonghus,

    He did it twice, I think — once with Vance, and again with Lovecraft (with The Color Out Of Time).

    Comment by John ONeill - March 5, 2014 5:08 pm

  14. > I corresponded with the author for a short time about 13 years ago. Conan Properties had let me know that they
    > were looking for known authors to write fresh adventures of Conan, and I got Mr. Shea to approach them and offer
    > his services. I’m convinced that the fact he was turned down deprived us of something remarkable.

    John,

    Ah! What a story! A Michael Shea CONAN novel?? What a concept!

    In a parallel universe somewhere, modern fantasy took a very abrupt turn in the mid-90s with the appearance of that book. I would love to have read it!

    Thanks for sharing that story.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 5, 2014 5:11 pm

  15. > Later, at BG, I got to read and immediately pass on one of his stories to publisher John O’Neill.

    Howard,

    I forgot you were the one to pass that story along to me. Another reason I’m in your debt!

    Comment by John ONeill - March 5, 2014 5:12 pm

  16. > And when did this happen? Apparently earlier this year!

    Paul,

    Thanks for the link! I had no idea there was an ebook version of The Color Out of Time. Another treasure to pack onto my Nook!

    Comment by John ONeill - March 5, 2014 5:16 pm

  17. > I just popped over to Amazon and eBay to find that his books are commanding pretty high prices, alas — upwards of
    > $30 for a clean copy of the first Nifft paperback, and over $40 for the Baen edition that collected the first
    > two books. Looks like I’ll have to sell a few books before I can get these on my shelves.

    Hi Nick,

    Not at all. Very, very few vintage paperbacks cost anywhere near the price of a new paperback for the patient collector. Expect to pay around $5 for both NIFFT and IN YANA in great shape (including shipping), and you’ll be fine.

    First, stay away from Amazon for collectible paperbacks (in general). eBay is a better bet. Start by looking for collections.

    A set including both NIFFT and IN YANA in terrific shape recently sold on eBay for a top bid of $9.99 (including shipping):

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lot-of-2-Daw-by-Michael-Shea-Nifft-the-Lean-In-Yana-Free-Shipping-/151213761500?

    A set including NIFFT, IN YANA, and QUEST FOR SIMBILIS in great shape ended without a single bid at the asking price of 9 bucks ($12.50 with shipping):

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/3-Michael-Shea-fantasy-paperbacks-Nifft-the-Lean-Quest-for-Simbilis-In-Yana-/231161363309?

    If you just want NIFT THE LEAN, auctions this week have run around $5, including shipping:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/DAW-NO-508-Michael-Shea-Nifft-the-Lean-Michael-Whelan-Dec-82-PB-/181337734518?

    Don’t bother with the sellers trying to snag impulse buyers at a high price. Set up a Followed Search on eBay for NIFFT, make sure to check the box that asks for e-mail notifications, and you should expect to have a copy for under $10 soon. Under $6 if you’re patient.

    There will likely be a flurry of buyers (and sellers) the first few weeks after his death. By April, prices will be back to normal.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 5, 2014 5:34 pm

  18. John,

    Yeah, I didn’t know until – given the scarcity of finding Nifft in my travels (your latest reply to Nick notwithstanding) – I checked this morning.

    I’m surprised there aren’t more Baen out-of-print titles available as ebooks lately. Again, something with their Amazon arrangement, I guess. It’d be nice if Nifft were available as ebooks – or maybe the rights have reverted from Baen. I never know.

    I keep all sorts of Amazon wishlists and one of them is for out-of-print books. I review it a couple of times per month to see if anything has come out electronically. I’m pleasantly – perhaps ridiculously – surprised when I make such discoveries.

    Happy to share!

    Cheers,
    Paul

    Comment by pmcnamee67 - March 5, 2014 5:44 pm

  19. John, Excellent advice! As soon as sellers slap “collectible” on something, you can expect the asking price to inflate about 300%.

    I have to confess, in my quick search this morning I was holding out for the first edition you posted, with the nifty Michael Whelan cover. The more reasonably-priced editions I spotted were all of a later issue, with a rather generic cover of a guy holding a sword. If I just want to read the story, of course, the cover is a secondary concern.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - March 5, 2014 6:56 pm

  20. I would love to see his entire catalog available electronically. I asked him about it on Facebook once a year or two ago, but at that point there was nothing in the offing. Yes, I wonder what the rights situation is these days.

    Comment by Joe H. - March 5, 2014 7:15 pm

  21. [...] lost Michael Shea last month, but the gifts he left us remain. In Yana was published by DAW Books in December 1985. It is 318 [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Vintage Treasures: In Yana, The Touch of Undying - March 7, 2014 12:50 pm

  22. [...] continuing our look at the career of Michael Shea, who died last week, leaving behind a legacy of underappreciated novels. We started with his Sword & Sorcery [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » New Treasures: The Extra by Michael Shea - March 10, 2014 8:04 pm

  23. [...] back on the record with the fourth installment of our survey of the books of Michael Shea, who passed away last month. This time we’re looking at his final novel, Assault on Sunrise, the sequel to The [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » New Treasures: Assault on Sunrise by Michael Shea - March 12, 2014 2:06 pm

  24. [...] Shea passed away last month, and we’ve been surveying his complete works [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Novels of Michael Shea: The A’rak - March 17, 2014 10:51 pm

  25. [...] Shea passed away last month and we’ve been surveying his complete works [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Novels of Michael Shea: The Incompleat Nifft - March 22, 2014 12:39 pm

  26. [...] Blackgate is paying tribute to the novels of Michael Shea. [...]

    Pingback by Blackgate Magazine Tribute: The Books of Michael Shea | Michael Shea | Author and World Fantasy Award Winner - March 25, 2014 11:56 pm

  27. [...] Shea passed away last month and we’ve been surveying his complete works [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Novels of Michael Shea: A Quest for Simbilis - March 29, 2014 12:42 pm

  28. [...] Shea passed away in February and we’ve been surveying his complete works [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Collections of Michael Shea: Polyphemus - April 14, 2014 2:37 am

  29. [...] Michael Shea, July 3, 1946 – February 16, 2014 [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in March - April 30, 2014 12:42 am


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