The Novels of Michael Shea: In Yana, The Touch of Undying

The Novels of Michael Shea: In Yana, The Touch of Undying

In Yana-smallAround Christmas in 1985, I walked into The House of Speculative Fiction in Ottawa, Ontario, and after browsing the shelves for a while, selected a volume. The man behind the counter that Saturday was Rodger Turner, who years later would head up the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-nominated SF Site. But back then, Rodger was a humble bookseller — and a very good one.

I asked Rodger what he thought of my selection. He shrugged. “It won’t change your life,” he said. That was one of the marvelous things about Rodger: he always gave his honest opinion. And his taste was excellent.

“You know what will change your life?” he asked. And without another word, he handed me a copy of In Yana, The Touch of Undying. That was my first exposure to the magical worlds of Michael Shea, but it was by no means my last. Today, In Yana is considered a classic of darkly humorous fantasy; it is well worth seeking out.

Bramt Hex is a student of ancient lore until a chance meeting at an inn opens infinite pathways of possibility and, touched by destiny, Bramt abandons his ivory tower for the greater world, hoping to become a maker of legends in his own right.

But the world is a fearful place peopled by cunning nobles and wily wizards, demons and ogres, vampires and vengeful ghosts, sword-wielding warriors and flesh-craving giants. And soon, Bramt’s quest for fame and wealth becomes a battle for survival — and a desperate, magic-led search for a treasure far greater than gold… the secret of immortality which can only be found in the dangerous, illusive realm called Yana…

In Yana was published by DAW Books in December 1985. It is 318 pages, priced at $3.50. The cover is by Terry Oakes. It has never been reprinted.

We lost Michael Shea last month, 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.

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[…] 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 […]

Tulkinghorn

Some here may remember the eighties fanzine Cheap Truth, whose author, under the name of Vincent Omniveritas, was mostly Bruce Sterling. A wonderful review of Shea’s masterpiece from thirty years ago:

NIFFT THE LEAN by Michael Shea. DAW, $2.95. Jack Vance’s acolyte, author of the apprentice work QUEST FOR SIMBILIS, Shea has suddenly and fearsomely come into his own. This astonishing work shows a furious imaginative concentration that is impressive and even appalling. The legitimate heir of Vance, Leiber, and Clark Ashton Smith, Shea rips aside the polite, smirking ironies of these polished writers and shows us a crawling, boiling vision of the demonic. He is a Fender Stratocaster to Vance’s Stradivarius.

For those familiar with Vance’s work, the effect is odd and disquieting, like seeing a favorite uncle stumble in, blasted on bad acid and mumbling cosmis obscenities. There are supernatural horrors here that make Cthulhu and his boys look as tame as pinstriped bankers. Hell itself, its denizens and environs, are captured with a revolting nicety of detail and expression that makes you wonder for the author’s sanity.

Shea is doing for the outworn tradition of heroic fantasy what Swinburne did for the tradition of romantic poetry: namely, piling it up in a heap and setting it on fire. And, like Swinburne, he does it with so much insight that he renders the tradition obsolete. Heroic fantasy is already moribund; Shea’s book is, strictly speaking, a work of decadence, even of necromancy. This is an important, even crucial book, with the lurid brilliance and craftsmanlike discipline of a Bosch canvas. Not to be missed.

emcgargle

I just tried “seeking it out” on abebooks – very few copies available. If you come across one, grab it quick!

J.A. Woods

I just managed to get ahold of both Nifft and Yana on eBay for a reasonable price, though somebody nabbed The Colour Out of Time from under me at the last second. Im really looking forward to checking Shea out- not sure how I missed his story here on BG, but I intend to fix there right now!!

Guess what I’ll be looking for at Windy City Pulp & Paper next month…No, it better not be you John! 😉

Tulkinghorn

Everybody should know about Cheap Truth. Edited by Sterling and written by Sterling, Lewis Shiner and Rudy Rucker, it was the bible for those of us who loved despaired of the genre.

Here’s a link to an archive which seems to be partially corrupt.

http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/~erich/cheaptruth/

Another cool quote follows Long live the revolution. I wonder if it really succeeded:

And until SF does reform itself, re-think itself, and re-establish itself as a moving cultural force instead of a backwater anachronism, even the cleverest editors will find their efforts useless. They cannot produce meritorious fiction after the fact; nor can they stitch silk purses from the ears of sows, no matter how fat the sows are or how long they have been munching the same acorns under the same tree. SF must stop recycling the same half-baked traditions about the nature of the human future. And its most formally gifted authors must escape their servant’s mentality and learn to stop aping their former masters in the literary mainstream. Until that happens, SF will continue sliding through obsolescence toward outright necrophilia.

Joe H.

Either Nifft or In Yana — I’d be hard-pressed to choose between them.

(Fortunately, I don’t have to …)

John R. Fultz

Odin’s Beard! How has this book escaped my notice all these years? Gotta get it now…

emcgargle

I pick upo an autographed copy of Quest foer Simbilis on abebooks a few years ago – it was only about ten dollars, if I remember rightly. It would certainly be more now!

Nick Ozment

Since Shea’s passing, I’ve been looking for his books. Although I’ve discovered belatedly that we shared the same ToC in Weird Tales, I was not familiar with his novel-length work until John’s write-up. Having now read some of the descriptions — add that incredible review quoted by Tulkinghorn above! — I realize this was perhaps a great oversight.

Anyway, there’s a copy on eBay right now signed by both Shea and (cover artist) Michael Whelan for $40. Unsigned first editions seem to be going for $15 and up right now. (I wish the seller would relist that lot you mentioned that didn’t get any bids, John!) There is a later edition with a pretty generic cover that can be had quite reasonably, and I’ll likely cave and get that edition just so I can read the book.

There is a lot including Nifft the Lean, In Yana, and Mines of the Behemoth for $29 ($35 with shipping). So far I’ve balked at paying over ten bucks a copy for the three, but I don’t know — does that seem like a reasonable price?

(I did come upon Michael Resnick’s Redbeard — for 2 bucks! — whilst hunting for Nifft and jumped on it.)

Joe H.

Nick — I’d say $10 each isn’t unreasonable especially since In Yana only ever had the one printing.

John Hocking

Hey, modern readers think nothing of dropping $12.95-$17.95 on new trade paperbacks that don’t look half as good or read one tenth as well.

Do it! The old saw is true– you never regret the books you’ve bought, only the books you failed to buy!

[…] novels. We started with his Sword & Sorcery classic Nifft the Lean (1983), and his dark fantasy In Yana, the Touch of Undying […]

[…] 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 […]

[…] 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 […]

[…] the Lean (1982) The Color Out Of Time (1984) In Yana, the Touch of Undying (1985) The Mines of Behemoth (1997) The Incompleat Nifft (2000) The A’rak (2000) The […]

[…] the Lean (1982) The Color Out Of Time (1984) In Yana, the Touch of Undying (1985) The Mines of Behemoth (1997) The Incompleat Nifft (2000) The A’rak (2000) The […]

[…] The Novels of Michael Shea: In Yana, The Touch of Undying […]

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