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The Novels of Michael Shea: The Mines of Behemoth

Friday, March 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Mines of Behemoth-smallThe last two Michael Shea novels we discussed, The Extra and Attack on Sunrise, took his career in an intriguing and very different direction. But I still admit a greater fascination with his Nifft the Lean novels, Nifft the Lean (1982), The Mines of Behemoth (1997), and The A’rak (2000). Baen Books published the last two in attractive paperback editions, with covers by Gary Ruddell, and I’ve always thought they were some of the most eye-catching sword-and-sorcery on the market.

We lost Michael last month, but very fortunately for us, he left a fine body of work behind to remember him by, including The Color Out Of Time (1984), In Yana, the Touch of Undying (1985); and his highly acclaimed collections Polyphemus (1987), The Autopsy and Other Tales (2008), and Copping Squid and Other Mythos Tales (2010).

Nifft the Lean, and his companion-at-arms, Barnar Hammer-Hand, were often lucky. Enroute to working Costard’s sap mine — very dangerous, and sometimes nauseating work far below ground — they were shipwrecked. But this proved fortuitous, when they met Bunt, who had been seeking just such as they. If they would work the sap mine, but also bring back twenty gills of fluid, he would make them exceedingly wealthy. So it was settled. They would suck the sap from the servants of the monstrous insectile queen — and they would bring back some of the ichor that she alone exuded — and they would be rich. It seemed relatively easy. They wouldn’t have to go to hell at all, for instance.

Of course, the best laid plans sometimes do go a little astray.

The Mines of Behemoth was published in 1997 by Baen Books. It is 256 pages, with an original price of $5.99 in paperback. It is out of print and there is no digital edition.

It also includes an introduction by Tim Powers, “Running Away with the Circus: An Introduction to Michael Shea’s Nifft the Lean.”

We’ve been surveying Michael’s complete works 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.

15 Comments »

  1. “It is out of print, and there is no digital edition.”

    Have sadder words ever been spoken? (Well, yes, OK, they have, starting with “We lost Michael last month.”)

    There was also the Incomplete Nifft, which combined Nifft and Mines under a single cover. Not sure these days if it’s easier to get them separately or in the combined edition.

    Comment by Joe H. - March 14, 2014 5:12 pm

  2. Joe,

    I’ll cover THE INCOMPLETE NIFFT in a separate post. I figured it deserved its own article.

    We’ve been reporting here on online prices for this and NIFFT THE LEAN, and they’re certainly not unreasonable (typically less than a new paperback, if you’re patient). But still, a modern reprint would be most welcome.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 14, 2014 5:22 pm

  3. I guess the ‘money shot’ in each Nift story is the eponymous character’s trip down into the underworld, this time – if memory serves me correctly – Nift and his companion end up barrelling around on the back of a giant beetle. And it’s great. The book’s weak area is characterisation. In the original quartet of stories, Nift is a simply a professional thief. Although the stories tend to focus on other characters, with Nift providing the necessary thread of continuity, you get the impression that being a thief is Nift’s vocation. He steals those eggs from the vampire queen for no other reason than because he likes a challenge. Maybe this is because the character is undeveloped, leaving the reader room to fill in the blanks, but I still reckon character presentation in ‘The Mines of Behemoth’ is much cruder, with Nift being driven principally by greed while also coming across as none-too-bright.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - March 15, 2014 4:39 am

  4. I have to disagree.

    The Nifft of MINES OF BEHEMOTH is a great rarity in fantasy fiction— an unreliable narrator.

    To my mind he is a much more interesting and amusing character here than he was in NIFFT THE LEAN.

    In MINES OF BEHEMOTH Nifft’s personality is stressed by the presence of staggering amounts of invaluable loot. His natural thief’s interest in such balloons out of control, causing him a good deal of difficulty that he attempts to conceal from his companions, the reader, and himself.
    It only works on himself.

    In my reading of fantasy, only Jack Vance made me laugh as hard as Shea did with Nifft in this book.

    But this is actually a little beside the point. I think that the chief glory of MINES is the author’s stunning eloquence, especially when describing spectacular, otherworldly scenes. I can’t think of another author whose prose in depicting a landscape was so lush and powerful that I felt compelled to set the book down for a moment and take a deep breath.

    Comment by John Hocking - March 15, 2014 1:57 pm

  5. […] has reappeared several times since, first in The Mines of Behemoth (Baen, 1997) — collected with Nifft the Lean as The Incompleat Nifft (Baen, 2000) — and […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Vintage Treasures: Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea - March 16, 2014 6:11 pm

  6. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Michael Shea, July 3, 1946 – February 16, 2014 - March 16, 2014 6:12 pm

  7. > I can’t think of another author whose prose in depicting a landscape was so lush and powerful that I felt compelled to set the
    > book down for a moment and take a deep breath.

    John,

    That’s a fabulous mini-review. I think you said far more about the book in that one paragraph than I did in four. Well done.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 16, 2014 6:14 pm

  8. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Novels of Michael Shea: In Yana, The Touch of Undying - March 17, 2014 10:59 pm

  9. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Novels of Michael Shea: Assault on Sunrise by Michael Shea - March 18, 2014 11:48 am

  10. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Novels of Michael Shea: The A’rak - March 18, 2014 11:50 am

  11. Gary Ruddell’s cover painting to THE MINES OF BEHEMOTH is an amazing thing of beauty. The luminosity of the wave cresting over the side is sheer magic. I don’t think he’s done any SF/F illustration for the last 7 or so years. :(

    Comment by Stephen Haffner - March 19, 2014 11:23 am

  12. Stephen,

    Exactly what I was thinking. It’s a gorgeous piece.

    I was staring at it earlier this morning, and wondering what Gary Ruddell has done recently… and why we never hired him to do a Black Gate cover.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 19, 2014 6:41 pm

  13. […] 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 Extra (2010) Assault on […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Novels of Michael Shea: The Incompleat Nifft - March 24, 2014 2:03 am

  14. […] 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 Extra (2010) Assault on […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Collections of Michael Shea: Polyphemus - April 14, 2014 2:35 am

  15. […] at the time, especially with his covers for Michael Shea’s Nifft the Lean novels for Baen (The Mines of Behemoth, The A’rak, and The Incompleat Nifft.) The cover artist for The Cult of Loving Kindness is […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Vintage Treasures: The Starbridge Chronicles by Paul Park - April 12, 2015 2:15 pm


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