Birthday Reviews: Michael Shea’s “Fast Food”

Birthday Reviews: Michael Shea’s “Fast Food”

Cover by David Christiana
Cover by David Christiana

Michael Shea was born on July 3, 1946 and died on February 16, 2014.

Shea won the World Fantasy Award twice, in 1983 for the novel Nifft the Lean and in 2005 for the novella “The Growlimb,” the latter of which was also nominated for the International Horror Guild Award. His story “Autopsy” was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novelette and the Nebula Award for Best Novella. He previously had been nominated for a Nebula for his novelette “The Angel of Death.” His novel A Quest for Simbilis was nominated for the August Derleth Award.

Shea sold “Fast Food” to Robert K.J. Killheffer and it appeared in the third issue of Century in September/October, 1995. Shea subsequently included the story in his 2008 collection The Autopsy and Other Tales, published by Centipede Press.

“Fast Food” is a revenge story with a difference. Jivaro in native to a part of the Amazonian rain forest which is being bulldozed to make way for grazing land for Mighty Burger, an American fast food chain. Befriended by Henry, one of the bulldozer drivers, Jivaro swaps bodies with another driver, Vic, sending Vic to live in the rainforest as Jivaro while the original Jivaro destroys the two bulldozers and gets himself and Henry sent back to the states. Applying for a job at the fast food chain, Jivaro continues to body swap while at the same time causing the chain’s food to infect its diners with strange bumps and rashes.

Jivaro had a long term plan to not only get vengeance on Mighty Burger, but also to attempt to repopulate the Amazon rain forest. Shea’s story points out that just as the forces behind Mighty Burger don’t care what happens when they pillage the rain forest, dooming animals and the indigenous population, Jivaro also doesn’t care what happens to the innocent people whose only connection to Mighty Burger may be that they eat there, or to the animals that he summons up far from their natural habitat.

There is an amoral posture in “Fast Food.” Neither side considers that damage that they are doing, but merely asks if their actions are furthering their own cause, no matter how ill-considered those activities may be.

Reviewed in its original publication in the magazine Century #3, edited by Robert K.J. Killheffer, September/October 1995.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Rich Horton

Shea did a lot of very good stuff, but one story stands head and shoulders above the rest, one of the greatest SF horror stories of all time: “The Autopsy”.

That said, I’m glad you covered “Fast Food”, if only for the connection with CENTURY, a really wonderful magazine that I wish could have lasted longer. Alas, the terribly sad sudden death of Jenna Felice led to its end.

Joe H.

Yes, my first encounter with Shea was reading The Autopsy in David Hartwell’s Dark Descent anthology, and it squicks me out to this day.

James McGlothlin

I’m currently on a Shea reading binge. I re-read The Color Out of Time, and I had copies of “Fatface” and “The Autopsy” in two different anthologies. I just received a copy of Polyphemous in the mail and I’ve also started Nift the Lean. Thanks for sharing this post.

John ONeill


That’s sounds like a great summer reading project!

I first encountered “The Autopsy” in Michael’s 1987 Arkham House collection POLYPHEMUS and, like Rich, it pretty much blew my mind. Great cosmic horror story with an (almost!) upbeat ending, which makes it pretty unusual on a lot of counts. The whole collection was impressive, actually, including the title story.

James McGlothlin


I read “The Autopsy” for the first time just a few years ago when I read the Vandermeers’ massive Weird anthology. I was first introduced to Shea just a few years prior in a Laird Barron interview where he referenced “Fatface” as being Lovecraftian. After a quick internet search, I discovered that Shea’s works tended to be older, small-run prints that commanded large prices. It’s taken me a few years to get my hands on some of his works.

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