Posthumous Publication Brings to Light an Unknown Novel from A Well-Known Genre Master
Review by Dejan Ognjanović

Mr. Cannyharme

Michael Shea, who died all-too-prematurely in 2014, was a writer who excelled in all major fantastic genres: twice winner of the World Fantasy Award for sword and sorcery fantasy, and twice nominated for Hugo and Nebula for his chilling SF-horror novelette “The Autopsy”, he was also a major voice in contemporary horror. His literary influences were Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance, but also Clark Ashton Smith – and H. P. Lovecraft. To boot, this August his Mr. Cannyharme, “A Novel of Lovecraftian Terror”, written in 1981 but never before published, is brought to light by Hippocampus Press.

Shea was one of those authors, like Ramsey Campbell and T.E.D. Klein, who pioneered contemporary Lovecraftian fiction for mature readers, especially through the stories recently collected in Demiurge: The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales (2018), edited by S. T. Joshi. This scholar also edited the manuscript of Mr. Cannyharme.

Exclusively for our readers, Joshi praises the scribe’s outstanding work in the Lovecraftian vein because of its “fusing cosmic horror with a portrayal of the gritty world of drug dealers, prostitutes, and others who tend to be scorned and loathed by bourgeois society. Shea depicts these figures with a sensitivity and insight that is enviable, but at the same time he makes them the victims (and a few times the victors) in a cosmic struggle with forces from beyond the cosmos. This fusion is utterly distinctive with him; I know of almost no one who has written stories of this sort.”

Shea used to work as a night clerk in San Francisco’s Mission District flophouse, so the novel is autobiographical to a point, as its main character is just such clerk, who starts noticing strange events in the disreputable hotel, linked to a mysterious old resident, Mr. Cannyharme. The writer’s first-hand experience and sympathy for the downtrodden are strikingly obvious in the novel’s realistic background, before the otherworldly forces start peeling off its fabric.

But how come that such a layered and personal work remained unpublished for four decades? Luckily for us, the author’s widow, Linda Shea, is at hand to elucidate: “Michael had negotiated Mr. Cannyharme’s sale in 1982 or 1983, but before it was published the imprint that wanted it was shuttered by its parent publishing house. In 1983, Michael won his first World Fantasy Award for Nifft the Lean. The interest generated by the award steered his writing explorations into Epic Fantasy, resulting in the production of four novels. Plus, in 1983 our first child was born, and we moved to northern California from San Francisco.”

With so much going on at the same time, the horror novel got sidetracked and almost forgotten. “Michael never looked back,” Mrs Shea adds, “at things that were finished, unless they had a direct reference to what he was currently involved in. Writing was something Michael needed to do, selling something he’d written was just a bonus. He just assumed things would sell, and if they didn’t immediately, he’d already moved on to the next project and didn’t think about it anymore. After the first sale didn’t work out, he put Mr. Cannyharme on the shelf and forgot about it. It only came back to him when I asked him decades later, since I had always liked it, if he thought it might be published. I’d piqued his interest, and he pulled it out to rework a bit. Personally, I think the novel was somewhat ahead of its time, because you could not put it into a neat bookstore genre category.”

The times have now caught with Michael Shea’s genre-bending ambitions, so the editor and publisher hope that the novel’s belated emergence (in a special and trade edition) will only enhance the high reputation that he enjoys as a pioneering author of weird fiction. As for Mr. Cannyharme’s significance for modern Lovecraftian fiction, Joshi doesn’t spare praise: “To me it is one of the most vibrant examples of that mingling of cosmicism and grim realism which I have described. At the same time, he interweaves a cosmic menace embodied in the enigmatic figure of the book’s title. It is incredible that Shea has taken one of Lovecraft’s poorer stories (“The Hound”) and made a full-scale novel out of it – a novel that is chillingly compelling from beginning to end. Very few successful Lovecraftian novels have ever been written, but this is one of them.”

Black Gate
The Collections of Michael Shea – Reviews by John ONeill


As much as I respect and admire Michael Shea’s fantasy novels — and many of them are magnificent — I think he did his best work at short length. And I believe his best collection, by a pretty fair margin, is his 1987 Arkham House volume Polyphemus.

The Extra

Now we turn to something more recent, the first of a pair of novels that Locus Online called “dark, satirical novels about the movie industry.” The Extra arrived unexpectedly in hardcover in 2010, and when I first saw it I remember wondering if this was the same Michael Shea – it looked more like a biotech thriller than the kind of moody, cutting edge fantasy we’d come to expect from him. But, as Locus noted, there was a sharp satirical edge to this novel of a murderous, out-of-control Hollywood

The Mines of Behemoth

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.

The Incompleat Nifft

So five months before the release of The A’rak, Baen bundled both of the first two novels into a single paperback, cleverly titled The Incompleat Nifft, signally the impending arrival of the what would be the final book in the series. At 576 pages it was a terrific bargain, collecting both Nifft the Lean and The Mines of Behemoth under a Gary Ruddell cover, and it has become perhaps the most collectible paperback in Shea’s catalog.

The A’rak

Michael Shea’s classic Nifft the Lean was published in 1982 and won the World Fantasy Award, a rare honor for a  sword and sorcery collection. Nfift returned in a three-part novel serialized in Algis Budrys’ Tomorrow Speculative Fiction magazine (June – November, 1996), eventually collected by Baen Books in paperback as The Mines of Behemoth.

Nifft made one last appearance in the year 2000, in his third and final book: The A’rak.

SF Site
The Extra A review by Seamus Sweeney.

With its plentiful gallows humour, competitive struggling in a world of scarcity, and dark extension of the reality TV concept to a logical extreme, The Extra is an entertaining mirror of our own strange days.

Los Angeles Times
‘The Extra’ by Michael Shea (Reviewed by Erik Himmelsbach) on February 11, 2010.

Fantasy Book Critic
“The Extra” by Michael Shea (Reviewed by Robert Thompson) on January 27, 2010.

[…] Michael Shea’s “The 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…

Fantasy Magazine

Colin Azariah-Kribb’s August 24, 2010 review of  THE EXTRA (Tor, 2009) and COPPING SQUID COLLECTION (Perilous Press, 2010).

A Quest for Simbilis

A Quest for Simbilis


Anduril Sword & Sorcery Fanzine #5
July 1975, England Contains a review of A Quest for Simbilis, Shea’s first novel, by Mike Ashley.

And compares/contrasts it to the original Vance book.


NIFFT Locus 12/82 (Faren Miller) COLOR OUT OF TIME Locus 6/84 (Faren Miller

Color Out of Time


The Mines of Behemoth, Locus magazine #443: 10/97, USA
Review by Faren Miller.


NIFFT HEAVY METAL 6/83 “Horror 33” HEAVY METAL 12/84


NIFFT CHEAP TRUTH 6/83 (Bruce Sterling)


NIFFT ASIMOV’S MAGAZINE 6/83 (Baird Searles)


The Colour Out of Time

The Colour Out of Time


COLOR/TIME FANTASY REVIEW 1/85 (David Engebretson)


COLOR/TIME SPELLBOUND 6/85 (Marion Gibbons, Walter Sauer)


Polyphemus UK

Polyphemus UK



COLOR/TIME SPELLBOUND 6/85 (Marion Gibbons, Walter Sauer)








THRUST 6/88 (Daniel Temianka)

N.Y. Review of SF

NIFFT N.Y. Review of SF, Vol. 2, No. 10 (issue #22), June 1990 (Jessica Salmonson)


Nifft The Lean hard copy by Darkside Press, 1994 Review

The Scream Factory

Interview by Darrell Schweitzer The Scream Factory Mag. #16, Win. 1995

The Incompleat Nifft

Order Here

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 6/88 (Algis Budrys)
The Incompleat Nifft “Monster Mash” by Elizabeth Hand Sept. 2000




The A’rak Locus December 2000
Review by Faren Miller


The Rebuke


DAW 30th Anniversary anthologies included Shea’s novella “The Rebuke.”

SF Site 2002 online review says “the best stories in the collection come from contributors like Michael Shea” (Alma A. Hromic). Link

Order DAW 20th Anniversary here!



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