by Michael Shea
Published by Tor Books, 2010.
Michael Shea’s The Extra has Hollywood blockbuster written all over it. It’s an excellent slice of futuristic thriller with enough action to satisfy the average movie goer but still retaining a deeper undercurrent of dark politics to satisfy the more discerning reader.
The Extra takes us to a futuristic LA where class is everything. ‘Zoo Meat’ scrape by on the mean city streets, subjected to all manner of gang warfare, crime and abuse. Looking down on them are the ‘Risers’, barely better off but more secure in the fortress like high rise buildings. Everyone, however, dreams of escaping the city and making it into one of the fabled mountain villages with their clean air and friendly neighbours.
Of course, to escape the city you need money but thanks to film company Panoply there is a way to make lots and lots of money. The company have pioneered the use of live battles in action movies using expendable extras against animatronic enemies. They film these real life fights to the death and survivors are rewarded with payouts. The resulting films are huge blockbusters which tells you all you need to know about society. Its a very high risk strategy but one that our protagonists Jool, Curtis and Japh feel is worth taking. Once on set, however, they find there are more sides than just them and us and the odds are heavily stacked against them.
It’s a plot we have met before, see Stephen King’s ( or Richard Bachman’s) The Running Man but Michael Shea brings enough new material to the table for it to retain a freshness. One of the key ingredients is the social system which is so grim that it forces people down this last chance route. It’s also pleasing that one of the last vestiges of society is the trading of books. In this situation it’s easy to root for the underdog and the big capitalist businesses (which emerge as slight caricatures) are easy to dislike.
All of which makes it an easy yet satisfying read. One word of warning, the first few pages seem entirely composed of a narrative of futuristic street slang. Its not easy to understand and it could put off a few readers but it’s not indicative of the rest of the book so stick with it. The Extra is a fine slice of SF/horror crossover that I think will appeal to lovers of either genre. It’s the first in a planned trilogy and you can find out more here.
Rating 3.5 out of 5