Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On the Passing of Michael Shea

“Nifft the Lean is no longer among us, and I have at last confessed to myself, hereafter, he never will be...It is a bitter thing that each of must finally be blown out like a candle , and have the unique ardor of his individual flame choked off, and sucked utterly away like smoke in the dark. Do we ever accept this in our hearts, any of us?”

So Michael Shea began Nifft the Lean with a in-character, windbaggy eulogy to his eponymous
picaro. It seemed morbidly fitting to me on hearing the sad news of Shea's passing yesterday
from the irrepressible Robert Parker.

I've probably mentioned a few many times on the blog how much love I have for Jack Vance's work and how much I wanted to strike that tone in the Hill Cantons.

That particular authorial voice, cadence of dialogue and turn of words is so elusive, so personal, that I have never felt that I quite got there and I have always felt the same way about the various attempts either through games or stories to capture the feel of Dying Earth. Shea's attempt to do the second Cugel with Quest for Simbilis (often forgotten since Vance went on to knock it out of the park with his own sequel) felt very flat to me, cringe-worthy even when it hit on Cugel's internal voice.

It was lucky for me that I gave him another shake with Nifft as it is such a wonderful book and something really close with its picaresque turns and weird, richly imagined fantasy to the tone of what I wanted to do with the Hill Cantons. In fact I was moved even to do a little, direct homage (reprinting being the highest form of flattery) in my write-up on the Amazon class.

When people talk about how D&D never quite got right extra-planar adventures, I have a hard time not thinking of the two outstanding episodes of raiding Hell and the demonic underworld.(Planescape as the fierce-opinionated players in the HC bull session opined almost gets there as a setting.) The two novellas hit all the right literary notes to me and make me hunger for something that can get that kind of adventuring in strange dimensions right.

My own windbaggery aside, sad news and a not-so virtual cup will be raised in the session tonight to the man and his work. If you aren't familiar with the two Nifft books, do yourself a favor and check them out.


  1. I had a first edition thief named Nifft back in the day. Never realized there were sequels, though...

  2. Very sad news. A fine writer with a distinctive voice. "The Pearls of the Vampire Queen" should be required reading for anyone planning to play a thief.

  3. I'm very sorry to hear about the passing of one of my favorite authors. He was a solid writer and from what I understand a great guy. Sigh

  4. Reading Nifft and In Yana right now. Great fun both. Shea died too young.