The Extra: A novel (The Extra Trilogy)

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9780765363947: The Extra: A novel (The Extra Trilogy)
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Books and films have skewered Hollywood's excesses, but none has ever portrayed one man's crazy vision of the future of big action/adventure films as Michael Shea's The Extra does. As over-the-top as Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles, as savagely dark as Robert Altman's The Player, and more violent than Rollerball, this is the story of the ultimate, so-insane-it-could-only-happen-in-Hollywood formula for success, a brave new way to bring the ultimate in excitement to the silver screen. Producer Val Margolian has found the motherlode of box-office gold with his new "live-death" films whose villains are extremely sophisticated, electronically controlled mechanical monsters. To give these live-action disaster films greater realism, he employs huge casts of extras, in addition to the stars. The large number of extras is important, because very few of them will survive the shoot.

It's all perfectly legal, with training for the extras and long, detailed contracts indemnifying the film company against liability for the extras' injury or death. But why would anyone be crazy enough to risk his or her life to be an extra in such a potentially deadly situation?

The extras do it because if they survive they'll be paid handsomely, and they can make even more if they destroy any of the animatronic monsters trying to stomp, chew, fry, or otherwise kill them. If they earn enough, they can move out of the Zoo--the vast slum that most of L.A. has become. They're fighting for a chance at a reasonable life. But first, they have to survive . . .

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

MICHAEL SHEA is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Nifft the Lean as well as other novels and many short stories. He passed away in 2014.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I

THE ’RISE

That’s right, that was us. Amazing, how many people noticed, but then, for extras, we got a lotta screen time. Remember the big white guy with me after that running-down-the-fallen-skyscraper scene? He’s my friend Japh. So. You wanted to know what drove me to make the leap into the movies. Well, it was this strange day the two of us had right before they started shooting Alien Hunger.

The first half of the day was like any other in the ’Rise. Japh and I had some courier work in the morning—which made us around 25 percent employed, about as good as it got for most guys our age. We’d arranged it so our last deliveries were both down on the thirty-sixth floor. Our ’Rise was fifty, and the new ones going up were taller, all towering along the north rim of the L.A. flatlands, known as the Zoo.

Like ’em all, our ’Rise was a cylinder, its axis a forty-floor Mall. There was a slideway, but it was always packed, and so were most of the walkways, so we used the walkway wrapped round the airshaft at the ’Rise’s core. That’s where all the Zoo wannabes hung out, so the rivers of shoppers, avoiding them, would make space there. With just a little dodging and shifting, we were able to jog at a good pace.

The wannabes rarely gave us trouble. Though we didn’t dress Zoo, we couldn’t entirely escape their culture. I had this neck scar—good blood drips doncha think?—and Japh had some ritual scars on his right cheek, from the I Ching, if you ever heard of that, the marks that mean "Tranquillity under Duress." But mainly, we didn’t get much flack because being in good shape and knowing how to fight always shows. Japh’s six-one with one of those little tough-mick faces. I’m smaller but these scars on my eyebrows and forehead show up pretty clear.

Anyway we split up on the thirty-sixth, our deliveries being on opposite sides of the floor. I dropped a cash deposit to a Merchant Bank branch and Japh some jewelry to an EarthWorks. We met up back on the fortieth. Japh had just thumbprinted the lock on our storage cell, and was rolling our book cart out when I got there.

Corporate retailers are the ’Rise’s core. Pushcarters like us pay a big license fee, and then, have to find a space in the lobbies, solariums, or parks. The fat market of course is among the "upper" Middle Class down on the ’Rise’s bottom third, but the best license we could afford was fortieth floor.

We took turns rolling our cart. We both liked doing it. Books from the past! I mean books more than like five years old. Real readers want the world, past, present, and future, and writers who really give it to them are always brand new, whatever century they wrote in. Meanwhile the Corps lists offer about the equivalent of vid programming.

Books, physically, are beautiful. There’s lots of pod and vid books. But even the vids with all their holos will never shove real block-of-wood-pulp books off the shelves. Because it feels good to hold that paper, like a sandwich. One you can eat over and over, and nibble whenever and wherever you want. Japh and I rolled it with pride, that cart of ours, carrying the world to our friends and neighbors. Trouble was, we had less than forty books, because it was expensive to get out to the Zoo, where it was cheapest to restock. We still had some good stuff though, and a hope of profit.

The Commons, or greenbelt—each floor had four of them—was about a half acre of landscaped, bordered walkways with benches, and a bank of windows looking southeast out over the vast haze of the Zoo. Then, just as we were getting toward our corner, a booted leg kicked out of the plantings on my right, and slammed the cart so hard that half the top tray of books jumped out onto the flagstones.

Out they came, four wannabes—Middle Class goons dressed zoo. Lead rat was black—a human tattoo (full Maori swirls) on steroids. His three under-rats were white. It’s me lead-rat confronts, to show he’s the badder black. Everyone else vanished because looking like you’re in trouble is a quick way to get solitude in the ’Rise. There were no Metro anywhere in sight. Japh and I didn’t even have to trade a look to get ready.

"You black bitch," says big rat to me, "you work our turf here you pays us rent!"

"No prob, Bob!" I squeak. "We got clacks right here—easy! Easy! We chill!" Back-stepping scared, I made a production out of getting my right hand into my pocket, where I slipped it into my plastic knucks. Then I gripped my punching-slug, two pounds of lead molded to the inside of my fist. While I’m digging and back-stepping and he’s stepping forward to keep me scared, Japh comes up and flanks the guy, hands-up, no trouble, but being big himself, he brings the guy’s head around slightly, distracted, and I get my whole back into a straight punch to big rat’s nose. His under-rats, close behind him, keep him propped up enough for me to get another one into his groin.

Japh picked up the nearest under-rat . . . guy had Day-Glo snakelocks and his head looked like a mop hanging sideways . . . and used him for a ram to jam the other two back into the bushes. The three of them were pretty strong guys, but we finally managed to hammer them into a squirmy little pile in the foliage and then jump up and down on them for a while, for maybe a little longer than we needed to. We heard a bone or two crack.

It leaves you shuddering and snorting, something like that, coming out of nowhere, but we had to pull ourselves and the cart together fast, because forget our spot here now. These guys would be full unemployeds still living off their families. They’d have parents with tech or ser vice jobs who could and would hire lawyers to sue us for all we had, meaning our property, meaning my auntie’s and Japh’s parents’ condos.

"Why? Oh man oh man why?" I kept saying as we trundled along. The day was shot—zip extra income to help out at home. Deeply bummed out, we lockered our cart, and decided to go down to the twenty-fifth to see Twig, the best Zoo merchandiser we knew.

It was more a gesture than anything—we couldn’t buy much at Twig’s prices. But just looking at new stock felt like a promise we would keep our cart rolling.

"Well," says Japh, "thank the lord at least that we’re in the Middle Class, and not down in the Zoo." This was something my auntie Drew always said, not without irony, to keep herself going, keep putting in her ten hours a day at the keyboard. I smiled, but all the humor of this one had worn off a long time ago.

Twig’s partner Zeena was Zoo. He’d had her non–Resident day-pass chip cut out (super expensive—’Rise techs really put it in deep) and for going in and out of the ’Rise she had an inhaler to pass the genetic Breathalyzer down at Entry. But did Zeena have great Zoo market connections! Thanks to her, Twig’s crib was an Aladdin’s Cave full of great wares: keys of the latest franken-weed fresh grown in Zoo nurseries, weapons, every kind of Zoo jewelry from nose-plugs to knucks, tat-kits, and mucho books, which Twig, that well-read bastard, knew how to value. His prices were far from wholesale.

Twig poured us some great dark-roast with cream, and gave us his little squirrelly laugh. "You look like you’ve been in it again." We’d both picked up some contusion and abrasion about the face. "I tell you that courier shit is too dangerous. You’re mixing with the public every minute. Retail! Hang out your wares, let your buyers come to you."

"We were hanging out our wares," said Japh. "Got our cart jumped by Zoo-wannabes. You’ve got a whole crib here to sell from."

"You need a Zoo interface, dudes! You need to bond with a non-rez. Hook into the real economy. Link with some Zoo-meat, my bros!’

He liked to gloat about getting a smart babe like Zeena to shack trade with him. Twig was a tad fleshy, liked to share how smart he was with you. We were all old friends, but of course that meant he knew our buttons.

"Hey," I protested. "So you got Zeena! Had the clacks to cut her chip out! So you’re slick. I sincerely congratulate you! Now you can get rich trading with your old friends here for plump prices!"

Got another rodent cackle from Twig with that one. "Speaking of which! Look what I got." He grabbed two, and put them in our hands. A Smith and a Barron. Good small-press hardback reprints. Japh and I checked them out all cool and skeptical—completely failing to hide our greed for them.

"We might be interested," Japh said at last, offhand. "If the price is right." Twig cackled again, and even I had to laugh. Japh and I are such failures at hiding our feelings about good books.

"Twig," I said. "We go back, man! I know you love to get top clack, even from friends. Especially from friends. We understand. You’re slick, hats off to you, exsettera. But we just got nailed. We gotta work out a whole new spot for the cart and all. Cut us a break."

"Dudes. Look. This is bigger than just us! ’Rise and Zoo are one economy. And you gotta pay fair freight for what it takes to sneak Zoo goods up into the ’Rise."

"Don’t run all this again on us, dog!"

"Truth! Millions out there"—and he waved at his nice run of windows overlooking the Flats, where the noon light was latening, growing more golden—"an’ whadda they have for income? The Ag-workers come in from the Zone, buy Zoo rides, produce, recycle. A cupful of Social Ser vices money trickles down in. Maybe half Metro and Maintenance paychecks get spent in the Zoo—and all that together is half a survival economy, dudes! They sell everything else they have in here. Basin-grown produce and meat, and the produce they process from the mountain towns comes into the ’Rises above boar...

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