The Color Out Of Time by Michael Shea
Posted Fall 2018
It's that time of year! I love October, because it invariably means that I will devour as much horror and weird fiction as possible before the big candy-fueled bash at the end of the month. Usually, that means quite a bit of H.P. Lovecraft. I re-read a few of his stories, listened to a bunch of the radio dramas created by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society and recently I picked up The Colour Out of Time by Michael Shea.
I first heard of the author on the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast - Patton Oswalt was a guest on a few of his short stories and positively gushed about his talents. After listening to Chris Lackey, Chad Fifer, and Mr. Oswalt himself discuss the short story Tsathoggua (another of Shea's creations), I decided that I would grab the Kindle edition of The Colour Out of Time at my earliest opportunity.
Am I ever glad I did.
Although I tell myself that I prefer stories that delve deeply into the philosophical underpinnings of life, this book hardly fit the bill. And it was all the better for it. It was almost like reading a B-movie, but in the best possible way. It was campy and ridiculous at times, but Shea's command of prose is something to be witnessed. The writing in the story was unique - Shea aped Lovecraft's verbosity, given some contextual believability by telling the story through the point of view of two erudite retirees camping at a lake.
In short, it made sense that it was wordy because the protagonists were, for lack of a better term, nerds (and I say that as a card-carrying nerd).
Contrast this notion with the fact that they drank heavily throughout the book. Sternbrook and Carlsberg, said former professors from whose perspective the story was told, were constantly downing whiskey and dark beer chasers. When they hook up with third elderly heroine Sharon Harms, she starts them off by offering whiskey. The story was booze-soaked, and I understand Michael Shea had some issues with alcohol consumption during his early years. I am not sure when he gave it up, but the amount of times drinking was referenced became an almost comical feature of the story. They would have a shot and beer on nearly every page of the novel.
The story itself was a sequel to The Colour Out of Space, one of my favourite Lovecraft stories. Essentially, the contamination from beyond our skies that was central to the plot of the Lovecraft story persisted through to present day (The Colour Out of Time was published in 1984). A river was dammed up and a lake was formed on the site of the extraterrestrial rot and this spawned a horrific creature that actively sought out human prey.
To be perfectly fair, the monster was the weakest part of the story. Couple that with the fact that H.P. Lovecraft himself was in the story, someone whom Harms had met in her youth. This was a bit of an oddity to me, something that felt a little uninspired. But, I have come to understand that it is a frequent feature of Mythos stories.
One of the best features, in my view, was the character of Hargis. He was one of the fellow campers at the lake, a man who was basically a satire of machismo. He had guns and beer and a floating card game on a boat in the lake. He was gregarious and made allies with the other men. The climax of the story was a showdown of sorts between the nerds and this antagonistic jock, who was unwitting ally to the monster.
Whenever Hargis was mentioned, I had a smile on my face. It was just plain funny, the way he was described.
I would recommend the story without reservation. Michael Shea had a gift for writing, no doubt about it. I picked up Demiurge, his collection of Mythos short stories, shortly after I finished the book (I devoured it in a matter of days). Nifft The Lean, an out of print novel that was his first stab at sword and sorcery fantasy, is on its way to me in second-hand format.
If you're a fan of Lovecraft at all, The Colour Out of Time is a bit of a cheesy gem. Don't go in expecting anything more than a popcorn novel, if such a thing even exists.
A taste of Hargis:
"Hargis possessed an impressive arsenal of macho fetishes and totemic objects essential for the Male Club in its modern North American form. He had a gun collection, a full-size, collapsible card table,a video-and-cassette player with twenty-inch screen and thirty-inch speakers, a library of expensive pornographic magazines, a portable pool table, a well-stocked bar, and a generator only a bit less powerful than the one we had just brought up. To invite "key" men among the other campers—sub-dominants, so to speak—over to this private valhalla of hardware for a drink and a talk about "this contamination thing," was an easy matter, as was the bringing-around of these men to an accord, once in the jovial, conspiratorial atmosphere of his well-furnished "clubhouse.""