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 "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 . . .
MICHAEL SHEA is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of "Nifft the Lean" as well as other novels and many short stories. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.