Sunday, November 16, 2008

Authors to remember: Robert Sheckley

In the last years, I tend to find that books I'd like to obtain are out of print or generally unavailable. No surprise: With 45, you and the time of your youth definitely tend to become part of the scrap heap. In some cases, thats simply sad, because these authors did an excellent job at their time and absolutely deserve being read nowadays. We should not forget them. Don't know whether I'll be able to start a series here, but let's begin with Robert Sheckley.

Robert Sheckley had his best times in the fifties, when he wrote, in particular, a series of short story collections. These short stories were usually published in science fiction magazines. When reading his books, you'll find everything that makes science fiction: Space ships, as much as you like, roboters of all kinds, and so on. (I don't want to reduce him to that: He wrote detective stories, fantasy, or adventure stories as well as scripts for TV and films, but let's forget about that today.) At that time, SF was quite popular.

But his stories were different: Witty, surprising, absurd, and sometime hilariously funny. They were not so much about predictions, but about humans and how they are. For example, in "A ticket to Tranai" a young man receives the chance of his live: He's able to rule a world, an Utopia. Surprisingly, things are not as they should be and in the end he hardly manages to escape back to earth. The story ends with him visiting the same bar where the story began, void of all illusions and proposing Tranai to others. Why should they be better off than him?

In "Bad Medicine" a man is "cured" by a mechanic psychiatrist. It turns out, the "mechanotherapist" wasn't made for human minds, but martians. Of course, the result is not the expected.

An almost prophetic example is "Price of Peril": A TV show proposes a high sum of money to a man, if he can manage to survive the next week. His opponents are a bunch of (also hired) criminals. Of course, the TV cameras are watching him 24 hours a day. And of course, they have their own view how the game should end...

To quote Douglas Adams (from the cover of Hunter/Victim): "I had no idea the competition was so terrifyingly good."

1 comment:

airira said...

I might suggest you check out some of Bob's later work as well. Though he did seem to have a dry spell, the stories he was working on at the end of his life are some of the best ones he ever wrote.
Reborn Again, in particular, is almost a summation of Bob's best themes -- the absurdity of modern life, two minds inhabiting a single brain, a New Yorker's view of living, who are we and what is our purpose while we're here.
Reborn Again is available online and there are other stories collected into a couple of anthologies that are well worth the effort to find them.
I was a close friend of Bob's in the last decade of his life and not a day goes by without my chuckling at the memory of my time spent with him. He was great guy and a great writer.