ROBERT SHECKLEY was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in New Jersey. After serving in the Korean War, Robert began to write short stories and submitting them to science fiction magazines. His first story ‘Final Examination’ was published in Imagination magazine in 1952. He was soon writing short stories for ‘Galaxy’ magazine for 4 cents a word. Sheckley was a master of satire and irony with a wicked wit that was not just for the sake of humour but a serious commentary on life in the 1950s and 60s. He is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated American authors.
Without ROBERT SHECKLEY it is doubtful whether Douglas Adams would have found the inspiration to write his hilariously satirical masterpiece of print, radio, TV, film and recording: I refer, of course to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sheckley was also one of the first to include labour saving devices like intelligent refrigerators in his stories. Fast forward to the intelligent vending machine and toaster in the hilarious and massively successful BBC Red Dwarf series created by Ron Grant and Doug Naylor and you cannot help but think of Robert Sheckley.
Of ROBERT SHECKLEY’s stories, Seventh Victim (1953) was made into a film, La Decima Vittima in 1965, and then novelised as The Tenth Victim (1966). Robert hit the ground running with his first published collection Untouched by Human Hands (1954) which was very well received. Further acclaimed collections followed including Citizen in Space (1955) and Pilgrimage to Earth (1957). Robert’s strength was undoubtedly as a short story writer as The Collected Short Fiction of Robert Sheckley published in 5 volumes in 1991 attests, although he did write some memorable novels including Immortality Inc. (1959- the 1992 film Freejack was loosely based upon it); Journey Beyond Tomorrow (1963), entitled The Journey of Joenes in the UK; Mindswap (1966) (A Martian and a human!); and Dimension of Miracles (1968), a sequel to which Sheckley was working on before he died.
Peter Nicholls, editor of ‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’, described by the great Isaac Asimov as “the bible for all science fiction fans”, pays the ultimate compliment: “RS’s stories are unfailingly elegant and literate; their mordant humour and sudden plot reversals separate them from the mass of magazine SF stories of the time.”
Sheckley himself told the www.sheckley.com website when asked about his own personal favourites: “I had a great deal of fun doing The Tenth Victim, and I also enjoyed Mindswap and Dimension of Miracles.”
I was in correspondence with Bob in the months before his death when I was working on musical projects based on his stories, and found him both charming and gracious. He was even kind enough to send me a manuscript of his unpublished Dimension of Miracles Revisited. I have also compiled a complete bibliography of his works which I hope to publish someday. I have a modest, but sizeable collection of Robert’s books including:
UNTOUCHED BY HUMAN HANDS: a collection of “13 stories of the beings who dwell on the strange borders of reality”, originally published by Ballantine Books in 1954. ‘The Monsters’, which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1953, concerns the arrival of a spacecraft on a planet of reptilian creatures who describe themselves as “humans”, but it soon transpires that the two species and cultures are very different, resulting inevitably in aggression. ‘The Cost of Living’ is an amusing satire on consumerism, more relevant than ever today as people exist in perpetual debt under pressure from the Avignon Electric Company and their agents to buy the latest gadgets. This story first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1952.
If you wish to find out more about this great science-fiction author’s work or if you have something to share please do get in touch.