Book written by Robert Sheckley
Much to my surprise, I seem to have read just about everything Robert Sheckley has published. As a reader, you don’t do that if the writer can’t hold your interest. More than that, very few writers who successfully publish across decades can manage to keep all their work in print simultaneously . Old books lapse and short pieces go uncollected. This can tax the efforts of an interested fan, even in the age of e-books.
Cyril Kornbluth, Isaac Asimov, C. L. Moore, Henry Kuttner and their contemporaries are about as far back as I go in my science fiction pulp reading. They all added a certain flair to the genre that make their work stand out from what came before. Then, Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, and Sheckley arrived on the scene, seemingly changing all the rules. Their tales often questioned as much as they told- as often taking off from moral quandaries as scientific ponderables. They presented anti-heroes as protagonists more often than not.
Yet, Sheckley seems like a bridge between the eras (not that any of these comments are set in stone- these are all artists who evolved over time; those who had the benefit of longer lives anyway). His stories often have a solidity of plot and language that hearken to days gone by, but he brings a humor to the storytelling that serves as a distancing mechanism as often as not.
Any reading of Sheckley leads to inevitable a-ha moments where you wonder just how much Star Trek and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and so many others owe to him. People have previously pointed out the similarities, but it remains striking. Art is never created in a vacuum. In any genre, a new trope quickly becomes absorbed into the lifeblood of every artist working that particular seam. Sheckley never acted tremendously upset about the homages and the better souls owned up to their debts.
Sheckley absolutely evolved in his writing and his work changed as time went by. The trademark humor remained, but sharpened and was directed as much at contemporary society as at the requirements of the story. I find that his stories and his novels within science fiction bear this creative stamp that never leaves me. As much as Dick, Disch, and Morrow, he captures the potential for loneliness in humanity, but he holds out some optimism, some ability to laugh at ourselves and our predicament.
And then he wrote some mystery novels, an odd triptych about a detective who is easy to like and to judge. Sheckley’s hero has that traditional knight errant hat we expect of private detective protagonists, but drugs and other misbehaviors haunt his life. More than a little, I wonder what the expectations were for these books. When we stumbled upon the first one and loved it, we tracked down the other two. I was sorry when they ended, but I can’t imagine that many other readers having the same level of enthusiasm. And there is the critic’s dilemma- to love and to share and to hope.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 256 more to go.
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