Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sheckley stories

I'd never heard of Robert Sheckley until New York Review Books released a collection of his stories. It's got a gorgeous cover, and it's sci-fi. Along with the NYRB Classics seal of approval, it looks like a sure thing. But I'm not so good with spontaneity and the art of succumbing to the impulse purchase — first I had to look up Sheckley online.

I downloaded a sampling of stories from Kobo Books:

  • Bad Medicine
  • Death Wish
  • Forever
  • The Hour of Battle
  • Warm
  • The Status Civilization (a novella)
  • Warrior Race

These have a great Twilight Zone-y vibe and hint at some vast conspiracy lurking behind the facade of society. Straightforward in the telling with twist punch endings. The stories are more than 50 years old, but there's nothing dated about them apart from that mood. Besides The Status Civilization, which merits a post of its own (coming soon), I like "Bad Medicine" and "Forever" the best of the lot, but they are all thought-provoking and have something to commend them.

"Now you're implying that machines think," said Rajcik.

"Of course I am," Watkins said. "Because they do! No, I'm not out of my head. Any engineer will tell you that a complex machine has a personality all its own. Do you know what that personality is like? Cold, withdrawn, uncaring, unfeeling. A machine's only purpose is to frustrate desire and produce two problems for every one it solves. And do you know why a machine feels this way?"

"You're hysterical," Somers told him.

"I am not. A machine feels this way because it knows it is an unnatural creation in nature's domain. Therefore it wishes to reach entropy and cease — a mechanical death wish."

— from "Death Wish," by Robert Sheckley.

Several other stories are available at Project Gutenberg. You can be sure I'll be working my way through them in the coming weeks. And I'll be picking up a copy of Store of the Worlds.

If you're familiar with the work of Robert Sheckley, I'd love to hear about your experiences with it.
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