Synopses & Reviews
Robert Sheckley was science fiction’s in-house reply to the black humorists of the 1950s and 60s: Bruce Jay Friedman, Terry Southern, and the young Thomas Pynchon were his none-too-distant relatives; Mort Sahl’s comedy, Charles Schultz’s cartoons, and Tom Lehrer’s songs all mined similar veins. Sheckley targeted the conformity and consumerism of our mid-century technotopia while it was still under construction. His new worlds, alternate universes, and future dystopias have
only become more present with the passing years, even as his career, played out both in the pulp magazines and in front-line venues like Playboy and Omni, is a glimpse of a time when “science fiction writer” could be a kind of hipster credential. Mordant, absurdist, and deadpan, the best of Sheckley’s dissident farces represent science fiction’s high-water mark as an allegorical clearinghouse for twenty-century angst.
"The late Sheckley (1928 2005) was known for a dark satirical style that keeps some of the more dated material in this retrospective collection fresh. At his sharpest, as in the alien-invasion tale 'Shape,' Sheckley could mix complicated world-building and nuanced politics into a 15-page story. Many of the 26 inclusions such as the title story, which explores the intersection of the many-worlds theory and upper-middle-class ennui could be passed off as contemporary. Despite the poorly aged gender politics of the classic 'Seventh Victim,' arguably Sheckley's most famous short work, it offers humor that still rings true. Editors Lethem and Abramowitz provide an insightful introduction but otherwise let the individual stories stand on their own (not even providing their dates or provenance). That would be frustrating for a lesser author, but in Sheckley's case, it only helps highlight the timelessness of his ideas." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An NYRB Classics Original
Robert Sheckley was an eccentric master of the American short story, and his tales, whether set in dystopic cityscapes, ultramodern advertising agencies, or aboard spaceships lighting out for hostile planets, are among the most startlingly original of the twentieth century. Today, as the new worlds, alternate universes, and synthetic pleasures Sheckley foretold become our reality, his vision begins to look less absurdist and more prophetic. This retrospective selection, chosen by Jonathan Lethem and Alex Abramovich, brings together the best of Sheckley’s deadpan farces, proving once again that he belongs beside such mordant critics of contemporary mores as Bruce Jay Friedman, Terry Southern, and Thomas Pynchon.
About the Author
Robert Sheckley (1928–2005) was born in New York City and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey. He joined the army shortly after high school and served in Korea from 1946 to 1948. Returning to New York, Sheckley completed a BA degree at New York University and later took a job in an aircraft factory, leaving as soon as he was able to support himself by selling short stories. In the 1950s and ’60s his stories appeared regularly in science-fiction magazines, especially Galaxy
, as well as in Playboy
. In addition to the science fiction for which he is best known, Sheckley also wrote suspense and mystery stories and television screenplays; from 1979 to 1982 he was the fiction editor of Omni
magazine. Sheckley traveled widely, settling for stretches of time in Greenwich Village, Ibiza, London, and Portland, Oregon. Many of Sheckley’s more than fifteen novels and roughly four hundred short stories have been translated and four have been adapted for film. In 2001 he was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Alex Abramovich has been an editor of Feed, Flavorpill, and Very Short List and a writer for The New York Times, The London Review of Books, and other publications. He lives in Oakland, California, and Astoria, Queens.
Jonathan Lethem is the author of eight novels, including Girl in Landscape and Chronic City, and five collections of stories and essays, including The Ecstasy of Influence (2011). He has previously written the introductions for the NYRB Classics editions of A Meaningful Life by L.J. Davis and On the Yard by Malcolm Braly. He teaches at Pomona College and lives in Los Angeles and Maine.