Robert Sheckley was one of the most interesting science fiction authors of the 50’s and 60’s. While his works may not have had as broad an appeal as the giants of the era, they always were worth reading, if only for their commentary on contemporary society. Many of his works, both novels and short stories, examined cultural trends of the day and then taking them to almost absurd limits. As human nature has changed little in the intervening years, most of them remain as fresh and relevant as when they were first published.
Sheckley can be said to have invented the reality show in his story “The Seventh Victim”, which was later expanded into the novel The 10th Victim. This in turn served as the basis of the movie of the same name starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. In this story, rather than voting contestants “off the island” they sought to assassinate each other until the last one standing was declared the winner, all while the proceedings were being televised for the world’s enjoyment. I’m not sure whether Sheckley would be gratified or appalled by how close his imagination came to reality.
More than a few of the stories in this collection serve as cautionary tales for the reader. If there was one thing Sheckley was good at, it was imagining how societies could go wrong. Examples here are the stories “Cost of Living” and “Watchbird.” He was also fond of pointing out how man’s vanity could lead him astray, as in “Ask a Foolish Question.”
His stories were not without a touch of humor, however grim in some cases. In particular, “One Man’s Poison,” “Keep Your Shape,” and “Death Wish” lend a humorous note to this collection. Yet he could write in a more poignant vein as well, witness the touching “Besides Still Waters.”
If the ultimate goal of a good science fiction story is to make one think, Sheckley succeeded more often than not. That is what makes these stories from the 50’s still worth reading a half a century after they were written. We at Resurrected Press hope that you will enjoy the stories in this collection and find them as thought provoking as we have.
As a side note, several of the stories in this collection were first published under the name Ned Lang or Phillips Barbee.