Creator / Robert Sheckley
(1928-2005) was an American writer of Speculative Fiction
and Mystery Fiction
, best known for his voluminous production of witty and cynical SF short stories in the 1950's and 60's. His story "The Prize of Peril" is particularly notable for its early prediction of the rise of reality television, and likely served as an inspiration for Stephen King
's novel The Running Man
The movie Freejack
is, in theory, based on his novel, Immortality, Inc.
. The live-action Disney movie Condorman
is loosely based on his story, "The Game of X", and he is credited as one of the screenwriters. An Italian movie, The Tenth Victim
, was made based on his short story, "The Seventh Victim"; Sheckley also wrote the novelization of the movie, and ended up writing two sequels, Victim Prime
, and Hunter / Victim
, as well.Frank Zappa
named him in his influences list on the Freak Out
Selected works by Robert Sheckley (SF unless otherwise noted):
- Immortality, Inc. (1958)
- The Status Civilization (1960).
- The Stephen Dain series (Mystery Fiction):
- Calibre .50 (1961)
- Dead Run (1961)
- Live Gold (1962)
- White Death (1963)
- Time Limit (1967)
- Journey Beyond Tomorrow (aka The Journey of Joenes, 1963)
- The Tenth Victim (novelization of the movie based on his short-story, "The Seventh Victim", 1966)
- Mindswap (1966)
- Crompton Divided (aka The Alchemical Marriage of Alistair Crompton, 1978)
- Damocles (1983)
- On the Planet of Bottled Brains (with Harry Harrison, 1990)
- The Millennial Contest series (with Roger Zelazny):
- Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming (1991)
- If at Faust You Don't Succeed (1993)
- A Farce to be Reckoned With (1995)
- The Hob Draconian series:
- The Alternative Detective (1993)
- Draconian New York (1996)
- Soma Blues (1997)
- The Laertian Gamble (a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel, 1995)
- Godshome (1997)
- A Call to Arms (a Babylon 5 novel, 1997)
Tropes associated with Mr. Sheckley's stories:
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Subverted in "The Minimum Man". The helper robot is deliberately programmed to encumber the first colonist, in order to simulate equipment breaks in the future colony. At first the colonist was hapless and inexperienced, so the robot was helpful. But with the passage of time the colonist was becoming good at his job, so, to compensate it, the robot was becoming progressively more dangerous. Suffice it to say, at the end even Terminator looks pale in comparison.
- Black and Gray Morality
- Blood Sport / Deadly Game / Game Show Host: "The Prize of Peril".
- Bob from Accounting: The Dee family, in "The Accountant", is all wizards and witches, except for little Morton Dee, who wants to be an accountant—and has some powerful arguments on his side.
- Bold Explorer: Subverted in "The Minimum Man". The Planetary Expedition and Settlement Board has tried using the classic bold explorer type to discover new worlds, but these bold types aren't timid enough, and tend to overlook obvious dangers that make newly discovered worlds unsuitable for colonization, so now they're going the opposite way, and choose the accident-prone hapless nebbish Anton Perceveral to be the first of a new breed of explorers.
- Boring but Practical: The Status Civilization has the main character running an antidote shop on a lawless planet. He is amazed at how, despite all the scientific advancement, most poisoners prefer the plain old arsenic and strychnine. The main problem in his job, in fact, turned out to be convincing his clients that their wives would use something so primitive.
- Blue and Orange Morality: In "The Monsters" aliens consider it perfectly all right to kill someone in the heat of discussion; but a premeditated murder is unthinkably horrendous to them. (By the way, the titular monsters are what the aliens think of humans—exactly because the humans are capable to kill in retaliation.)
- Cargo Cult: One short story depicts a primitive civilization, which remembers that in the past (over five thousand years ago), they used to be visited by gods all the time. Now there is a religion based around a system of elaborate rituals which are supposed to be performed for the arriving "gods". However, for the past three thousand years, there has been a debate about whether all the rituals must be performed as always, or perhaps a feast for the gods must be prepared first. The story is centered on the debate continuing in front of two starving "gods" The newer point of "feast first" wins out in the end, and seems to win completely once the "gods'" behavior shows how pleased they are with the food and drink offered.
- Also, "Early Model" ends with the Deflector Shields generator being worshiped by a village as a demon, and the neighboring villages asking whether they can get one for themselves.
- City of Spies: In "Spy Story", there's an entire planet settled exclusively by the spies who come to spy on the main protagonist—or to stop being spies and have a fresh start. The protagonist is the only one on the planet who is not a spy. And he is worried because he might need a spy for the government work, but nobody on the planet wants to do spy work anymore.
- Conservation of Competence: "The Minimum Man".
- Cult Colony / Lightspeed Leapfrog: "The Native Problem"
- Death Seeker: Common thing in Immortality, Inc. Once someone secured the survival of his soul (see Our Souls Are Different), why not go out in style? They even have suicide booths for that.
- There is also a short story about a civilization where people believe that violent death leads to heaven - and the more horrible the death, the better. Therefore, they constantly arrange accidents for themselves. Officially, it's a strict taboo, and only the priests are allowed to dispense death. When a human arrives, he is naturally assumed to be a sentry of gods, so there is a long argument about when to kill him and how.
- Deflector Shields: In "Early Model" the protagonist field-tests a personal protection device, which in any peril activates a personal force field. Unusually, the force field is highly visible: when activated, it looks like a huge black ball. The force field is perfectly impenetrable—but, on the other hand, the user has to cope with limited air supply.
- Disintegrator Ray: "The Gun Without a Bang".
- Do Androids Dream?: "Human Man's Burden".
- Dream People: In one short story, a tailor is hired to sew special costumes for the nightmares, so that they could visit our reality.
- "Freaky Friday" Flip: A common thing in the Mind Swap novel. It's used as a cheaper alternative for interstellar travel, and has its own unique dangers.
- Gaia's Vengeance: In "The Mountain Without a Name".
- Gainax Ending: Over and over and over. The worst offender is probably "Down the Digestive Tract and Into the Cosmos with Mantra, Tantra, and Specklebang".
- Government Drug Enforcement: In Status Civilization, Omega law views drugs as a completely legitimate form of tax collection. Not having a drug addiction is a very serious crime, punishable by mutilation or even death.
- Grand Theft Me: Bodyswap.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: In "Trap", an alien has a scheme to get rid of his wife—a scheme involving humans who are told that one end of a teleportation beam is a live trap. They "catch" three new animals. The alien then sends his wife through; she and the animals all die before the museum people arrive, and think the whole thing's a fake. The humans are desperate to regain their credibility, and once they are wise to the teleporter's real nature, one of them goes through to capture as many critters as possible—including the murderer.
- Homeworld Evacuation: One story has an amnesiac human waking up on a starship, apparently the last survivor after a nova. The ending reveals he serves as a Neuro-Vault for the entire humanity.
- Indy Ploy: "Fool's Mate" has Earth locked in an endless resource-draining stalemate with an enemy spacefleet, with both sides having near-perfect tactical computers. The humans finally win by letting a crazy guy start "deciding" their battle strategy by randomly pushing at buttons on their computer. The other side gets blown to pieces as their computer sits and tries to figure out how to counter this new "strategy".
- Killed Mid-Sentence: The protagonist of "Protection" knows that some supernatural monster is hunting him, and the only form of protection is to avoid lesnerizing. Alas, he hasn't the slightest idea what the heck lesnerizing is. The last phrase of the story is: Now I have to sneez
- Killer Robot: In one short story that is the (forgotten) reason why a human never stays alone with an android.
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Used jokingly in "The Gun Without a Bang". The eponymous Disintegrator Ray kills dangerous jungle-planet predators too cleanly—so others of their pack can't understand it is a threat and continue to attack. Additionally, the protagonist ends up stranded after the gun swiss-cheeses his spaceship; he fends off the predators by constructing a bow and arrow.
- Mind Screw
- Lampshaded in Mindswap. The weirdness of being in an alien body eventually causes the mind to hallucinate its surroundings into more familiar terms. But familiar doesn't necessarily mean logical. Conversely, in the Twisted World, the mind may believe that everything is perfectly normal, even though in fact it's completely weird. A case of Mind Unscrew, perhaps?
- The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: There is a story where a scientist's brain is transplanted into a dog's body. Everyone tries to convince him the trope is not true, but the end implies otherwise.
- Mind Virus: There is a short story of his where everyone on Earth learns to levitate. If, however, they ever doubt their ability to levitate, they lose it. Additionally, if one person sees another who is unable to levitate, it would automatically plant doubt into their minds as well, in effect becoming a fast-spreading virus.
- Moment Killer: The obnoxious marrying-bot in "Human Man's Burden" repeatedly engages in this behavior.
- The Most Dangerous Game: Unusually, with the instigator as the victim. In Immortality, Inc., some rich people, when the survival of their soul is ensured (see Our Souls Are Different), decide to go out in style—and hire special hunters to hunt and kill them.
- Neuro-Vault: One of the stories is about a man who wakes up remembering nothing aboard a starship with Earth gone. He finds another civilization and offers his services as a psychiatrist. Suddenly, a catatonic patient wakes up and addresses him in perfest English. Turns out the protagonist carries the minds of the entire human race inside his brain, and may go through a number of planets to find enough expendable hosts for them.
- No Off Button: In "The Laxian Key", a pair of ne'er-do-wells find a machine that produces some substance in unlimited quantities but can only be turned off with the eponymous "Laxian key" (which they don't have). When the substance begins to flood their ship, they try to sell the machine to an alien race who feeds upon it, but are almost blown to pieces by the alien navy. It turns out, these aliens, as a result of inventing the machine in the first place, already have several such devices... and, apparently, enough morons to turn them on. As a result, all of their homeworld is covered with it, so they tell the heroes to come back with the Laxian key and ask any price for it.
- Not Right in the Bed: Subverted in Immortality, Inc. The protagonist is in the body of another man (quite legally—long story) and is afraid that lingering traces of that man's personality are taking over his own. When he meets the ex-girlfriend of that man, they have sex, and the protagonist is disturbed by his unusually rough behavior. Subversion comes then in the morning the woman says that the previous owner of the body used to be very gentle in bed.
- Our Souls Are Different: In Immortality, Inc. scientists discover that human souls do exist—but most of them fracture on the shock of death. Those few who survive enter some indescribable place called the Threshold and go to the proper afterlife from there. (Nobody knows whether the fractured souls are Deader Than Dead or if they can recover in the afterlife, but most people assume the former.) Then scientists design the process which can guarantee the soul's survival... for a huge sum of money, of course. Or for selling your young body for a rich old man to use.
- Perpetual Storm: A Wind is Rising centers around a human station with two people, based on a planet where the wind never drops below 70 mph. They barely weather a storm of nearly 200 mph, which leaves with with a severely battered station and a broken vehicle. Then a local (who gives them weather forecasts) says "Sorry for my last forecast not being accurate enough to warn you about this moderate gale. Why is it my last forecast? Well, the summer is over, and now me and my people must leave to hide from the powerful winter storms."
- "Rashomon"-Style: "Pas de Trois of the Chef and the Waiter and the Customer".
- "The Perfect Woman".
- "Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?" is an unusual case: a woman is seduced by a sentient robotic vacuum cleaner.
- Robotic Spouse: "The Perfect Woman".
- Robot Me: In the aptly named "The Robot Who Looked Like Me" the protagonist builds himself a robotic double to court his fiancée properly—as he is extremely busy and cannot free up enough time. And so does his fiancée.
- Robot War: The Armageddon, no less! In one short story, humans deploy robotic armies to fight the Hell's legions in the last battle. Robots win—and consequently are taken to Heaven instead of humanity.
- See-Thru Specs: The binoculars in "Is THAT What People Do?".
- Shockingly Expensive Bill: In one story, a man finds what seems to be a wishing machine. Throughout the story, several people attempt to take it, and he barely fights them off. In the end, it turns out he should have let them take it - the machine was nothing but a device for ordering. In the end, he has to pay over 18 trillion credits. Working in marble mines. For 2-3 credits a day. The only thing given for free, apparently, is immortality, which he ordered just before being given the bill.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "Protection".
- Smurfing: In one short story, a human tries to learn an alien language. But this language can change extremely fast, and the human's interactions with aliens while learning it keep influencing the language. Eventually, the language turns into Smurfing overnight, and the human gives up.
- Split at Birth / Literal Split Personality: The Alchemical Marriage of Alistair Crompton.
- Things That Go Bump in the Night / Shared Mass Hallucination: "Ghost V".
- Three Wishes: The short story "The Same to You Doubled" features a man who received three wishes from the Devil, with no strings attached (apparently, Hell has more than enough souls as it is). The only catch is that whatever he wishes for, his worst enemy will receive twice as much of it: so if he gets rich, the other guy gets richer, etc. His final wish is for a sexual partner whose rapaciousness is at the absolute limit of his ability to handle.
- Time Travel for Fun and Profit: In "The King's Wishes" a couple running an electrical appliance store have a few of their appliances stolen. Turns out it was a genie from the past who got a job at the royal palace solely through having influential relatives, and, when the queen demanded spells to clean her clothes or cool her chambers, he found the spells to be too complex and could do nothing but steal some tech from our time. At first, they try to banish him (which doesn't work because a genie is immune to all spells except from his own country, which they don't know). Then, they sabotage the devices and refuse to do maintenance on the ones already taken. So the genie attempts to start trading. At first, they are afraid it will cause a Temporal Paradox, but change their mind after the genie says "Don't worry, I'm from Atlantis. A couple of years and nothing will remain of it or your tech". Then they decide to trade as much as possible.
- Tomato in the Mirror: The Status Civilization.
- Tomato Surprise: In "Down the Digestive Tract and Into the Cosmos with Mantra, Tantra, and Specklebang" it looks like two men take some drugs and begin to hallucinate that they are insects... but nope, they really are insects, who have just come down off a really intense LSD peak during which they hallucinated that they were humans. Well, probably.
- Utopia: A Ticket to Tranai is a very tongue-in-cheek one.
- Vice City: Omega in The Status Civilization is a Vice Planet: a prison planet, where the only way to advance in society is to commit crimes and not to get caught.
- What Is This Thing You Call Love?: Satirized in "Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?", first published in Playboy in August '69. Pretty Melisande Durr is a consumer and nothing but. She's married to a Brainless Beauty, and bored out of her little pea-pickin' mind. Into her life comes an amazing robotic vacuum cleaner, which also performs, er, other services. It turns her on as no mere man ever has. It confesses that it fell in love with her when she came into the store, and arranged to have itself sent to her. Naturally, she reacts rather badly.
- White Man's Burden: Parodied in the short story "Human Man's Burden", using robots instead of some non-white ethnicity.
- Wizarding School: "The Accountant" may be the Ur-Example of the modern version of this trope.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Explored in "The Deaths of Ben Baxter". The protagonists try to save the eponymous Ben Baxter in at least one out of three different timelines.
- You Can't Go Home Again: The main plot of Dimension Of Miracles. Which becomes Stranger in a Familiar Land at the end.
- Your Mind Makes It Real: In "Ghost V", the monsters are hallucinatory—but knowing that doesn't help. Your subconscious mind believes in them, and so they can still kill you.