Friday, December 30, 2005

Robert Sheckley

Robert Sheckley's recent death was acknowledged the way it should have been, the world wide press not only taking note but devoting significant space to the occasion. They too narrowly defined him as a science fiction "satirist" which he was, of course, but he was also much more.

I remembered that last night when I accidentally stumbled on a Galaxy magazine from November 1955 and found Sheckley's Warrior's's Return inside. It's a very Cold Warish piece. We were losing a prolonged battle to the Russians until we discovered a young man from a small town who had the power to destroy things with his mind. His killed so many Russians that they surrendered. All Hibbs wants to do is go back home and settle down. He is traumatized by all the killing he did; be abhors the word "hero." But norma life is not to be. Not only can he destroy things, he can heal people and give stock market futures that are exact. And many more things. There'll be no settling down. Everybody wants him to do favors. He realizes he is doomed to being the lonely freak he's always been. I won't spoil the ending in case you run across it in one of Sheckley's many collections.

A description of the small town drinkers in a grungy tavern: "The three drinkers had a night look, too. Their leaning bodies fitted cunningly against the bar, as though shaped for that purpose. Their feet were intricately twined in the brain rail, in a manner no human feet should assume. They looked like fixtures that simulated humans that the owner might have bought to keep him company."

I outlined the story. Seven scenes. The economy of words is remarkable as is the elegant structure of the story itself. A beautifully wrought tale that in 4,500 words manages to be effectively suspenseful, melancholy, angry and humorous in a black comic sort of way. Perfection.

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