Gateway Essentials: Robert Sheckley

Robert Sheckley was born and educated in New York. He received an undergraduate degree from New York University in 1951 after a varied career that included time spent as a landscape gardener, a milkman and a stint in the US Army. He published his first story, ‘Final Examination’ for Imagination in May 1952 and quickly gained prominence as a writer, publishing stories for Imagination, Galaxy and other science fiction magazines. His first four books – three collections and a previously serialised novel – were published in the 1950s and his career continued to be successful throughout the following decades.

His work was frequently marked by a level of humour absent from most of his contemporaries’ writing; those who think that Douglas Adams emerged from a vacuum would be well advised to explore the earlier work of Robert Sheckley (and, for that matter, Bob Shaw).

Sheckley served as fiction editor for Omni magazine from January 1980 through September 1981 and was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2001. He passed away at the age of 77 before being able to attend the World SF Convention in Glasgow, where he’d been scheduled Guest of Honour.

With a half-century of writing to draw from, you could be forgiven for being paralysed with indecision over where to start reading Robert Sheckley. Let us help.

We recommend starting with his first collection of short fiction, Untouched by Human Hands – described by The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as ‘one of the finest debut volumes ever published in the field’, it contains several tales regarded as among his finest, including ‘The Monsters’, ‘Specialist’ and ‘Seventh Victim’ – filmed as La Decima Vittima (1965: The Tenth Victim), in turn novelized by Sheckley as The Tenth Victim (also recommended!).

Other recommended titles are Immortality, Inc. (filmed in 1992 as Freejack), Journey Beyond Tomorrow and Dimension of Miracles.

You can find these titles and more of Robert Sheckley’s works via his Author page on the Gateway website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.