Robert Sheckley
A STORY MASTER WITH FEW (IF ANY) EQUALS BUT MANY IMITATORS
Paradox One | Zeitgeist
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Paradox One

ROBERT SHECKLEY
‘UNTOUCHED BY HUMAN HANDS’- ROBERT’S FIRST PUBLISHED COLLECTION WRITTEN BY‘A MIND THAT IS A LITTLE BEYOND’.

I have before me the original 1954 Ballantine edition of this extraordinary collection, ’13 stories of the beings who dwell on the strange borders of reality’ (What wonderful turns of phrase they had back then!)
I quote from ‘The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’ (Focus Multimedia, 1995):
“Robert Sheckley's first collection, ‘UNTOUCHED BY HUMAN HANDS’ (coll 1954; with differing contents 1955 UK), is one of the finest debut volumes ever published in the field, and contains several tales which have remained famous, including ‘The Monsters’ (1953), the title story (1952), and the superb ‘Specialist’ (1953) which, with an energy and adroitness typical of his early work, posits a Galaxy inhabited by a variety of cooperating races who can merge their specialized functions to become, literally, SPACESHIPS. The story describes the search for a new Pusher, a being capable of shoving the ship to FASTER-THAN-LIGHT velocities -- unsurprisingly for the 1950s, Homo sapiens turns out to be a Pusher species. Also in the collection is ‘Seventh Victim’ (1953), much later filmed as ‘LaDECIMA VITTIMA’ (1965), in turn novelised as The Tenth Victim * (1966)”

Here are my impressions:
‘THE MONSTERS’ (12 pages) (1953):
Think about this- is it inevitable that our view of the beauty or ugliness of aliens be proportionate to how like or unlike ‘us’ they looked?
‘The Monsters’ is a salutary tale of Cordovir, Hum and others who consider themselves ‘human’ with all that emotive word implies- (which is?)- and we are merely confirmed in that (mistaken?) belief by a visit to their planet by a group of ‘humans’ as we understand them.
By the way if you are reincarnated on this planet it’s much better to be a male than a female for reasons that quickly become evident.
As with all vintage Sheckley this one really makes you think.

‘COST OF LIVING’ (11 pages) (1952):
In a time when people live to 150 and have every material possession they could possible want why did Miller kill himself and why is Carrin uneasy? The answer is as unexpected as the culture on which it is based. This is another salutory tale about what we in the UK euphemistically describe as the ‘never never’.
Already we can see the maturity of a writer that belies his 24 years of age.
As the foreword to the collection says:
“Sheckley’s ideas are not those of most short story writers. His point of view is often not merely comic but cosmically comic- the true reflection of a mind that has been described as ‘a little beyond’ in all respects.”

‘THE ALTAR’ (7 pages) (1953):
Slater is on his way to catch a train to work on a glorious spring morning in the sleepy town of North Ambrose, a place he thought he knew, when he meets a mysterious stranger. His curiosity is aroused even more when he meets another stranger and invites himself to the altar- a wise move?
‘SHAPE’ (17 pages) (originally ‘Keep Your Shape’) (1953):
The Gloms need to expand their civilisation to yet another planet but the 3rd planet from the sun is proving troublesome as 20 attempts at colonisation have already been resisted with no Gloms returning to tell the tale of what went wrong. So Pid the Pilot, Ilg the Radioman and Ger the Detector are charged with activating a Displacer in the reactor room of an atomic power station so that the hordes of Glom invaders can cross a ‘bridge’ to complete their conquest. But just what is the reason for the unusual resistance to the Glom’s plans? A clever twist ensures the story ends in a totally unexpected way.

‘THE IMPACTED MAN’ (1952) 20 pages
Contractor Carienomen has overseen the construction of a metagalaxy (549 billion galaxies to you and I) However, Assistant Controller Miglese is none too pleased with the job.
TO: Construction Headquarters 334132, Extension 12
ATTN: Chief Designer, Carienomen
FROM: Asst. Controller Miglese
SUBJ: ATTALA Metagalaxy
“One of the inhabitants of a planet impinging on the flaw is impacted already: wedged into the flaw, due entirely to your carelessness. I suggest that you correct this before he moves out of his normal time-sequence, creating paradoxes right and left..I have word of unexplained phenomena on some of your planets; items such as flying pigs, moving mountains, ghosts, and others, all enumerated in the complaints sheet.
We won’t have this sort of thing, Carienomen. A paradox is strictly forbidden in the created galaxies, since a paradox is the inevitable forerunner of chaos.”
The unfortunate impacted inhabitant is Jack Masrin who is just about to leave his apartment with his wife Kay to take up a teaching job in Iowa. When he reaches the 8th step of the first floor landing he finds himself in prehistoric New York. On another attempt to leave the apartment he also finds himself in the future-this is not entirely to his liking! The rent is paid until midnight but Masrin is in danger of disappearing altogether if he continues his attempts to leave. How understanding will his landlord Harf be? Ah, that would be telling!

‘UNTOUCHED BY HUMAN HANDS’ (1953) (15 pages) (originally entitled ‘One Man’s Poison’ in Galaxy Magazine)
Hellman and Casker have a big problem when they land on the planet Helg. They need to find something edible quickly and only have a Helg-Aloombrigian dictionary to guide them.
Casker- “What if their meat is our poison?
Hellman- “Then we will assume that their poison is our meat.
Casker- “And what happens if their meat and their poison are our poison?
Hellman- “We starve.”
Quite a conundrum!

‘’THE KING’S WISHES’ (1953) (11 pages)
Armed with a ten iron and a mashie niblick Bob and Janice lie in wait for a mysterious burglar who has sneaked into their shop every night removing generators, fridges and air-conditioners. Our intrepid heroes see their future financial security and matrimonial plans go up in smoke unless they can stop the constant drain on their resources. Eventually the protagonists come to a mutually beneficial agreement! There is an echo of ‘The Impacted Man’ here when Bob also worries about creating paradoxes.

‘WARM’ (1953) (10 pages)
Anders is getting ready to accompany his beloved Judy to a party when an unwelcome visitor gets inside his head.
“I’m in some sort of limbo,” it says.
His uninvited companion opens the doors of perception so that Anders can see that:
“Basically there is no form. Man produces gestalts, and cuts form out of the plethora of nothingness.”
He goes on to accept that there is no such thing as man.
“There are only humanizing features that we-myopically- attach to it.”
The ending is typically ironic.

‘THE DEMONS’ (1953) (12 pages)
Insurance agent Arthur Gammett is walking up/down Ninth Street, New York (eye witness accounts lack accuracy) He arrives inside a pentagon inhabited by Beelzebub’s grandson, a demon named Neelsebub who threatens to put him in a jar if he doesn’t bring him 10,000 drasts.
Arthur goes to a lot of trouble to try to comply until he gets some unexpected help.
Page 113 eloquently portrays the sort of conundrums Sheckley’s characters regularly face:
“He could produce the drast. That is, perhaps he could if he found out what it was.”
“He could notify the police. And be locked up in an asylum. Forget that one. Or, he could not produce the drast- and spend the rest of his life in a bottle. Forget that one, too.”

‘SPECIALIST’ (1953) (18 pages)
An ungenuous story cemented by a BIG IDEA- the Pusher ( a soldier on Earth) finds out what’s been missing in his life when he joins the Cooperation.
The humour is not as much in evidence in the first collection of Robert’s stories but I did laugh when I read the Pusher’s first words after two terrifying days aboard the alien space craft:
“My God! A steak!”
Pusher has nothing to do with mind altering substances by the way.
Note that Peter Nicholls, John Clute and company were rather impressed by this story in their ‘Encyclopedia of SF’. Quite rightly so!

‘SEVENTH VICTIM’ (1953) (16 pages)
This story became a novel ‘The Tenth Victim’ more of which later. At last mankind has put an end to war by letting people kill each other legally (in a purely voluntary organised way of course)
Stanton Frelaine is doing rather well at this and is well on his way to his tenth victim and all the resultant prestige and position when he discovers his next victim is a girl name of Janet Patzig who’s not as ‘green’ as she seems!


‘RITUAL’ (1953) (10 pages) (originally ‘Strange Ritual’)
It had been 5,000 years since Elder Singer and his people had been visited by a ‘god-ship’. Consulting the Giant Book of Gods the lengthy rituals begin. The ‘gods’ are displeased but unfortunately their expressions of discomfort are taken as a sign of approval except by a young dissident named Glat who propagates something called the ‘Alhona heresy’, a seemingly obvious solution to appease the ‘gods’.
Another fine example of the communication difficulties (Destabilising enough on this planet!) that would afflict relations between different peoples in the universe.

‘’BESIDE STILL WATERS’ (1953) (4½ pages)
‘Beside Still Waters’ is a beautifully written and touching story about the relationship between Mark Rogers, a prospector and his robot Charles on ‘Martha’, their tiny asteroid home.
There are some great lines in this story:
“Rogers had been born old, and he didn’t age much past a point. His face was white with the pallor of space and his hands shook a little. He called his slab of rock Martha, after no girl he had ever known.”
(Also the concluding ones but of course I won’t give the ending away!)
This would not be the last time Robert would write stories about prospectors and those desperate to push back the frontiers of space.

As an introduction to this new author Ballantine Books thoughtfully provide a short biography/ interview with Robert on page 170.
Born in New York in 1928 and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey Bob discovered SF in High School. After graduating he hitchhiked to California, working as a landscape gardener, a pretzel salesman, a barman, a milkman, a warehouseman and a general labourer in a hand-painted necktie studio.
He joined the army and was sent to Korea (1946-48) and server as a guard, an assistant newspaper editor, contracts and payroll clerk and finally, a guitarist in an army dance band.
Before selling his first story he also worked in an aircraft factory and as an assistant metallurgist.


ROBERT SHECKLEY
‘CITIZEN IN SPACE’
’12 surprising stories of imagination by a brilliantly gifted young writer’ (Original Ballantine edition, 1955. The cover has a nice wash of colour mostly red with a touch of yellow, an enigmatic monolithic structure and a mysterious figure or 3- a family perhaps? The book could be bought for the princely ransom of 35 cents.

‘THE MOUNTAIN WITHOUT A NAME’ (1955) (10 pages) (previously unpublished)
The story of planetary construction boss Morrison and Dengue, the observer from a rival company with a vested interest in things not quite going according to plan. Statistically improbable bad luck has haunted the project and the demolition of the mountain with no name is no exception. Morrison is under pressure from the chairman of the board of Transterran Steel, Shotwell.
“What’s holding things up?”
“Accidents.”
“More accidents?”
“I’m afraid so, sir.”
And then there are the natives who can’t accept that ‘Work Order 35 wasn’t their planet’ anymore and who are promising ‘big bad trouble’ in five supernatural categories.
So who or what is really behind the ‘sabotage’. The answer may surprise you or may not if you are a close observer of ‘Mother Nature’ as the author so obviously is.

‘THE ACCOUNTANT’ (1954) (10 pages) (originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction- c. Fantasy House Inc.)
Miss Greeb, 9 year old Morton Dee’s teacher is not happy that her charge hasn’t learned a single one of the Greater Spells of Cordus or the identities of the most basic conjuring herbs. So Mr Dee has to take drastic measures involving his Amulet of Persuasion and a certain Boarbas, the Demon of Children. And to think that all the poor lad wants to do is to become an accountant. But just who is the greatest force- the Accountant or the Wizard? Wouldn’t you like to know? Harry Potter anyone?

‘HUNTING PROBLEM’ (1955) (13 pages) (c. Galaxy Publishing Corporation)
STELLMAN- “We surveyed this planet 3 months ago. We found no intelligent beings, no dangerous animals, no poisonous plants.”
PAXTON- “I’m telling you I saw it move.”
HERRERA stood up- “This tree? All gone now.” (He incinerated it)
What Herrera does not realise is that the tree is in fact Scouter Drog who, luckily for him, instinctively quondicated at the flash moment and thus saved his own skin! Drog’s mission to bring back a pelt of the large and ferocious animal known as the Mirash (Guess who?) is thwarted at the moment.. Intelligence has to triumph over instinctive cunning reasons Drog and he decides that he has no alternative but to set a trap to gain his coveted prize and the prestige it will bring. Typically there is a twist in the tale and some serious observations about the human race.
IN SHECKLEY’S WORLD THINGS ARE NOT QUITE AS THEY SEEM!
He must also be given credit for introducing a new word into the English language- quondication.

THE LUCKIEST MAN IN THE WORLD aka THE FORTUNATE PERSON (1954) (3 pages) (Fantastic Universe)
A Patagonian writer tries to convince himself that he has everything. But something very important is missing! Written in the first person.

HANDS OFF (1954) (24 Pages) (Galaxy SF)
In an outrageous act of interstellar piracy, Captain Barnett and his crew, Agee and Victor, steal an alien spacecraft. Incredulously their freeze blasters do not fatally wound Kalen, the tough Mabogian pacifistic alien. The main message is man’s (and ‘alien life forms’) reliance on technology (machinery). Kalen can’t even crack a nut to sustain himself without his fully automated spaceship to help him and the three pirates get some nasty shocks as automated functions on board their ‘prize’ produce unforeseen and most unwelcome occurrences! Basically the three humans are not as clever as they think they are. A very engaging story.

SOMETHING FOR NOTHING (1954) (12 pages) (Galaxy SF)
This story is a variaition on the theme of the genie in the bottle as a Class A Utilizer materialises in Joe Collins’ bedroom. The ‘wishing machine’ even comes complete with two movers (hulks actually)
So Collins takes it to upstate NY where he buys a medium sized mountain and watches while the Maxima Olph construction company build a house with 20 rooms in less than a day. For anyone waiting for a house to go up this truly is the stuff of dreams! Anyway, dissatisfied with his mansion’s location, Collins decants to a small central American republic where he builds a palace. As the Utilizer tries to disappear then to run away under the guidance of its owner (or so Collins assumes), he decides he better ask for as much as possible while he still can. ’25 more dancing girls, immortality, a sports car’- you know the kind of thing. Suddenly, both Utilizer and Collins vanish. The ‘something for nothing; is not what it appears as Collins proves there is no such thing as free meal ticket. Another clever story with a neat twist and, again, one that could have been extended to a short novel.

A TICKET TO TRANAI (1955) (39 pages) (c. Galaxy Publishing Corporation)
This is a novelette really. Marvin Goodman is determined he is going to visit Tranai despite the dissuasions of the Transtellar Travel Agency. Dissatisfied with life in Seakirk, New Jersey, he sees Tranai as his idea of utopia. The problem is, that Tranai is, as the memorable character Captain Savage explains while drowning his sorrows in a local bar, ‘at the edge of the Great Nothing’. Once Marvin gets to Tranai, he senses something is wrong, ‘something alien’. According to the Extraterrestial Minister, Den Melith, Tranai is indeed a utopia- no wars, no crime, no poverty, a stable economy, no bureaucracy, no corruption’. In short, too good to be true- and so it proves. A few things are worrying Marvin already- why did Melith throw his pen against the wall? Why did his wife appear from a derrsin statis field at the touch of a red button and just why did Melith consider it necessary to keep a rifle with telescopic sight and silencer on his wall? Stranger still why is he offered the Supreme Presidency by the present incumbent so soon after arriving in this ‘paradise’ world?
Anyway, our hero finds a job in a robot works and is amazed to discover just how slow the robots on Tranai are, yet consumer research indicates that consumers want them to be slower still so they can get the pleasure of ‘kicking the shit out of them’ then buying another one!
He is light-headed after an arranged date with the lovely Janna but his illusions are shattered when he is robbed on the way back to his hotel by a government tax collector (sound familiar?) Robbery, he is told by the bar tender of the Kitty Kat Bar, is Tranai’s tried and tested method of wealth distribution. Unfortunately, Marvin finds robbing as difficult as following Trainai’s ‘unwritten laws’.
He does marry Janna, honeymooning on the idyllic (too perfect) Doé and continues to come up with ingenuous ideas in his career of disimproving robots when he returns. Before he knows it he is on the verge of becoming Supreme President then he discovers what the rifle is for and how Trainai’s definition of murder is not quite the same as Earth’s. The Citizens’ Booth delivers a definitive verdict on Supreme President Borg’s presidency. (He had committed the cardinal sin of licencing a second spaceport for Tranai after all!)
Things can’t get much worse for Marvin but they do!
If you are dissatisfied with life and dreaming of a utopian existence somewhere perhaps you’d better just stay put! There is always a catch!

THE BATTLE (1954) (6 pages) (IF Magazine)
A short and rather perplexing story about the final showdown between good(?) and evil. The moral seems to be that mankind has once again betrayed the confidence the creator has put in him but, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if this is the intended message. As I’ve said before I don’t consider such a short length ideal for Sheckley- he needs the space for his ideas to expand into.

SKULKING PERMIT (1954) (26 pages) (GALAXY Magazine)
“Tom,” the Mayor said directly, “How would you like to be a criminal?”
“I don’t know,” said Tom. “What’s a criminal?”
Everything was ticking along nicely in New Delaware, one of the colonies that make up the United Democracies of Earth, until the fateful day their interstellar radio coughed back into life and imperial Earth made contact. New Delaware had two weeks to get ‘earthified’ before the inspector called. To completely convince the inspector that it had conformed with the ‘Earth mandate’ the Mayor orders our hapless hero, Tom, to murder somebody. The problem is there hasn’t been a murder in 200 years and Tom, in his own procrastinating way, actually ends up coming to New Delaware’s rescue. There is an ominous last sentence though as the seeds of doubt about what constitutes civilized behaviour implant themselves.

CITIZEN IN SPACE (aka SPY STORY) (1955) (10 pages) (PLAYBOY)
A sphinx valve assembler called Bill decides to explore deep space and is surprised to find a stowaway in his ship, a rather attractive young lady called Mavis O’Day. The reader gasps in incredulity at the next development
‘Outside in the last vacuum of space was a single fragment of rock. Perched upon it was a child in a spacesuit holding a box of flares in one hand and a tiny space-suited dog in the other.’
They are not just there to shock of course but to make a point about human relationships as Roy so eloquently explains when inside Bill’s spaceship. Once Bill lands on an uninhabited planet other spies come to call and stay under false pretences, sabotaging their own ships in the process. Yes, the girl, the boy, maybe even the dog are all spies! There’s been a technical hitch though and things change for the better or do they? With ‘cold war’ and spy satellites on the horizon this is a prescient tale of paranoia from a master storyteller.

ASK A FOOLISH QUESTION (1953) (9 pages) Science Fiction Stories
A fascinating if embryonic tale that is fast becoming one of my favourites as various entities visit a planet circling a sun to contact Answerer, the ultimate oracle. Douglas Adams surely must have read this before his Deep Thought provides ‘42’ as the answer to the ‘meaning of life’ in ‘Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Or is my imagination just running away with me? After all wasn’t it Gary Brooker who, after consulting the Dalai Lamai produced the answer, “life is like a beanstalk, isn’t it? In ‘In Held ‘Twas In I’?! Now I have lost the plot!


PILGRIMAGE TO EARTH- from 'Pilgrimage To Earth'- 'A fresh and daring insight into the man of tomorrow- a man with the power of a god and the sudden whims of a reckless adventurer.' (1959)
Here are my thoughts on some of the stories in it:
LENGTH: 12 pages
CHARACTERS: Alfred Simon/ Penny Bright
PLOT: Alfred from a planet near Arcturus is a farmer who pines for romance. He buys an ancient poetry book from a vendor who is 'a little mad', sells his farm and arrives on Earth.
BEST LINE: "You folks specialise in farming? Well Earth specialises in impracticalities such as madness, beauty, war, intoxication, purity, horror and the like."
Or
"You're looking for war, you've come to the right place. We have 6 major wars running at all times."
ISSUES: Feminism, prostitution, aggression of human race, science ("Believe me, there's nothing science can't produce as long as there's a market for it.")
BIGGEST ANTI CLIMAX: 'Simon went to the refreshment stand and ordered a small glass of coca cola.'
STRANGEST LINE: 'Communism in Wales'.
'MAKES YOU THINK' LINE: 'He gave up natural selection centuries ago shortly after the Mechanical Revolution."
FAVOURITE LINE: 'Passion beneath the lunatic Moon'.
TWIST IN THE TALE: The ending is not entirely unexpected but still has a shock element.

- as near darned perfect a short story as you'll read. It's very readable and thought provoking.

 
 
 

 

'ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE'
LENGTH- 11 pages
CHARACTERS- Jan Maarten, Croswell, his assistant, various Durellans led by Chief Moreri.
JOB- First Contacter
LOCATION- Durell IV, a planet physically comparable to Earth.
ISSUES/MESSAGE- Don't mess with different cultures or assume that science has all the answers! Aggression of humans touched upon.
MOST PERTINENT/ FAVOURITE LINES: "The most unrespected law in the universe. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong."
Or
"We're living chemical factories- only turning out poison gas and corrosives exclusively." (Croswell)
"But that is not all you are. Look." (Chedka) (The 'Twist in the Tale' line)
   

 



'TRAP'
LENGTH- 9 pages
CHARACTERS- Dailey and Thurston, two 40 somethings. One is a 'gadget man', the other a '(love) hunter'. Samish and friend.
FAVOURITE LINE- '..they returned to the city tanned and refreshed with a new lease on life and a renewed tolerance for their wives.'
ISSUES/ MESSAGE: The acquisitive nature of man. "A Terran will keep anything."
TWIST IN THE TALE: Terrans are even more acquisitive than Samish's friend thought and Samish's friend is less of a friend than he thought.
A great yarn that could have been much longer.
   

 

'THE BODY'
LENGTH- 5 pages
CHARACTERS- Professor Mayer, Cassidy, Feldman, Kent
PLOT- Mayer is changed into a dog so he can 'carry on the great work where Einstein and the others left off.'
TWIST IN THE TALE?- A little one at the end
A disappointing story. Mayer seems to adjust too quickly to his new form and of course because of the shortness of the story the plot is not developed. Humour is corny!
   

 

'EARLY MODEL'
LENGTH- 20 pages, a much better length for the author to work his magic.
CHARACTERS- Bentley, Professor Swigert, the Telicans from Tels 1V predominantly Huascl)
PLOT- The Protec back pack does not work according to plan.
TWIST? Yes
   




'DISPOSAL SERVICE'
LENGTH- 5 pages
CHARACTERS- Mr and Mrs Ferguson, Miss Dale, Mr Ferguson's Secretary and Mr Esmond from Disposal Service
TWIST- Good one- says a lot about trust and deception.
Would have made a good 'Tale of the Unexpected'.
   

'SHARDS OF SPACE'
One of the endearing qualities of 60s sci-fi collections are the appetising vignettes on the covers. Like this from the front cover of the 1962 Bantam edition- "A new log of far-out voyages to gather fractured fragments of fantastic truth." Or inside: "Robert Sheckley prowls the long beaches of infinity where he garners glittering strands of flotsam and jetsam." Or how about this on the back?
RUPTURED GALAXIES
BUSTED TECHNOLOGIES
FRANGIBLE PLANETS
INFINITE FRAGMENTS The uncredited art work shows splintering planets and moons and a 40 cent price tag that just might have been one the bargains of the decade!

 
 

 

Written in 1959 for Galaxy magazine 'PROSPECTOR'S SPECIAL' (22 pages) is Sheckley at his best. Tom Morrison is down on his luck and topples his sandcar while prospecting for goldenstone on Venus's Scorpion Desert. He has to survive amidst mounting obstacles including unpaid phone bills and a surprisingly flexible bureaucracy. His salvation comes from an unlikely source and the 'prospector's special' of the title is perhaps not what was expected! Entertaining, witty and engaging!
'THE GIRLS AND NUGENT MILLER' (11 pages) was written in 1960 and our hero is the survivor of a nuclear holocaust who goes off armed with a Geiger counter in search of other survivors only to find the formidable Miss Dennis and her 4 young ladies. There is a nice twist in the tale!
'THE SLOW SEASON' (6 pages) was originally written for 'The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction' in 1954. It's a pretty weird tale of a tailor named Slobold who's down on his luck and gets a lucrative contract that is not quite what it seems.
I'm not entirely sure what the point of the 1956 story 'ALONE AT LAST' was apart from the obvious determination of a man named Arwell (despite advice to the contrary) to be 'alone at last' on an asteroid of his choosing. Of course he is not really alone but the potential for a fascinating story is not realised in the 5 pages of 'Alone At Last'.
'MEETING OF THE MINDS' is at 35 pages the longest story in this collection by far. It was originally published in Galaxy Magazine in 1960 and part one concerns Captain Jensen's disillusionment with his ship's lack of scientific discoveries following a flight to Mars. Jensen's disappointment turns out to be ill founded as an intelligent scorpion like bug called Querdak has hitched a ride. The Querdak is actually a corporate entity, an idea preceding Star Trek's Borg by many years- I'm not even sure where such an idea originated- can someone out there enlighten me? Anyway, having stowed away in a crate the Querdak has taken over one of the humans participating in a treasure hunt in the Solomon Islands. The question is will the treasure hunters survive as the Querdak begins to control all the animals on the island? The characters are well drawn, the story develops at a good pace with an appropriate level of suspense. Indeed 'Meeting of the Minds' could have been developed into an excellent novel.
'FOOL'S MATE' was written in 1953 for 'Astounding Science Fiction Magazine'. Earth is being stripped of radioactives to supply a space fleet that has been sniffing the enemy' like a discontented dog' for 11 months and 4 weeks by the time the Presidential Voice in Space, Ellsner arrives to find out the reason for the stalemate and why reports resembling combat fatigue are being received on Earth when not a shot has been fired. Apparently there is a pact not to bomb home planets. Instead Configuration-Probability Calculators arrange the fleet in optimum attack-defence patterns. This is not the first time Bob Sheckley uses chess in his stories- part of an actual game is played out in 'Meeting of the Minds' for example. This time though it turns out chess is not an accurate analogy for this tense situation. As Lieutenant Nielsen sits at the controls of his gunfire panel suffering from a form of inverted shell shock, the crew can either wait two years and go completely off their heads orů? 'Fool's Mate' is a prescient and cautionary tale ingenuously related.
'SUBSISTENCE LEVEL' is perhaps what 'Alone At Last' might have been. Strange that it was written 2 years earlier in 1954. Amelia and Dirk are two pioneers setting up a new home on an asteroid. Soon they are pioneers no longer as society and consumerism close in and a decision has to be made. This is an imaginative story depicting in some detail the technology necessary for planetary settlement. There are some great one liners by Dirk- "Some of my best friends are robots." and "Robots are congenital drunks." I wonder what Isaac Asimov would have to say about that?
'FOREVER' is a 10 page story from 1953. Dennison has discovered an immortality serum but someone (turns out to be an organisation) is taking more than a passing interest. Dennis ends up in the 'Immortality Club' and discovers to his amazement that he is not alone in more ways than one! This is another ingenuous, thought provoking story that could have been longer. Bob's famous book 'Immortality Inc.' (turned into that awful movie 'Freejack'- more of which later) looked at this subject from a different angle of course. By the way the first story about immortality is reckoned to be Jonathan Swift's 'Gullivers Travels' from 1726.
'THE SWEEPER OF LORAY' is a 12 page story from 1959 published again in Galaxy. Human frailty is once more exposed as Fred and Carver decide to steal a healing drug that also turns out to be a longevity drug that with repeated prescription may even turn out to be an immortality drug! There is of course a twist in the tale!
Another Carver, a Doctor rather than Professor this time, as a part in the last story 'THE SPECIAL EXHIBIT'- is 4 pages long enough for a satisfying tale? It can be of course. Believe it or not the Jeff Renner story published in 'Fantasy and Science Fiction' in 1964
Boy Meets Girl,
Boy Loses Girl,
Boy Builds Girl.
is not actually the shortest- not by a long way but that is another story! To me 'The Special Exhibit' doesn't quite make it as it is obvious early on that Mrs Grant has something rather unpleasant in store for his egocentric wife. Bob Sheckley's stories need space to breathe and there just isn't enough here.
Still the vast majority of 'Shards of Space' is brilliant!. Any serious sci-fi enthusiast needs a copy of this one on his/her shelf.

CAN YOU FEEL ANYTHING WHEN I DO THIS? AKA THE SAME TO YOU DOUBLED (16 stories) (1974)
(Some key ideas and facts are in bold)

’16 bizarre glimpses into the future’ where ‘rules of logic have been thrown to the wind’ and Bob Sheckley’s ‘grasp of the human condition leaves the reader more than a little disconcerted, amused and finally lost in thought’.
I am the proud owner of a signed Daw books edition printed in April, 1974, the stories themselves having been written between 1961 and 1971.

Robert Sheckley Can You Feel Anything When I Do This
As in most collections my enjoyment varied from the ‘file under forgettable’ to the ‘mind bogglingly brilliant’. Examples of the latter include ‘The Petrified World’ (see Bibliography for origins of all stories). This story concerns a certain Mr Lanigan who has a recurring dream. He decides to see Dr Sampson once again. Lanigan is worried that ‘Some day I am going to wake up and find myself in that world. And then that world will become the real world and this world will be the dream’. (The story has some wonderful metaphysical dialogue).
“How do you prove to a man that he is not being controlled by a secret radio which only he can hear?”
When Sampson says, “The nature of the world is apparent, not provable’, Lanigan thinks for a while.
“Look Doc, I’m not as sick as the guy with the secret radio, am I?”
They agree that the real world is simply what most men think it is.
Lanigan says, “Suppose there are many worlds and many realities, not just one? Suppose this is simply one arbitary existence out of an infinity of existences?”
Strange things are happening around Dr Sampson.
The story is about the descent into insanity or to be more precise disconnectedness.
It struck me that this idea has an echo in the future in the Borg’s ‘disconnected from the collective’ in Star Trek.
I’m sure we’ve all had the feeling of unreality, detachment, being on the outside looking in, feeling almost is if we are part of a computer game. This story exaggerates these feelings to nightmare proportions. ‘The Petrified World’ is a thought provoking if frustratingly short story.
Other commendable stories are ‘Dr Zombie and his Little Furry Friends’ as much Edgar Allen Poe horror as sci-fi, grimly prophetic of genetic engineering; ‘The Cruel Equations’ a clever tale on machines whose programming does not allow for the flexibility of human response as Lieutenant Halloran desperately tries to get back out of the scorching heat of Regulus V to the sanctuary of the camp but first he must pass an intransigent robotic guard. The story ends with a robot’s eye view of the final course of events. (The moral of this and other tales is don’t bypass Sheckley’s robot stories once you’ve read Asimov’s!)
‘The Same to you Doubled’ is a variation on the ‘genie in a bottle’ theme with Edelstein getting a visit from a ‘field man for the devil’ and being granted three wishes with a difference!
I guess not many people were talking about ‘mnemonics’ when ‘The Mnemone’ was written and Tony Buzan was still a dot on the horizon. ‘Mnemones as a distinct class came into prominence during the last year of the War Which Ended All Wars. Their self proclaimed function was to remember works of literature which were in danger of being lost, destroyed or suppressed.
‘Tripout’: Papazian arrives on Earth by telephone booth (no, not by police box but, beware, Doctor Who is back on UK TV screens!) ‘I’m Aldebaranese on my mother’s side’ he remarks to a hot dog vendor in a sleazy diner (as you would)
Papazian woke up and changed his name to Hal (Haven’t I heard that name somewhere before?) The story seems to take a distinctly ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ twist (What did you make of the film by the way?): ‘Earth’s an exciting place. Too bad it has to be destroyed’. (This is not actually what the story is about as there is no further reference to it, just a line casually thrown in). Papazian/ Hal’s long suffering wife Ellen writes a book called ‘Return from Deepest Space: One Woman’s Account of Her Life with a Man who Believed He was from Aldebaran’ (Well, you would, wouldn’t you if you were in her position?)
The author can’t resist taking an acerbic pop in his final sentence ‘He knew that Earth was a nice enough place for a vacation; but one couldn’t really live there’. (We all know we live on a beautiful planet but we also know what Bob means!)
Another standout is ‘Pas de Trois of the Chef and the Waiter and the Customer’, a clever allegorical tale of the same events seen from the perspective of three people in a restaurant in Ibiza.