Review: Shards of Space by Robert Sheckley

Born in the USA in 1928, Robert Sheckley began writing short stories for the sf magazines in 1951 producing several hundred over the years. He might well have floundered, undistinguished, as one of the many sf writers of the period if it wasn't for the sense of humour he injected into his stories along with the standard sense of wonder. He continued writing throughout the second half of the twentieth century and, for a time, was fiction editor of Omni magazine. He was named Guest of Honor at the 2005 World Science Fiction Convention but was too ill to attend. He died in December 2005.

Sheckley was one of those science fiction writers of the 1950s and 1960s beloved by fans of the genre but little known outside it. He had several of his stories made into films (notably "Seventh Victim" which appeared as The 10th Victim with Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni, and his novel Immortality Inc which was filmed as Freejack with Mick Jagger and Anthony Hopkins) but he never had the big breakout like Phil Dick with Bladerunner.

Shards of Space was his sixth collection of short stories in seven years. Originally published in 1962 it contains a set of 11 stories published in magazines such as "Astounding Science Fiction Magazine", "Galaxy" and "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction" between February 1953 and March 1960. The stories here now read as somewhat dated - a prospector on Venus runs out of water, a small scorpion-like creature from Mars invades earth, there is no long nuclear winter after a planet-wide nuclear war - though they give a good sense of the stories that were prevalent in the genre in the 1950s. Basically, man (human, white and male) is the supreme species, all human females and all other life-forms are subservient or defeated by his guile and cunning. There are no classics of the genre included here; Sheckley was more known for his body of work rather than for individual brilliance in any one piece. Yet, for all that, the works are witty and engaging, and told from a viewpoint of exploring the humour in a situation rather than the exploitation of it.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 2, 2006 11:26 AM.

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