From the New
December 10, 2005
Robert Sheckley, 77, Writer
of Satirical Science Fiction, Is Dead
By GERALD JONAS
Robert Sheckley, a writer of science fiction whose
disarmingly playful stories pack a nihilistic subtext, died yesterday
in Poughkeepsie. He was 77 and lived in Red Hook, N.Y.
The cause was complications of a brain aneurysm, said his former wife,
Ziva Kwitney. Mr. Sheckley wrote more than 15 novels and around 400 short
stories; the actual total is uncertain since he was so prolific in his
heyday, the 1950's and 60's, that magazine editors insisted he publish
some stories under pseudonyms to avoid having his byline appear more than
once in an issue.
Four of his stories were made into films; the best known, "The Tenth
Victim" (1965), starred Marcello
Mastroianni and Ursula
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Maplewood, N.J., Robert Sheckley joined
the Army in 1946 after graduating from high school, and served in Korea.
In 1951 he received an undergraduate degree from New York University and
sold his first short story.
Over the next two decades, he was a major force in the development of
modern science fiction. His first collection of stories, published in
1954, was hailed as one of the finest debut volumes in the field. In the
1960's he found a wider market for his science fiction in magazines like
Many of his novels were well received, among them "Journey Beyond
Tomorrow"(1962) and "Dimension of Miracles" (1968), but
Mr. Sheckley was best known for his short stories. At a time when science
fiction was just starting to grapple with the social implications of technology
- from atomic bombs to missile-carrying rockets - Mr. Sheckley turned
a satirist's eye on the genre and its concerns.
Bradbury, he was interested in the scientific apparatus of science
fiction - space travel, time travel, extrapolated futures - only so far
as it served his purpose. While Mr. Bradbury poetically mourns the failure
to live up to our dreams of the future, Mr. Sheckley mocked the self-delusions
that lead to dreams in the first place.
He reveled in the freedom the genre afforded him to dramatize the fears
and anxieties of everyday life. When he wrote about the war between the
sexes, he conjured a future in which disappointed lovers had the legal
option of using real bullets to express their anger. When he wrote about
alienation as a state of mind, he sealed the reader in an endless loop
of disaffection that reduced the outside world to a hallucination wrapped
in an illusion.
Because he leavened his darkest visions with wit and absurdist plotting,
he is considered one of science fiction's seminal humorists, and a precursor
to Douglas Adams, whose "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (1979)
seems to take place in a Sheckleyan universe. But Mr. Sheckley's work
is darker than Mr. Adams's; the smiles he evokes leave a bitter taste
on the lips. A better comparison might be to Kafka, a fabulist who could
never understood why his friends didn't laugh when he read his stories
Mr. Sheckley's fiction has been translated into German, Greek, Hungarian,
Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Finnish and Lithuanian. His
work is especially popular in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Mr. Sheckley's marriages to his first four wives, Barbara Scadron, Ms.
Kwitney, Abby Schulman and Jay Rothbell, ended in divorce. At the time
of his death he was separated from his fifth wife, Gail Dana. Other survivors
include a son, Jason, from his first marriage, a daughter, Alisa Kwitney,
from his second marriage; a daughter, Anya, and a son, Jed, from his third
marriage; his sister Joan Klein of New York; and three grandchildren.
From the New
Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/10/books/10sheckley.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1134222641-JfUCol+Xl+5F6yxdrNCTxQ&pagewanted=print