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December 9, 2005

Robert Sheckley
Posted by Teresa at 02:39 PM * 44 comments

Ach, Robert Sheckley’s dead. This doesn’t come as a surprise—he’s been very ill—but it’s much regretted.

Comments on Robert Sheckley:
#1 ::: Henry Minsky ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 03:18 PM:

I am so sorry to hear this. I loved his books when I was younger, just loved them. I hope that they can be in print again so more people can enjoy them.

#2 ::: Eileen Gunn ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 03:22 PM:

Not unexpected, but sad.

He certainly showed me, in my formative years, what could be done with language to make it funny.


#3 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 03:27 PM:

I read in Locus about his health and the problems he had when he was in Europe, but I had no idea it was getting worse.

#4 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 03:41 PM:

Death sucks rocks.

#5 ::: matt ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:39 PM:

That is a bummer, I didn't know he was sick. I just moved and resorted my books. Kept his, threw out others. I'll miss his works and I hope he likes his new digs up in heaven.

#6 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 05:13 PM:

Sorely missed...
Looking through those old covers at his place brought back lots of fun memories.

#7 ::: chert999 ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 05:55 PM:

Bob Sheckley was old good friend for all Russian fans. Svetlaya pamyat'.

#8 ::: Gross ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 06:21 PM:

Irreplaceable loss. Grief...

#9 ::: Boris Sidyuk ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 06:48 PM:

I hoped he would fully recovered. I was glad to know he got back home in quite good health after the hospital. All of us crossed fingers when he got back to the hospital in November. We will miss him. Rest in peace, Bob

#10 ::: Maggie Brinkley ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 07:49 PM:

Robert Sheckley was one of the very first sf writers I ever read, back in the 1960s. He and Asimov introduced me to SF. I loved his humour. I will miss him very much. There's never been anyone, whether in SF or any other kind of fiction, quite like him. My prayers go to his family.

#11 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 07:51 PM:

Sheckley is science fiction's O'Henry.

Without touching Google:
"The Minimum Man"
"A Ticket To Tranai"
"Skulking Permit"
(and the novels)

After a light Google prompt:

"Seventh Victim"
"The Prize of Peril"

Of course. Not my favorites, but those are his early claim to fame: the dead-accurate descriptions of reality TV that made the world take notice of him.

Then, with the list in front of me:


.... others

I like the novels, too: "Dimension of Miracles" and "Mindswap," the tokens of the surrealistic '60s; "Immortality Incorporated," his first novel, written in '50s prozine dialect was the first serious "back from the dead" story I ever encountered. "Journey of Joenes" modernizes Greek mythology ahead of "Giles Goat Boy." It's a precursor of the style Sheckley fell into, later on, with Roger Zelazny.

The novels gave us the Theory of Searches, and the Twisted World.

But his short stories were organisms that spurred the evolution of all short stories in modern science fiction.

Bob would still be around in a kinder continuum -- writing the continuity for a sensationally-popular version of something Farscape.

#12 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 09:29 PM:

Sad news. Dimension of Miracles was one of my favorite books for many years, and I can still quote lines from it: "Kettle drums sound ominous note. Ominous note sounds kettle drums." I wonder if Douglas Adams read DoM; Sheckley's planet-building Engineer had much in common with Adams' Magrathea. "We get our subatomic particles from subcontractors" indeed.

I shall have to go reread a few of his stories and hoist a glass to his memory.

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 09:50 PM:

I just looked in Patti Perret's 1984 book, The Faces of Science Fiction, and for some reason Sheckley isn't in there. What's creepy is that half the people in there have passed away.

#14 ::: Henry Wessells ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 09:56 PM:

Robert Sheckley's humor and imagination and mastery of the short story are what brought me to science fiction. Levity of tone (and form) disguises a profound understanding of trends in the evolution of human society. Reading Sheckley aloud is to gain insight through joy. (And surely he invented reality TV with "The Life of Anybody" and even before that with "The Prize of Peril".)

He remains without equal.

#15 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 10:10 PM:

I'm glad he made it as long as he did; I remember him seeing very frail from the first time I went to Orycon, and each time thereafter. But so gracious, and so thoroughly kind in person. I must go re-read some of his fine prose in memoriam.

#16 ::: Fred Ramsey ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 10:37 PM:

My favorite memory of Mr. Sheckley is watching Philip Klass/William Tenn convulsed with laughter as the two of them sat in the corner of the hotel lobby at a ParaCon. I felt so envious and filled with wonder that someone could make Phil laugh that hard.

May the Bards bless you, Bob. I hope that ghod likes to laugh.

#17 ::: Roger M Kolaks ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 03:30 AM:

I'm looking at a photo. Bob, somehow the real center of the wedding picture, standing slightly askance while SWMBO & I answer "I do" to the fey judge's interrogatives.

Unforgettable short stories that I read & reread and then read again because they made me smile - and consider.

There was a sweetness about Bob that is lacking in so many of the rest of us. Mankind is diminished by his passing.

There was a parcel of him that did not recognize his worth. "I write stories for fifteen year olds," he once said with a rather deprecating shrug. Perhaps he did, but half a century later those stories remain as bright whimsical memories that still bring forth a smile. Man is diminshed by his passing.

He was plagerized by ... nearly everyone who came after. Art is diminished by his passing.

In the Afterworld there is a tiny Mediterranean Isle , with sunny beachs, clear skies and a secret passage to Metropolis for those moments when Metropolis is needed.

Adios Roberto - hasta la vista - I am diminished ...


#18 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 06:25 AM:

I've been expecting this sad news since Robert had those health problems in Europe, but that doesn't make it hurt any less. When I was a teenager, I'd read his short stories, loving them. I'd often reread them immediately, trying to understand his technique: so clear, seemingly so simple, and so funny. I loved his style, and I loved his attitude. I wanted to be a writer, and he was the writer I wanted to be.

#19 ::: Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 09:27 AM:

That's a grief. He was a good and smart and funny man.

#20 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 10:35 AM:

Sheckley was also one of the first sf writers I read, back in my teens. I think I was introduced to his work through Kingsley Amis's New Maps of Hell; he was one of Amis's favorite contemporary sf writers. Soon I'd read five or six collections of stories: Untouched by Human Hands, Citizen in Space, Shards of Space... The light tone and goofy humor appealed to me then, and still makes me laugh. More recently, I picked up Victim Prime and his comic thriller The Game of X in a seaside secondhand bookshop and devoured them in short order. And I proofread his collaboration with Harry Harrison in the Bill the Galactic Hero series. His later work was sometimes hit or miss, but he had such an unfettered imagination that you never knew what was going to happen next. I'm sorry he's gone.

#21 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 10:47 AM:

Damn. Another great gone.

I never met him, but he wrote one of the first short stories I ever read, about being trapped on a planet with telepathic predators and needing to think about something other than being eaten. (In Tales From the Galaxies, a terrific collection I bought on a wet summer holiday when I was about eight.) I've loved his work ever since. I've given short story collections of his and copies of Mindswap to ever such a lot of people. His collection The Same to You Doubled aka Can You Feel Anything When I Do This? is one of my standard "outreach" works for giving to people who don't read SF but who might. The humour eases them in, and under the humour the genuine thought-provokingness of the stories.

#22 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 11:08 AM:

When I was a little boy in Indiana taking piano lessons at a nice old lady's house, someone had left a paperback for me to read while I was waiting for my kid sister to finish. It was Notions Unlimited by Robert Sheckley. I would try to finish at least one story before my lesson came up. I read and re-read it so compulsively that my teacher eventually let me take it home. It was my first real grown-up science fiction book.

The odd thing is that while a couple of the stories could be classified as humorous light fantasy and most had at least some element of satire, some were what seemed especially to a very young reader as straightforward science fiction, and pretty damn grim: "Watchbird." "A Wind Is Rising." "Paradise II."

It didn't matter. I was hooked.

Years later, I was at a Portland Westercon, I think it was, and someone asked me to spell them in the Green Room for a while. While I was sitting there, in walked Robert Sheckley. So we chatted for a while.

Who was it asked me to pull that Green Room duty? Was it Ruth Sachter perhaps? Whoever it was, I owe them big time.

#23 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 11:13 AM:

Sheckley's work is one of the treasured memories of my teenage years. I'd been reading sf for some years before stumbling across his work, but his short stories were how I discovered just how *funny* science fiction can be. May he rest in peaces, and his family find comfort in how many people regret his passing.

#24 ::: Mike Backes ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 01:38 PM:

Douglas Adams loved Sheckley's work. I remember sitting about with Ron Cobb and Douglas reeling off our favorite Sheckley literary dilemmas. Sheckley was the first "adult" science fiction writer I read as a teenager. I would scour used bookstores, sometimes on and off for years, searching for one or another elusive Sheckley paperback... Just loved the man's work. What an incredible talent.

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 02:17 PM:

The Oregonian ran a nice obit.

I didn't know he was living in Portland until 2003.

#26 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 03:35 PM:

Jo I read your comment, and went upstairs to get my copy of "Can You Feel Anything...". It fell open at this opening paragraph:

Papazian appeared, disguised as a human being. He checked quickly to make sure that his head was on right. "Nose and toes the same way goes," he reminded himself, and that was how it was.

How could anyone read that and NOT keep reading? It shimmers. His writing usually did.

#27 ::: Neil Rest ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 05:13 PM:

Before I embarrass myself with a turn on "All die. Oh, the embarrassment!" I want to be sure the story I recall *is* Sheckley, so I Google . . .

328 hits, including, near the top, Eric Raymond, David D. Levine, Ken MacLeod, the WSFA Journal; witty comments at Crooked Timber, Making Light (twice), Silicon Cerebrate, . . .

And that's just the tag line from one little short story . . .

I had to copy that URL.
Unfortunately I forgot to copy it.
All CLUG members who read my post laugh.
They laugh so hard they forget to
check their firewalls.
Their systems get infected
with the worlds greatest worm.
The worm uses the platforms to
launch a DDoS attack against
the Pentagon, Chinese and Russian military
computer systems.
In the confusion another
worm infects these systems.
The worm launches all nuclear missles.
All die.
Oh the embarrassment.

[LUNI] Question on Job hunting

#28 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 05:22 PM:

Right after college, friends of mine were subletting an apartment in Greenwich Village; they decided to throw a big party, and, to forestall noise complaints, invited the neighbors.

In walked Robert Sheckley, who at the time, was not only Robert Sheckley , but also fiction editor for Omni.

I'd been reading his stuff since I could read. (Come to think of it, he's one of the reasons why I persist to this day in reading short SF.) And my hosts - who knew him solely as their next door neighbor - were clueless.

I was too star-struck to make more than small talk, but I found him to be exactly as someone noted above: good and smart and funny. I only met him the once, but the world is a poorer place now that he's gone.

#29 ::: Pathman ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 07:27 PM:

I bloody well loved that man; Who's Left to tell us in no certain Way that our Universe were indeed Counterfeit, all our preconceptions were Wrong; and, We DO live whithin it, still.
We'll Cope with the resident Mess anyhow. And note, that his Death Makes US lesser!(We Cry!)
WE Live; but, As it is; Diminished!

Stig Carlsson, Sweden

#30 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 09:34 PM:

I am shamed. I inhereted quite a lot of paperbacks from someone, including some Robert Sheckley. In the twenty plus years I've had them, I've never read them. I will go do so immediately. All of them, to find other gems gone begging.

#31 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 10:41 PM:

As someone said uptopic: a very kind man in person; having first met him through his books, I was surprised at that. Then later, when I thought about it, I wasn't surprised at all. He'll be missed.

#32 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 07:58 AM:

Sorry, Neil, but "All die. O! The embarrassment!" is not from anything by Sheckley; it's from "A !Tangled Web", by Joe Haldeman. (I remember reading the story when it was first published in Analog.)

#33 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 11:18 AM:

Sheckley, Eugene McCarthy, and Richard Pryor. Ouch.

#34 ::: Gary Barnes ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 06:02 AM:

I didn't even know that he was sick !
RS was/is one of my favourite authors.
Mindswap is one my favourite books.
So Long Robert, you will be sadly missed.
Gary Barnes, Australia

#35 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 01:22 PM:

I didn't realize, until Neil Gaiman mentioned it, that Sheckley was the father of Alisa Kwitney. It's a small world.

#36 ::: Mike Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 09:34 PM:

We witness the transition of the poet of transition.
It has been a typically unsatisfactory day.

#37 ::: Donald Maass ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2005, 05:59 PM:

I had the privilege of serving as Bob's literary agent toward the end of his life. He was known for his humor, yet his story "Specialist" can still bring tears to my eyes. He was a kind man. I miss him.

#38 ::: Jason Donev ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:46 PM:

I've always said that Robert Scheckley was my favorite author, because he should be someone's favorite author. His work touched me, and moved me, and made me laugh.

I thought he would only stop with the insertion of a Laxian Key.


#39 ::: Martin Olson ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 03:37 AM:

The main thing about Bob. It was the laughs. How' could somebody with such a goony cartoony stutter be able to constantly blurt out such erudite philosophical paradoxical punchlines? I'm telling you, this guy was killer. An old witty, love-to-laugh mensch is what he was.

It was like this--if you were secretly on the same wavelength as Bob, you could meet for the first time, and in two minutes you'd be in a corner with him howling and screaming laughing. He was that funny, that ready to laugh. Like a giggly kid.

Mainly it was the late night writing sessions, binging in his ramshackle office in Portland on smokes, weed, beer and music. We co-wrote a movie of Dimension and a 300 page cyberpunk video game. The video game sold but was shelved. Dimension is still making the rounds, but Hitchhiker pretty much killed it.

The music. He adored The Doors and Mozart. He hated "breathless" romantic writing, disliked Beethoven yet he was nuts for Debussy. Nutty.

Then the concordance about books. Lots of book talk. He loved Rilke. We both had the same rare and obscure editions of Chuang Tzu and knew sections by heart. Which was weird. We both loved James Branch Cabell and Burroughs (Edgar). He blew my mind telling me Jurgen was the basis for Dimension of Miracles! And when I was furious about Douglas Adams, Sheckley didn't even want to go there. He was too broke and Adams was rolling in it and Sheckley didn't want bitterness anywhere in his system.

He was just a golden, Golden Guy.

We were friends because we were both a comedy writers. I was best man at his wedding to Gail, a perfect match, brilliant, beautiful and a peach. He loved her dearly, but felt unworthy. Typical Sheckley. He was always suspicious of happiness, it drove him nuts.

Another thing. He loved his friend Harlan Ellison. He admired him no end. But cringed at the intro Ellison wrote for one of the volumes of his Collected Works, the one in which Ellison enumerates and catalogues all of Sheckley's ex-wives. I thought it was hilarious albeit harsh. But I forgot that Sheckley was thinking of Gail reading it.

I'll end with the best thing this craggy Jewish leprechaun ever said to me. He said all of his stories started with the same premise: Sympathy With All Things. In a universe in which a god and an apple have the same signficance, no more, no less, the most terrifying monsters have their personal problems, and gods get self-absorbed and annoying just like the rest of us. Therefore there really are no monsters, no gods. We're all the same, stuffed in different sausage-casings, connecting when we have Sympathy with one another. Bob's simple message, packaged with paradox. Served with his delicious, ruthless wit. And always with a whimsical kindness and forgiveness for his characters, who were always in need of money, food and sex. Like the Man of a Thousand Disguises in Options, and the Gods in Dimension, they were all, blatantly, Himself.

Speaking of self-absorbed, sorry this is so long.

I'll close with a poem he read to me one night. It says it all about Sheckley.

My dear friend. Whom I wish was still alive and whom I miss so very much.

Please Call Me by My True Name

by Thich Nhat Hahn

Do not say that I will depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch
to be a tiny bird, with wings still so fragile
learning to sing in my new nest
to be a caterpillar in the heart of flower
to be a jewel hiding itself in stone

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear water of the pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who,
approaching in silence, feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the 12 year old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labour camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

#40 ::: gamma ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 06:05 PM:

only met him once - one of ours whatever they are it wasn/;'t one of those bastardz

#41 ::: Lawrence Zeilinger ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 09:46 PM:

Sheckley's "Mindswap" was my first regular selection from the SF Book Club when I was nine years old. I remember later reading "The Running Man" by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)and feeling an oddly discomforting sense of familiarity, but could not place it. After the story broke, I realized that I had read Sheckley's story "The Price of Peril" many years before.

#42 ::: myron ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2006, 05:37 AM:

Its been almost 10 months, and I just found out Robert Sheckley died. He lived in the same building in Portland as my brother, and we met several times over glasses of wine. One of our favorite games was to create verbal sci-fi stories, swapping off the evolving plot lines, carrying them over to our next gathering. We had a long one going called 'Time Dam', where future engineers built a dam to make a reservoir of time, allowing a measured amount to escape. The flow of time would follow the path of time-gravity (like water), affecting reality as it went along. Floods caused big effects, droughts caused long periods of stagnation. We finished our story while I drove him to the airport one time. I can't remember the details, but it got quirky and we were laughing our assess off, howling at the absurdity, driving in dark through the Oregon rain.

Thanks, Bob, for everything...

#43 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 10:49 PM:

Spam from

#44 ::: Xopher sees more of this stupid random spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2008, 10:58 PM:

Third one I've seen today.

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