author, specialising in satire, spoofs and paradoxes, highly imaginative
and, in rare moments of non-frivolity, surprisingly dark
He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1921, did a spell in Korea and started writing professionally soon after he graduated, having entered university on his return from service.
His early short fiction inhabited the 'golden age' in scifi publishing, appearing during the mid-late 50s in pulp magazines like If, Galaxy and Thrilling Wonder Stories.
The Lifeboat Mutiny (1955) is a typical early work: two planetary developers acquire a cheap lifeboat from a shady dealer, for use on a planet with only one tiny piece of land. Foolishly attempting some ad-hoc repairs, they find the lifeboat, when fully activated, is a war model with a strong sense of duty, created by an ancient and extinct race.
"Yeah, feed us," Gregor demanded.
"Of course," the lifeboat said. A tray slid out of the wall. It was heaped high with something that looked like clay, but smelled like machine oil.
"What's that supposed to be?" Gregor asked.
"That is geezel," the lifeboat said. "It is the staple diet of the Drome peoples. I can prepare it in sixteen different ways."
Gregor cautiously sampled it. It tasted just like clay coated with machine oil.
"I won a nationwide contest in geezel preparation," the lifeboat esped, with pardonable pride. "Nothing is too good for our boys in uniform. Do try a little."
It will not take orders from them, and they battle desperately to avoid their own extinction as the boat insists on 'improving' their conditions.
Of the longer works, my favourites are Mindswap and Journey Beyond Tomorrow. The former (1966) is an inspired, playful romp through a crazed and surreal galaxy where ganzer eggs smoothtalk you out of harvesting them, sages must speak in rhyme to fend off predators, and in which you will inevitably succumb to metaphoric deformation syndrome, mistaking your alien surroundings for genre novels, giant beetles for friendly Mexican bandits, and so on.
In the unfortunately titled Journey Beyond Tomorrow, Sheckley creates a charming post-armageddon mythos, a hazy view of the glories and mysteries of 20th Century civilisation, seen at a fabular distance through the dim but rosy lenses of the only survivors - inhabitants of a few small islands in the middle of the Pacific - in their folktales of the journeys of legendary hero Jones in America.
Quotes on Robert Sheckley
"Sheckley at his best is Voltaire-and-soda."
Quotes from Robert Sheckley1
-- Brian W. Aldiss
"One of the few acknowledged humorists in SF, and by far the funniest, Sheckley plays with myths the way Mel Brooks plays with classic movies."
-- New York Times Book Review
"Robert Sheckley is one of the great funny writers."
-- Douglas Adams
"I wrote what came to me - humor and paradox, and satire, the three horsemen of my own apocalypse."
(On the difference between Sheckley and Douglas Adams
"Doug Adams makes a lot more out of his books than I do out of mine. That's the main difference between us. He's bigger than I am. That might account for some of the difference."
"I found that travelling around the world was a great substitute for writing."
(On the inevitable comparisons to Franz Kafka
, James Joyce
, Philip K. Dick
"I like and tend to believe any reviewer who compares me to anyone famous and dead."
(Who are his favourite authors?)
"Most of my favorite authors are dead: Italo Calvino, Henry Kuttner, John Collier, Ted Sturgeon, Edgar Rice Burroughs come to mind. The other favorite authors of mine haven't started publishing yet."
(What is his best question?)
"My best question was, 'Why is there purple?' Another good one is, 'Why do you feel this compulsion to ask questions?'"
("Why are there different places?")
"I'm glad you asked me that. Excuse me while I chew open this vein."
(crime - Hob Draconian)
- Restricted Area, June-July, 1953.
- Beside Still Waters, October-November, 1953.
- The Perfect Woman, December, 1953/January, 1954.
- If the Red Slayer, July, 1959.
- Omega, August-September, 1960.
- Restricted Area, December, 1965. (reprint)
Astounding Science Fiction
- The Altar, July-August, 1953.
- Wild Talents, Inc., September-October, 1953.
- The Hungry, June, 1954.
- Wild Talents, Inc, November, 1965. (reprint)
- The Covenant, July, 1960. ( w/ Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Murray Leinster )
- Conquerors' Planet, October, 1954.
- Minority Group, November, 1954.
- The Fortunate Person, February, 1955.
- The Deep Hole to China, June, 1955.
- The Skag Castle, March, 1956.
- The Machine, July, 1957.
F & SF
- The Monsters, #22, March, 1953.
- The King's Wishes, #26, July, 1953.
- The Accountant, #38, July, 1954.
- The Slow Season, #41, October, 1954.
- Starting from Scratch, November, 1970.
- Emissary from a Green and Yellow World, #567, October-November, 1998.
- Deep Blue Sleep, #574, June, 1999.
- Kenny, #578, October-November, 1999.
- The New Horla, #586, July, 2000.
- Pandora's Box - Open with Care, #588, September, 2000.
- Magic, Maples, and Maryanne, #589, October-November, 2000.
- A Trick Worth Two of That, #595, May, 2001.
- Proof of the Pudding, August, 1952.
- Warrior Race, November, 1952.
- Cost of Living, December, 1952.
- Watchbird, February, 1953.
- Seventh Victim, April, 1953. Cinema: The Tenth Victim
- Specialist, May, 1953.
- Warm, June, 1953.
- Diplomatic Immunity, August, 1953.
- Keep Your Shape, November, 1953.
- One Man's Poison, December, 1953. (aka Untouched by Human Hands)
- Hands Off, April, 1954.
- Something for Nothing, June, 1954.
- A Thief in Time, July, 1954.
- Milk Run, September, 1954.
- Ghost V, October, 1954.
- The Laxian Key, November, 1954.
- Skulking Permit, December, 1954.
- Squirrel Cage, January, 1955.
- The Lifeboat Mutiny, April, 1955.
- The Necessary Thing, June, 1955.
- Deadhead, July, 1955.
- Hunting Problem, September, 1955.
- A Ticket to Tranai, October, 1955.
- Warrior's Return, November, 1955.
- The Body, January, 1956.
- Protection, April, 1956.
- All the Things You Are, July, 1956.
- Early Model, August, 1956.
- Human Man's Burden, September, 1956.
- The Native Problem, December, 1956.
- The Martyr, February, 1957.
- Victim from Space, April, 1957.
- Visitors from Space, April, 1957.
- The Language of Love, May, 1957.
- The Deaths of Ben Baxter, July, 1957.
- Double indemnity, October, 1957.
- Morning After, November, 1957.
- The Minimum Man, June, 1958.
- Time Killer (Part I), October, 1958.
- Time Killer (Part II), November, 1958.
- Time Killer (Part III), December, 1958.
- Time Killer (Conclusion), February, 1959.
- Prospector's Special, December, 1959.
- Meeting of the Minds, February, 1960.
- Mindswap, June, 1965.
- Shall We Have a Little Talk? October, 1965. (novelette)
- Street of Dreams, Feet of Clay, February, 1968.
- Down the Digestive Tract, February, 1971.
- A Suppliant in Space, November, 1973. (novelette)
- End City, May, 1974.
- Syncope and Fugue, July, 1975.
- The Leech, December, 1952. (as Phillips Barbee)
- Death Wish, June, 1956. (as Ned Lang)
- Forever, February, 1959. (as Ned Lang)
- Subsistence Level, August, 1954. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
- Uncle Tom's Planet, December, 1954. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
- Trap, February, 1956. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
- Bad Medicine, July, 1956. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
- A Wind Is Rising, July, 1957. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
- Gray Flannel Armor, November, 1957. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
- The Gun Without a Bang, June, 1958. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
- Join Now, December, 1958. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
- The Sweeper of the Lorcey, April, 1959. (as Finn O'Donnevan)
Thrilling Wonder Stories
1. From an interview available online at
Other information from
and Mr Sheckley's own site at