Robert Sheckley

Robert Sheckley (July 17, 1928 – December 9, 2005)[1] was an American writer. First published in the science-fiction magazines of the 1950s, his numerous quick-witted stories and novels were famously unpredictable, absurdist, and broadly comical.

Nominated for Hugo and Nebula awards, Sheckley was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2001.

Robert Sheckley
Sheckley in the mid-1990s
Sheckley in the mid-1990s
BornJuly 17, 1928
New York City
DiedDecember 9, 2005 (aged 77)
Poughkeepsie, New York
GenreScience fiction
Imagination 195205
Sheckley's first story, "Final Examination", was published in the May 1952 issue of Imagination


Sheckley was born to an assimilated Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. In 1931 the family moved to Maplewood, New Jersey. Sheckley attended Columbia High School, where he discovered science fiction. He graduated in 1946[2] and hitchhiked to California the same year, where he tried numerous jobs: landscape gardener, pretzel salesman, barman, milkman, warehouseman, and general laborer "board man" in a hand-painted necktie studio. Finally, still in 1946, he joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Korea.[3] During his time in the army he served as a guard, an army newspaper editor, a payroll clerk, and guitarist in an army band. He left the service in 1948.[4]

Sheckley graduated from New York University in 1951. The same year he married, for the first time, to Barbara Scadron. The couple had one son, Jason. Sheckley worked in an aircraft factory and as an assistant metallurgist for a short time, but his breakthrough came quickly: in late 1951 he sold his first story, Final Examination, to Imagination magazine. He quickly gained prominence as a writer, publishing stories in Imagination, Galaxy, and other science fiction magazines. The 1950s saw the publication of Sheckley's first four books: short story collections Untouched by Human Hands (Ballantine, 1954), Citizen in Space (1955), and Pilgrimage to Earth (Bantam, 1957), and a novel, Immortality, Inc. (first published as a serial in Galaxy, 1958).

Sheckley and Scadron divorced in 1956. The writer married journalist Ziva Kwitney in 1957. The newly married couple lived in Greenwich Village. Their daughter, Alisa Kwitney, born in 1964, would herself become a successful writer. Applauded by critic Kingsley Amis, Sheckley was now selling many of his deft, satiric stories to mainstream magazines such as Playboy. In addition to his science fiction stories, in the 1960s Sheckley started writing suspense fiction. More short story collections and novels appeared in the 1960s, and a film adaptation of an early story by Sheckley, The 10th Victim, was released in 1965.

Sheckley spent much of 1970s living on Ibiza. He and Kwitney divorced in 1972 and the same year Sheckley married Abby Schulman, whom he had met in Ibiza. The couple had two children, Anya and Jed. The couple separated while living in London. In 1980, the writer returned to the United States and became fiction editor of the newly established OMNI magazine.[5] Sheckley left OMNI in 1981 with his fourth wife, writer Jay Rothbell: they subsequently traveled widely in Europe, finally ending up in Portland, Oregon, where they separated. He married Gail Dana of Portland in 1990. Sheckley continued publishing further science fiction and espionage or mystery stories, and collaborated with other writers such as Roger Zelazny and Harry Harrison.

During an April 2005 visit to Ukraine for the Ukrainian Sci-Fi Computer Week, an international event for science fiction writers, Sheckley fell ill and had to be hospitalized in Kiev.[6] His condition was very serious for a week, but he appeared to be slowly recovering. Sheckley's official website ran a fundraising campaign to help cover his treatment and his return to the United States. He settled in Red Hook, in northern Dutchess County, New York, to be near his daughters Anya and Alisa. On November 20 he had surgery for a brain aneurysm; he died in a Poughkeepsie hospital on December 9, 2005.


Sheckley was a prolific and versatile writer. His works include not only original short stories and novels, but also TV series episodes (Captain Video and His Video Rangers), novelizations of works by others (Babylon 5: A Call to Arms, after the film,[7][8]), stories in shared universes such as Heroes in Hell, and collaborations with other writers. He was best known for his several hundreds of short stories,[3] which he published in book form as well as individually. Typical Sheckley stories include "Bad Medicine" (in which a man is mistakenly treated by a psychotherapy machine intended for Martians), "Protection" (whose protagonist is warned of deadly danger unless he avoids the common activity of "lesnerizing", a word whose meaning is not explained), and "The Accountant" (in which a family of wizards learns that their son has been taken from them by a more sinister trade—accountancy). In many stories Sheckley speculates about alternative (and usually sinister) social orders, of which a good example is the story "A Ticket to Tranai" (which tells of a sort of Utopia designed for human nature as it actually is, which turns out to have terrible drawbacks).

Sheckley's early stories include the far future AAA Ace detective agency series. In these tales, the two partners face unusual problems often related to human incompetence or laziness.[9]

In the 1990s, Sheckley wrote a series of three mystery novels featuring detective Hob Draconian, as well as novels set in the worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Alien. Before his death Sheckley had been commissioned to write an original novel based on the TV series The Prisoner for Powys Media, but died before completing the manuscript.

His novel Dimension of Miracles is often cited as an influence on Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, although in an interview for Neil Gaiman's book Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion, Adams said he had not read it until after writing the Guide.[10]

Film, TV and radio adaptations

One of Sheckley's early works, the 1953 Galaxy short story "Seventh Victim", was the basis for the film The 10th Victim, also known by the original Italian title La decima vittima.[1] The film starred Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. A novelization of the film, also written by Sheckley, was published in 1966. The satirical premise is that in the future killings are legal and televised, and that potential victims or hunters can get corporate sponsors and extra perks to assist them in succeeding as a professional, corporate-sponsored, celebrity killer.

Sheckley's novel Immortality, Inc.—about a world in which the afterlife could be obtained via a scientific process—was very loosely adapted into a film, the 1992 Freejack, starring Mick Jagger, Emilio Estevez, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins. It was also adapted into the first episode of the third season of the British BBC series Out of the Unknown. This episode is lost due to the then common practice of wiping the shows after broadcast.

The 1954 story "Ghost V" and the 1955 story "The Lifeboat Mutiny" were adapted into two episodes of the USSR science fiction TV series This Fantastic World.[11] "Ghost V" was staged also by Estonian TV channel ETV in 1997.[12]

The 1958 short story "The Prize of Peril" was adapted in 1970 as the German TV movie Das Millionenspiel,[13] and again in 1983 as the French movie Le Prix du Danger. Written about a man who goes on a TV show in which he must evade people out to kill him for a week in order to win a large cash prize, it is perhaps the first-ever published work predicting the advent of reality television. There are many similarities between Sheckley's story and Stephen King's novel The Running Man, published later in 1982, of which a film adaptation was later made.

"The Game of X" (1965) was loosely adapted as the 1981 Disney film, Condorman.[14]

The short story "Watchbird" was adapted for the short-lived TV series Masters of Science Fiction. It did not initially air in the US, but on February 12, 2012, the Science Channel began airing the episodes, under the title Stephen Hawking's Sci-Fi Masters, beginning with the first domestic airing of the episode "Watchbirds".[15] It was included on the DVD set for the series.

The 1958 short story "The Store of the Worlds" from the collection "The Store of Infinity" was adapted to a short film titled "The Escape" by the Oscar®-winning filmmaker Paul Franklin, starring Julian Sands, Art Malik, Olivia Williams and Ben Miller. The film had its premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

A number of Sheckley's works, both as Sheckley and as Finn O'Donnevan, were also adapted for the radio show X Minus One in the late 1950s, including the above-mentioned "Seventh Victim", "Bad Medicine", and "Protection". The radio show Tales of Tomorrow also in the late 1950s did a version of "Watchbird" and South Africa radio did their version of "Watchbird" on the series SF68.


Science fiction and fantasy


Galaxy 195810
Sheckley's novel Immortality, Inc. was serialized in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1958 as "Time Killer"
  • Immortality, Inc. as Immortality Delivered Avalon (1958), Bantam A1991 (1959), Gollancz (1963), Penguin (1978), Ace (1978), Tor (1991)
  • The Man in the Water Regency (1961)
  • Dimension of Miracles Dell (1968), Gollancz (1969), Mayflower (1971), Panther (1977), Ace (1979) Open Road Media (2014)
  • The Status Civilization, serialized as Omega. Signet S1840 (1960), Gollancz (1976), Ace (1979), Penguin (1979), Wildside (2007)
  • Journey Beyond Tomorrow, serialized as Journey of Joenes (1963). Signet D2223 (1963), Corgi (1966), Dell 4268 (1969). as Journey of Joenes Sphere (1978), Ace (1979)
  • The 10th Victim (novel) Ballantine U5050 (1965), Mayflower-Dell 8604 (1966), Ace (1979), Signet (1987), Methuen (1987)
  • Mindswap’’ [16] (featured as complete short novel in Galaxy magazine June 1965) Delacorte (1966), Dell 5643 (1967), Mayflower-Dell (1968), Pan (1973), Ace (1978), Grafton (1986)
  • Options Pyramid (1975), Pan (1977), Grafton (1986)
  • The Alchemical Marriage of Alistair Crompton, Michael Joseph (1978), Sphere (1979), also known as Crompton Divided Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1978), Bantam (1979)
  • Dramocles Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1983), New English Library (1984)
  • Pop Death (1986)
  • Victim Prime Signet (1987)
  • Hunter / Victim Signet (1988)
  • On The Planet of Bottled Brains (with Harry Harrison, 1990)
  • Minotaur Maze (short novel, 1990)
  • Xolotl (short, 1991)
  • Alien Starswarm (short, 1991)
  • Millennial Contest series (with Roger Zelazny):
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Laertian Gamble (1995)
  • Aliens: Alien Harvest (1995)
  • Godshome Tor (1999)
  • Babylon 5: A Call to Arms (1999)
  • The Grand-Guignol of the Surrealists (2000)[17]
  • Dimension of Miracles Revisited (2000; self-published in English; published in France by Rivière Blanche, translated by Jean-Marc Lofficier)[18]

Short story collections

Short story compilations

  • The Wonderful World of Robert Sheckley Bantam (1979), Sphere (1980)
  • The Sheckley Omnibus (1979)
  • Is THAT What People Do? Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1984; 23 previously published stories and 16 new)
  • The Collected Short Fiction of Robert Sheckley Pulphouse (1991; 5 volumes, vol. 5 includes new material)
  • The Masque of Mañana NESFA (2005)
  • Store of the Worlds NYRB (2012)

Mystery and espionage

  • The Game of X Delacorte (1965) Dell 288 (1966). It was loosely adapted as the 1981 Disney film, Condorman: Sheckley also wrote the novelization of this film.
  • Stephen Dain series:
    • Calibre .50 Bantam A2216 (1961)
    • Dead Run Bantam A2240 (1961)
    • Live Gold Bantam J2401 (1962)
    • White Death Bantam J2685 (1963)
    • Time Limit Bantam F3381 (1967)
  • Hob Draconian series:
    • The Alternative Detective Tor (1993)
    • Draconian New York Tor (1996)
    • Soma Blues Tor (1997)

Other works

  • The Man in the Water Regency 112 (1962)

Books as editor

  • After the Fall (1980)


  • ?Futuropolis: Impossible Cities of Science Fiction and Fantasy? (1978, A&W Visual Library)
  • "On Working Method" (1978, Vector 1978/9. Revised version published later as "How Pro Writers Really Write — Or Try To")
  • "How Pro Writers Really Write — Or Try To" (1982, Is THAT What People Do?)
  • "Immortality and Car Chases" (1992, Dark Side 1992/7)
  • "Memories of the Fifties" (1992, New York Review of SF 1992/8)
  • "Journal of Robert Sheckley" (1998, Galaxy eZine (Internet))
  • "Philosophy & Science Fiction" (1999, Greenwich Village Gazette (Internet))
  • "My Life in Oregon" (2000, Greenwich Village Gazette (Internet))
  • "The World Out There: Muslim" (2001, BIGNews (also on Internet) 2001/12)
  • "The World Out There: An Afghanistan Frame of Mind" (2002, BIGNews (also on Internet) 2001/1)
  • "The World Out There: Rain, Melancholy, Travel" (2002, BIGNews (also on Internet) 2001/2)
  • "On Lying" (2003, BIGNews (also on Internet) 2003/4)
  • "The New Interactive Diary" (2003, BIGNews (also on Internet) 2003/10)


  1. ^ a b Priest, Christopher (20 December 2005). "Robert Sheckley". Retrieved 1 November 2016 – via The Guardian.
  2. ^ Maxine N. Lurie, Marc Mappen. Encyclopedia of New Jersey, p. 736. Rutgers University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8135-3325-4
  3. ^ a b Jonas, Gerald. "Robert Sheckley, 77, Writer of Satirical Science Fiction, Is Dead", The New York Times, December 10, 2005. Accessed November 20, 2007.
  4. ^ Robert Sheckley. Untouched by Human Hands, p. 170. First edition, paperback. Ballantine Books 73, 1954.
  5. ^ Priest, Christopher. Obituary: Robert Sheckley.
  6. ^ "Sci-Fi Writer Robert Sheckley on Artificial Respiration in Ukrainian …". 24 March 2006. Archived from the original on 24 March 2006. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  7. ^ "A Call to Arms (Babylon 5)". Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  8. ^ "A Call to Arms (Babylon 5) by Robert Sheckley". Retrieved 21 April 2018.
  9. ^ "Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Experience: Robert Sheckley". Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  10. ^ Video Interview with Neil Gaiman at Google campus on YouTube. Gaiman testifies to Adams' claim in a question about Sheckley, beginning 31:58. Retrieved April 15, 2009
  11. ^ State Fund of Television and Radio Programs (in Russian)
  12. ^ ERR. "Üksikud saated - ERR - Digihoidla". Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  13. ^ "Das Millionenspiel". 18 October 1970. Retrieved 1 November 2016 – via IMDb.
  14. ^ 'CONDORMAN', ESPIONAGE SPOOF, in the New York Times, published August 31, 1981; retrieved March 21, 2018
  15. ^ "Stephen Hawking's Sci Fi Masters". Science Channel.
  16. ^ "Galaxy v23n05 (1965 06)". Retrieved 22 July 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  17. ^ Not published in English. Published in Italian under the title "Computer Grand-Guignol" by Arnoldo Mondadori ed, Milano.
  18. ^ Zinos-Amaro, Alvaro. The When, Where, and Which of Robert Sheckley's Dimension of Miracles and its Sequel. The Internet Review of Science Fiction, October 2008. Available online.

External links

Alisa Kwitney

Alisa Kwitney is a writer of comedic romance novels and graphic novels.

Citizen in Space

Citizen in Space is a collection of science fiction short stories by American writers Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1955 by Ballantine Books (catalogue number 126).

Dimension of Miracles

Dimension of Miracles is a 1968 satirical science-fiction novel, with elements of absurdism, by American writer Robert Sheckley.

The novel concerns the odyssey of Tom Carmody, a New Yorker who wins a prize in the Intergalactic Sweepstakes.


Freejack is a 1992 science fiction action film directed by Geoff Murphy, starring Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins. Upon its release in the United States, the film received mostly negative reviews. The screenplay was cowritten by Ronald Shusett.

Immortality, Inc.

Immortality, Inc. is a 1959 science fiction novel by American writer Robert Sheckley, about a fictional process whereby a human's consciousness may be transferred into a brain-dead body. A striking concept in the novel is its description of random killings of strangers by people who intend to die. The serialised form (published under the title Time Killer in the magazine Galaxy Science Fiction) was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel.The story was loosely adapted into the 1992 film Freejack. A famous scene from the novel involving a character lost in a future New York City and mistakenly getting in line for a suicide booth was parodied in the pilot episode of Futurama.

Journey Beyond Tomorrow

Journey Beyond Tomorrow, reprinted with the title Journey of Joenes, is a 1962 science fiction/satire novel by American writer Robert Sheckley, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in two parts October and November 1962, and the following month by Signet Books.Sphere science fiction London 1962 published the first full edition of the novel.

Le prix du danger

Le Prix du Danger (The Prize of Peril) is a 1983 French-Yugoslav science fiction movie, directed by Yves Boisset. It is based on Robert Sheckley's short story "The Prize of Peril", published in 1958.

Pilgrimage to Earth

Pilgrimage to Earth is a collection of science fiction short stories by Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1957 by Bantam Books (catalogue number 1672). It includes the following stories (magazines in which the stories originally appeared given in parentheses):

"Pilgrimage to Earth" (Playboy 1956/9; also known as "Love, Incorporated")

"All the Things You Are" (Galaxy 1956/7)

"Trap" (Galaxy 1956/2)

"The Body" (Galaxy 1956/1)

"Early Model" (Galaxy 1956/8)

"Disposal Service" (Bluebook 1955/1)

"Human Man's Burden" (Galaxy 1956/9)

"Fear in the Night" (Today's Woman 1952)

"Bad Medicine" (Galaxy 1956/7)

"Protection" (Galaxy 1956/4)

"Earth, Air, Fire and Water" (Astounding 1955/7)

"Deadhead" (Galaxy 1955/7)

"The Academy" (If 1954/8)

"Milk Run" (Galaxy 1954/9)

"The Lifeboat Mutiny" (Galaxy 1955/4)

Robert Sheckley short stories bibliography

This article presents an incomplete list of short stories by Robert Sheckley, arranged alphabetically by title.

Seventh Victim

"Seventh Victim" is a science fiction short story by American writer Robert Sheckley, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1953. In 1957 it was adapted for NBC's X Minus One radio play as "The Seventh Victim." It was heavily revised for the 1965 Italian movie The 10th Victim. Sheckley published a novelization of the film under that title the next year, and later followed with two sequels, 1987's Victim Prime and 1988's Hunter/Victim.

The story concerns a future society that has eliminated major warfare by allowing members of society who are inclined to violence to join The Big Hunt, a human hunting game. This eliminates the approximately one quarter of the population that would otherwise be a danger. The story follows an experienced hunter who is excited to receive his latest mission, but is faced with the concern that something is seriously wrong with the assignment.

Shards of Space

Shards of Space is a collection of science fiction short stories by American writer Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1962 by Bantam Books.

Specialist (short story)

"Specialist" is a science fiction short story by American writer Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1953 and has appeared in various collections, including Untouched by Human Hands (1954) and The Golden Age of Science Fiction, edited by Kingsley Amis in 1981.

Store of Infinity

Store of Infinity is a collection of science fiction short stories by Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1960 by Bantam Books. It includes the following stories:

"The Prize of Peril"

"The Humours" (first published as "Join Now" by Finn O'Donnevan)


"The Minimum Man"

"If the Red Slayer"

"The Store of the Worlds" (also known as "World of Heart's Desire")

"The Gun Without a Bang"

"The Deaths of Ben Baxter"

The People Trap

The People Trap (full title The People Trap and other Pitfalls, Snares, Devices and Delusions, as Well as Two Sniggles and a Contrivance) is a collection of science fiction short stories by American writer Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1968 by Dell.

The Robot Who Looked Like Me

The Robot Who Looked Like Me is a collection of science fiction short stories by Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1978 by Sphere Books. As with much of Sheckley's work in general, many of the stories are satirical and express the writer's criticism of modern American society.

It includes the following stories (magazines in which the stories originally appeared given in parentheses):

"The Robot Who Looked Like Me" (Cosmopolitan, 1973) A man builds a robot version of himself to free-up extra spare time.

"Slaves of Time" (Nova 4, 1974)

"Voices" (Playboy, Oct 1973)

"A Supplicant in Space" (Galaxy, Nov 1973, as "A Suppliant in Space".)

"Zirn Left Unguarded, The Jenghik Palace in Flames, Jon Westerly Dead" (Nova 2, 1972) A status report from a military outpost in space.

"Sneak Previews" (Penthouse, Aug 1977)

"Welcome to the Standard Nightmare" (Nova 3, 1973)

"End City" (Galaxy, May 1974, with a different ending.)

"The Never-Ending Western Movie" (Science Fiction Discoveries, 1976) A day in the life of a television star who has been featured in a western for the last 20+ years.

"What is Life?" (Playboy, Dec 1976) A traveler in Nepal is asked the title question by a Voice from the mountain

"I See a Man Sitting on a Chair, and the Chair is Biting His Leg" (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan 1968; co-authored with Harlan Ellison, although Ellison is not credited in the book edition) Concerns a man who is chased through a futuristic Las Vegas-like city by inordinate objects with an unnatural affection for him.

"Is That What People Do?" (Anticipations, 1978) A man finds a pair of binoculars and uses them to observe people in nearby highrise buildings.

"Silversmith Wishes" (Playboy, May 1977)

The Status Civilization

The Status Civilization is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert Sheckley, first published in 1960.

The Status Civilization concerns Will Barrent, a man who finds himself, without memory of any crime or, indeed, of his previous life, being shipped across space to the planet Omega.

Omega, used to imprison extreme offenders, has a hierarchical society of extreme brutality, where the only way to advance (and avoid dying) is to commit an endless series of crimes. The average life expectancy from time of arrival on Omega is three years. The story concerns Barrent's attempt to survive, escape, and return to Earth to clear himself of the accusations against him.

Uncanny Tales (short story collection)

Uncanny Tales is a collection of science fiction short stories by Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 2003 and includes an introduction and the following stories:

"A Trick Worth Two of That" (2001)

"The Mind-Slaves of Manitori" (1989)

"Pandora's Box—Open with Care" (2000)

"The Dream of Misunderstanding" (2002)

"Magic, Maples, and Maryanne" (2000)

"The New Horla" (2000)

"The City of the Dead" (1994)

"The Quijote Robot" (2001)

"Emissary from a Green and Yellow World" (1998)

"The Universal Karmic Clearing House" (1986)

"Deep Blue Sleep" (1999)

"The Day the Aliens Came" (1995)

"Dukakis and the Aliens" (1992)

"Mirror Games" (2001)

"Sightseeing, 2179" (2002)

"Agamemnon's Run" (2002)

Untouched by Human Hands

Untouched by Human Hands is a collection of science fiction short stories by American writer Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1954 by Ballantine Books (catalogue number 73).

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