Potlatch 19: March 5-7, 2010

Book of Honor

Dimensions of Sheckley: The Selected Novels of Robert Sheckley
essay by Patty Wells

As is traditional for Potlatch, we have chosen a book of honor. Here we've cheated and chosen a wonderful NESFA Press collection: Dimensions of Sheckley: The Selected Novels of Robert Sheckley, edited by Sharon L. Sbarsky and Mike Resnick. It allows us to slip in a lot of Sheckley and recognize how much we admire NESFA Press at the same time. Sheckley was a Portland resident for many of the last years of his life, and one of our finest.

When the concept of book or author of honor came up, Sheckley was my suggestion. When I was an impressionable young reader, out in the middle of nowhere, I started with Andre Norton, and moved on to the big three: Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein. It was marvelous stuff, but I feel like I didn't get my mind completely bent until I found Sheckley. He was delightfully subversive and funny.

The hardest question I was asked was which of the short novels in the book to read, if you don't have time to read them all. To get very cliché, it is like asking me to name my favorite child. However, I would say that reading "Immortality Inc." and "Mindswap" would give a good view of the sorts of themes found in his work.

Dimensions of Sheckley is in print and should be generally available. But if you don't have a copy, you'll be pleased to know that NESFA Press is offering Potlatch members a 20% discount on both Dimensions of Sheckley: The Selected Novels of Robert Sheckley, our Book of Honor, and its companion volume The Masque of Mañana (the short story collection published for Interaction). To buy one or both volumes at the special discounted price, go to http://www.nesfa.org/press/potlatch/.

If you would like to read more about Sheckley and his body of work, the ISFDB offers a summary bibliography, and this site contains something I found nowhere else, a link to music inspired by Sheckley.

Alright, now that you have the reading resources, here are some of the topics that will be discussed. Obviously, not everything is taken from the book of honor, some topics bring in the strengths of Sheckley's writing (yeah, we know this is easy, he had many strengths).

  • General themes in Sheckley's work
  • Environmental catastrophes
  • What makes fiction dated, vs. timeless?
  • Cultural misunderstandings -- a theme of Sheckley's that is obviously exceptionally timely today -- how cultural misunderstandings in current events relate to science fiction
  • Effective subversive fiction
  • What is the impact of Internet communication technologies: (email, blogs, IM, video chat) on the content and intensity of what is communicated? Living one's life in an LJ fishbowl -- soldiers in Iraq who still have to cope with their children's squabbles
  • History of the decline of civilization and the end of the world: people have been predicting the decline of civlization since the invention of the wheel
  • Ethics -- another theme of Sheckley's -- looking at all sides of a situation-- how do you determine what is the right thing to do in a new situation?