Robert Sheckley was the master of dark and fun science fiction

Robert Sheckley, author of classic stories such as “Is That What People Do?” and “Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?”, was one of the best science fiction writers of the 1950s. Tom manages corresponded regularly with Sheckley for nearly a decade.

“He was so open to talking to me, to that person who just loved him, and to answering my questions about the writing and his work,” Gerencer said in episode 475 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast. “He was just an amazing man, amazing talent, but also an incredibly kind and gracious person.”

Sheckley’s biting cynicism helped pave the way for writers such as Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and JG Ballard, and his novels. Dimension of miracles and The price of peril genre classics prefigured such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The running man.

“A lot of his ideas are so premonitory,” Gerencer says. “He would just extrapolate, basically look at the issues and say, ‘Well, if it continues in that direction, 50 years from now it will be like that. “And you look at it and you say, ‘Yeah, we’ve come close now. It’s worse like that now. So I think they’re classics in that sense.

Sheckley is often remembered as a writer whose talents have declined over the years, but Gerencer believes reality is more complicated and that Sheckley never really lost his talent for funny sci-fi. “I don’t think he couldn’t do this stuff later, I just think it was that he didn’t want to,” Gerencer says. “He found that kind of frivolity, and he wanted to write about things that mattered to a man over 70, which aren’t the same things that mattered to a 20 or 30 year old man, and these things, sadly, these aren’t the things a science fiction readership will care about as much.

Sheckley’s work has undergone a minor revival in recent years. Many of his best stories are collected in the 2012 book Worlds Store, edited by Jonathan Lethem and Alex Abramovich, and a audiobook version of Dimension of miracles was released in 2013, read by John Hodgman. Gerencer says Sheckley was an always inventive writer, and everything he wrote is worth reading.

“I read somewhere that he wrote over 400 stories, and I feel like I read maybe 150 and liked them,” Gerencer says. “And I’m like ‘Wow, are there 250 more in there?’ I would love to discover others.

Listen to the full interview with Tom Gerencer in episode 475 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Tom Gerencer on Robert Sheckley’s discovery:

“When I became a fan of Douglas Adams, I read excerpts from interviews with him; I think it was in Neil Gaiman’s book Do not panic, which contains interviews with Douglas Adams. But in there, he’s asking Douglas Adams about Robert Sheckley – this controversy over ‘people say you copied Robert Sheckley’, and Douglas Adams is like, ‘Well, I never read his stuff, but when I did that, I was like, “Wow, that’s really similar to my stuff.” ‘And so I was like,’ Oh, really similar to Douglas Adams? Let’s take a look. ‘ I used to go to old bookstores all the time, and I just looked in the sci-fi section, and found a collection of Robert Sheckley short stories and I loved it, and I always been looking for more ever since.

Tom Gerencer on his correspondence with Robert Sheckley:

“In 1998, I was like, ‘I’m going to see if this guy is still here. Because I know his stories were written in the 50’s and 60’s, but I want to see if he’s still around. So I googled “Robert Sheckley email address” and an email address popped up – an address – so I emailed him. … I struck up a conversation with him that went on for years, and I asked him, “Hey, can we ever collaborate on a short story?” And he said, yes, he would be happy to do that. And he’s grown and grown and grown. We went back and forth with notes, and it became a novel, and at one point it got a little overwhelming for both of us. I don’t know if I was a good enough writer, and I also think he had a crisis of self-confidence, where he thought, “I don’t know if I can make this work. . We kind of broke away from that, and tragically, I think it was in 2005, he passed away. It was very sad. “

Tom Gerencer on Robert Sheckley’s reputation:

“In other countries – in Russia, in Italy, all over Europe, in China, all over the world, outside the United States – he was undergoing this renaissance of his work, which I think is now beginning to take hold. happen here, maybe. I’m starting to feel like that, and more power for him – if anyone deserves it, it’s him. He’s just brilliant. But at the time, he said to me: ‘I’m going to Venice. It’s a vacation, but I’ll talk about my stories. I am interviewed by this person in Italy, I am traveling to Russia for a book tour. … And he loved it, you know, I think he ate it. He was just like, ‘This is so sweet. I didn’t expect this to happen, but it’s fun. It was happening to him, and I was really happy that it was happening.

Tom Gerencer on writers and alcohol:

“I don’t know where this stereotype came from, but it’s so unfortunate, because it’s not true that you have to feel pain before you can write. Don’t worry, life will hurt you a lot, you don’t have to go out and look for it through a bottle. But I thought that when I was a kid. I remember buying bottles of scotch and thinking to myself, “I’m a writer. I must have a bottle of scotch in my apartment. And then thank goodness I stopped and walked away from that. And now that I’m older and know successful writers, they don’t do that anymore.… It’s the ones who are disciplined and understand that this stereotype is just a stereotype, who I think really end up doing it. do it.

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