Robert Sheckley (July 16, 1928 – December 9, 2005) was an American author. First published in the science fiction magazines of the 1950s, his numerous quick-witted stories and novels were famously unpredictable, absurdist and broadly comical.
Sheckley was given the Author Emeritus honor by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2001.
Robert Sheckley was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey. He was in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1948 and served in Korea. He then attended New York University. In 1951 he began to sell stories to science-fiction magazines, eventually producing several hundred short stories and novels. He also wrote episodes of the TV series Captain Video.
In the 1970s he lived on the Spanish island of Ibiza. He then returned to New York City as fiction editor of OMNI Magazine. After leaving OMNI in 1981 he lived and wrote in the Florida Everglades, Manhattan again, Paris, France, Ibiza again, Connecticut, Portland, Oregon and Red Hook, New York.
Until his death in 2005, Robert Sheckley continued to write at his home in Red Hook, New York. His early pen names included Phillips Barbee and Finn O'Donnevan. Sheckley's first four marriages (to Barbara Scadron, Ziva Kwitney, Abby Schulman and writer Jay Rothbell Sheckley) ended in divorce. At the time of his death, he was separated from his fifth wife, Gail Dana. He has four children. His son Jason is from his first marriage. His daughter, novelist Alisa Kwitney is from his second. His daughter Anya and his son Jed are from his third marriage.
In mid-2004 he participated as Guest of Honour in Eurocon 2004, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
During a 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 on April 27, 2005. His condition was very serious for one week, but he appeared to be slowly recovering. Russian news sources referred to him as "The unkillable Robert Sheckley". Sheckley's official website ran a fundraising campaign to help cover Sheckley's treatment and his return to the United States. However, only a large donation from a Ukrainian businessman allowed him to pay the hospital bill and return home. In New York he also underwent open heart surgery.
Robert Sheckley had vowed he would write fiction until slumped dead over the typewriter. Indeed, he was still writing the last day he was conscious.
On November 20 he had surgery for a brain aneurysm. He died in a Poughkeepsie hospital on December 9, 2005.
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 an act that is never explained to him), and "The Accountant" (in which a family of wizards learns that their son has been taken from them by a more sinister trade). In many stories Sheckley speculates about alternative (and usually sinister) social orders, of which a good example is the story "A Ticket to Tranai" (that tells of a sort of Utopia adapted for the human nature as it is, rather than the human nature as some idealists believe it should be).
One of his 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. The film starred Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. A novelization of the film, also written by Sheckley, was published in 1966. The story is an inspiration for the role-playing game Assassin.
Another 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.
His 1954 story Ghost V and 1955 story The Lifeboat Mutiny were adapted in two episodes of the USSR science fiction TV series This Fantastic World.
His 1958 short story "The Prize of Peril" was adapted in 1970 as the German TV movie Das Millionenspiel, 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.
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.
One of the most famous of Sheckley's stories was the AAA Ace Series involving a series of stories involving two partners in the far -future encountering various unusual problems.
In the 1990s, Sheckley wrote a well-received 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 upon 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, although in an interview for Neil Gaiman's book Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion, Adams claimed not to have read it until after writing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
"I had no idea the competition was so terrifyingly good." — Douglas Adams
"Sheckley at his best is Voltaire and Soda." — Brian W. Aldiss
"Always he crackles with ideas." —Kingsley Amis
" witty and ingenious... a draught of pure Voltaire and tonic." —J. G. Ballard
"If the Marx Brothers had been literary rather than thespic fantasists ... they would have been Robert Sheckley." — Harlan Ellison