January 05, 2006

"And he was quite mad."

I just published an appreciation of the late, great Robert Sheckley on the Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project. You could spend a week reading all the 300 stories they keep stored over there...

I heard my first Robert Sheckley story on the old-time radio drama, X Minus One. Even though it was recorded twenty-five years before I was born, Sheckley’s exuberant adjectives, alliterative phrases and deadpan delivery inspired my Star Wars-saturated imagination. Re-reading “Bad Medicine” this week, I could still hear Sheckley's radio voice booming:

“Caswell was a choleric little man with fierce red eyes, bulldog jowls and ginger-red hair. He was the sort you would expect to find perched on a detergent box, orating to a crowd of lunching businessmen and amused students, shouting, 'Mars for the Martians, Venus for the Venusians!'

But in truth, Caswell was uninterested in the deplorable social conditions of extraterrestrials. He was a jetbus conductor for the New York Rapid Transit Corporation. He minded his own business. And he was quite mad.”

With pulp-fiction syntax and brassy vocabulary, “Bad Medicine” tells the story of a homicidal maniac named Caswell who ends up seeing a robot psychiatrist—a special Martian “mechanotherapist” he bought from a hapless computer store employee. In this story, corporations like General Motors and IBM rule the world, paying a separate police department to enforce brand loyalty. Instead of Orwell’s 1984, Sheckley sketches a hyper-consumerist, more familiar nightmare: a place where bad publicity can land employees in the dreaded “General Motors Reformatory” and consumers are addicted to fashionable machines that cure psychological defects.

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