01 May 2012

Store of the Worlds (Robert Sheckley)

The easiest way to sum up Robert Sheckley's short stories (selected here by Jonathan Lethem and Alex Abramovich as Store of the Worlds) is that they read like episodes of the classic black-and-white Twilight Zone. I.e., they share a wry humor, a concern with the social issues of their day (the 1950s to early 60s, although Sheckley kept writing until his death in 2005), and great gotcha moments on which they pivot. Even though you see them coming, they're still delightful--and often not quite the twist you expect.

So this collection is as comfortable, funny, and enjoyable as those New Year's Eve marathons of TZ on . . . ugh, it's "SyFy" now, isn't it? Favorites of mine: "Protection," in which an alien guardian angel proves more trouble than it's worth; "Double Indemnity," a tale of time-travel insurance fraud; "The Language of Love," where a man studies for years to be able to express precisely how he feels about a girl, only to discover he's just fond of her; "Shape," about an attempted invasion of Earth by a rigidly stratified alien society, with a sweet ending that made me tear up a little. Kudos as per usual to NYRB Classics for reprinting these gems from the heyday of the science-fiction mag!

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