Sheckley, Robert 1928-
SHECKLEY, Robert 1928-
PERSONAL: Born July 16, 1928, in New York, NY; son of David (an insurance broker) and Rachel Helen (Feinberg) Sheckley; married Barbara Scadron, 1951 (divorced, 1956); married Ziva Miri Kwitney, 1957 (divorced, 1972); married Abby Schulman, 1972 (marriage ended); married Jay Rothbell (marriage ended); married Gail Dana; children: Jason William, Alissa, Anya, Jed. Education: New York University, B.A., 1951. Hobbies and other interests: Sports cars, sailing, chess, and traveling.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—733 Northeast 32nd Ave., Portland, OR 97232. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Freelance writer, 1951—; Omni magazine, New York, NY, fiction editor, 1979-82. Visiting scholar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 1982; instructor for the Writers in Classrooms program for Portland public schools. Military service: U.S. Army, 1946-48, served in Korea.
MEMBER: Science Fiction Writers of America, Writers Guild of America (East), Ocean Cruising Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Jupiter Award for best short story, 1974, for "A Supplicant in Space"; Author Emeritus Nebula Award, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, 2000.
Immortality Delivered (science fiction), Avalon, 1958, enlarged edition published as Immortality, Inc., Bantam (New York, NY), 1959.
The Status Civilization (science fiction), New American Library (New York, NY), 1960.
Calibre 50, Bantam (New York, NY), 1961.
Dead Run: A Stephen Dain Mystery, Bantam (New York, NY), 1961.
Live Gold, Bantam (New York, NY), 1962.
The Man in the Water, Regency Books (New York, NY), 1962.
Journey beyond Tomorrow (science fiction), New American Library (New York, NY), 1962, published as Journey of Joenes, Sphere (London, En gland), 1978.
White Death, Bantam (New York, NY), 1963.
The Game of X, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1965.
The 10th Victim (science fiction), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1965.
Mindswap (science fiction), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1966.
Dead Run, Bantam (New York, NY), 1967.
Time Limit, Bantam (New York, NY), 1967.
Dimension of Miracles (science fiction), Dell (New York, NY), 1968.
Options (science fiction), Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1975.
Crompton Divided, Holt (New York, NY), 1978, published as The Alchemical Marriage of Alistair Crompton, M. Joseph (London, England), 1978.
Futuropolis (science fiction), A & W Publishers, 1978.
Dramocles: An Intergalactic Soap Opera, Holt (New York, NY), 1983.
Victim Prime, New American Library (New York, NY), 1987.
Hunter/Victim, New American Library (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Harry Harrison) On the Planet of Bottled Brains, Avon (New York, NY), 1990, published as Bill, the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Bottled Brains, Gollancz (London, England), 1990.
(With Roger Zelazny) Bring Me the Head of PrinceCharming, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
The Alternative Detective, Forge (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Roger Zelazny) If at Faust You Don't Succeed, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Roger Zelazny) A Farce to Be Reckoned With, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.
Draconian New York, Forge (New York, NY), 1996.
Soma Blues, Forge (New York, NY), 1997. Godshome, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
Also author of The Draconian Alternative, 1988, and Alien Starswarm, 1991.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS; SCIENCE FICTION
Untouched by Human Hands, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1953.
Citizen in Space, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1955.
Pilgrimage to Earth, Bantam (New York, NY), 1957.
Notions: Unlimited, Bantam (New York, NY), 1960.
Store of Infinity, Bantam (New York, NY), 1960.
Shards of Space, Bantam (New York, NY), 1962.
The People Trap and Other Pitfalls, Snares, Devices and Delusions, Gollancz (London, England), 1969.
Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1971.
The Robert Sheckley Omnibus, edited and introduced by Robert Conquest, Gollancz (London, England), 1973.
The Robot Who Looked Like Me, Sphere, 1978.
The Wonderful World of Robert Sheckley, Bantam (New York, NY), 1979.
Is That What People Do?, Holt (New York, NY), 1984.
Uncanny Tales, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2003.
(Editor) After the Fall: An Anthology, Ace, 1980.
Minotaur Maze, Axolotl Press (Eugene, OR), 1990.
Dimensions of Sheckley: The Selected Novels of RobertSheckley, edited by Sharon L. Sbarsky, NESFA Press, 2002.
Also author of stories compiled in The Collected Short Stories of Richard Sheckley, five volumes, 1991. Author of fifteen television scripts for Captain Video, 1950s, and television script for Murder Club, 1961. Wrote sixty radio scripts for Beyond the Green Door, 1960s. Sheckley's stories have been published in many magazines, including Galaxy.
ADAPTATIONS: Immortality, Inc., was adapted as the film Freejack, starring Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, and Renee Russo; The 10th Victim was adapted as a film starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress; "The Prize of Peril" was adapted for the French film La Prix du Danger.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Sheckley is a writer whose novels and short stories often meld science fiction with humor to create satire. Much of his writing is inspired by the idea that an infinite universe must contain unlimited environmental and psychological realities. Fred D. White of Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers observed that "while some writers would regard this as a nihilistic nightmare, for Sheckley, it offers an opportunity for unbound imaginative romping—precisely the sort of freedom that SF so eagerly welcomes." In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Malcolm Kiniry wrote that Sheckley "is certainly among the most insistently comic of science-fiction writers. His comic touch is most adroitly at work in his short stories, the best of which can be at once witty, bizarre, lightly satirical, and wryly frightening."
In 1958 Sheckley published his first novel, Immortality Delivered; it was expanded as Immortality, Inc. the following year. Kiniry summarized its premise as "a future in which life-after-death is an acknowledged fact and a purchasable commodity. Sheckley's hero, a bland New Yorker named Tom Blaine, awakes from a fatal car accident to find his mind wrenched from 1958 into someone else's body in 2110. The transplant is courtesy of the Rex Corporation as part of a marketing gimmick for 'Hereafter machines.' When left unattended, Blaine slips from the Rex laboratories into the streets of a strange New York, a city dominated by strategies of death and the afterlife. The mind, it has been discovered, is not always extinguished by death; and with the help of modern technology, most minds can be kept alive through the death trauma and catapulted into the Hereafter. Immortality, purchased in the form of Hereafter Insurance, belongs to those rich enough to afford it; there are also 'host' bodies available, on the black or open markets, for those who would postpone their entries into the Hereafter. . . .
"What makes Immortality, Inc. most interesting is its climate of instability. For despite the inroads of science, the Hereafter remains mysterious, and the knowledge of its existence brings along new anxieties. Even for the rich, dying does not always go well; the machinery does not always work, and superstitions abound. Riley, head of Rex, in the hope that his status will accompany him into the next world, has himself buried Egyptian-style in a mausoleum containing his personal helicopter. Sheckley envisions a society utterly unsettled by death's possibilities. As Marie Throne, a Rex turncoat and the story's obligatory love interest, explains to Blaine, 'Maybe mistakes ended for good in your time. Today nothing ever dies for certain.'"
Kiniry continued, "All of Sheckley's novels are weakened by his failure to generate interest in his characters as personalities, and all except Immortality, Inc. are restricted by his failure to mesh his various inventions as parts of coherent, complex worlds. But . . . Dimension of Miracles (1968) is the least hampered by these limitations because its structure is more frankly episodic and its central character less a protagonist than a beholder of oddities. Carmody, having won a Galactic Sweepstakes and gone to fetch his prize (a gabby creature of ever-shifting species), discovers he can return home only by passing through a series of alternate possible Earths. One features argumentative dinosaurs, another has a city that behaves like a Jewish mother, and on a third Carmody meets a building contractor who claims to have fashioned Earth as a 'budget planet' for an old man with a beard. Since each of its various episodes is almost entirely self-contained, Dimension of Miracles is in essence a series of short stories, a form with which Sheckley is more comfortable. . . .
"In Crompton Divided (1978) Sheckley produces a novel that allies his whimsicality to a plot that sustains attention. He envisions a future state in which minds are so well monitored that potential schizophrenics are diagnosed at birth and the discordant elements of their personalities parceled off elsewhere in the universe. Alistair Crompton, the product of one such exercise in human engineering and an employee of Psychosmell (the agency of olfactory manipulation), decides in a rare moment of rebelliousness to seek his severed selves. His determination takes him from one side of the galaxy to the other, first to a jaded self named Loomis and then to a convulsively violent self named Stack. His journey is often funny and occasionally poignant."
In stories such as "The Petrified World" (in Is That What People Do?) Sheckley depicts the possible effects of living in an ever-changing physical reality. The story is about Lanigan, who lives in a world in which things are constantly changing shape and color. He has a recurring nightmare of a world in which nothing ever seems to change. Pavement, for example, remains pavement, devoid of the potential to become anything else. White of Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers noted, "Lanigan finally becomes trapped in his nightmare—the nightmare that, Sheckley is suggesting, is our nightmare."
With fellow science-fiction writer Roger Zelazny, Sheckley wrote a trilogy featuring mischievous demons who tamper with the order of the universe. Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming was followed by If at Faust You Don't Succeed and A Farce to Be Reckoned With. In the latter book, Azzie Elbub, winner of Hell's Evil Deed Award, cooks up a plan to bring chaos to Renaissance Europe with the help of Italian playwright Pietro Aretino. His plan goes awry, not surprisingly, when the Archangel Michael catches wind of it, Mongols invade Venice, and the universe is threatened with extinction. Carl Hays of Booklist acknowledged the sillier aspects of the plot but praised the book for its humor and "pure escapist fun."
Stepping out of the pure science-fiction mold, Sheckley authored a trilogy of adventure mystery novels featuring the idiosyncratic hippie Hob Draconian, the Ibiza-based sole proprietor of the Alternative Detective Agency, whose cases never fail to drag up colorful characters from his past. Through his circle of friends, a mish-mashed bunch of freewheeling, international types obsessed with drugs and violence, Draconian's misadventures take him through New York and Paris as he encounters a multitude of people who never seem to be exactly who they say they are. The first book in the series, The Alternative Detective, was praised by a Publishers Weekly reviewer for its "terminally wry" dialogue and Draconian's "undeniably interesting" character.
The second book in the series, Draconian New York, involves Draconian's quest to secure a large payment on his Ibiza cottage. An old friend gives him an offer he can't refuse—the money he needs in exchange for escorting a fashion model to Paris. Nothing is as simple as it seems, however, and soon Draconian finds himself surrounded by murderous misfits that include Islamic terrorists, the DEA, the Paris police, and assorted hit men. Thomas Gaughan, writing in Booklist, said that Sheckley "is in fine form" with his "convoluted" plot and a "wonderfully silly" ending.
In Soma Blues, Draconian finds himself stuck in Paris and approached by the police for help in solving the murder of a visitor from Ibiza. Draconian wastes no time in uncovering a worldwide plot to roll out a new drug called soma. Once again, the detective crisscrosses the globe, introducing readers to a cast of quirky characters. "The real pleasure here is the international world Hob inhabits," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, in which French police inspectors insist on serving wine at an interrogation, and the hippie culture of Ibiza, where one of the detective's friends "liked the idea of being a useful citizen, if it could be made amusing and if it paid," provides a colorful backdrop to the action. Rex E. Klett of Library Journal praised the book's "easy dialog [and] pervasive wit."
Sheckley returned to mythological science fiction with Godshome, a tale about a professor who discovers an ancient Hebrew spell and uses it to invite the second-tier residents of Godshome, a retirement manor for old and forgotten gods, to assist him in turning the tide on his personal misfortunes. When a trickster named Leafie invites his unsavory friends to join NARWAG, the New Awesome Religion of the Wonderful Ancient Gods, Professor Arthur Fenn's problems are just beginning. Gerald Jonas of the New York Times Book Review considered Godshome less of a science-fiction novel than a "whimsical fantasy with scientific trappings."
Robert Sheckley contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA in 2004:
I was born on July 16, 1928, in a hospital in Brooklyn, New York. My parents lived in a small apartment that had a balcony. One of my earliest memories is of one of my uncles dangling me over the little balcony. I was in terror. The street was so far below!
I have just one more memory of those days. That is of a dream. I was looking down and across the city, and it seemed to be on fire. There were holes in the ground. From them crawled men in odd-shaped hats. Firemen, perhaps?
My mother, Rachel, was a farm girl from Lake Placid, New York. In college, she took courses that licensed her to teach in America and Canada. She often told, in later years, about teaching in a one-room classroom in Saskatchewan. She used to ride to school on a horse.
She met David, the man who was to become my father, when she was in her mid-twenties. He was about ten years older, recovering from a nervous breakdown, brought on, so it was said, by his great devotion to getting ahead in business.
He had already served in the American military, in World War I. He had been promoted from sergeant to second lieutenant on the field of battle, and had won a medal for bravery in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
His parents were Polish Jews who had emigrated from Warsaw to America, probably in the 1880s or '90s. David's father, Zvi, was an unworldly rabbi who never practiced in front of a congregation. He was a complete failure at business. He spent his last years in the Brooklyn Public Library, reading Shakespeare. David set his sights on the business world. He found employment at the insurance firm of Schiff-Terhune on John Street in lower Manhattan. He began as an office boy, rose steadily, and ended up secretary-treasurer of the firm.
When I was about four years old, my parents moved from New York to New Jersey, first to West Orange, then to Maplewood. We spent our summers on the farm of my mother's brother, Moses Feinberg, in upstate Keene, New York.
I became interested in writing at an early age, not long after I discovered that the stuff I read was written by human beings much like me. This was somewhere between the ages of five and seven. I was an early reader, and a pretty early writer, too. I read all sorts of material. It was all mixed up, great books, required books, kid's books, adult books, science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines—my mill was ready for any grist.
At some point during my young years I acquired a typewriter, courtesy of my Uncle Sam, my father's younger brother, a typewriter salesman and demonstrator. He gave me a Royal portable. But even before that came into my possession, I had begun writing my first novel, in longhand, in a school composition book. I called that novel "Fathoming the Maelstrom." I was strongly under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe at that time.
I never completed that novel. I soon returned to my first love, reading short stories. I had many masters. Jack London, for one. Henry Kuttner for another. De Maupassant. And the great O. Henry, whose stories I thought were the last word in clever plotting and market salability. But there were so many, I can't remember them all.
I read stories of cowboys and Indians, mystery stories, I read Les Miserables in a very old four-volume set. I read Willa Cather, Conrad Aiken, and Robert W. Chambers stylish The King in Yellow, which gave me a taste for Paris as well as for fantasy.
Maplewood was a "nice" town in north central New Jersey, not far from Newark, not far from New York. I grew up to the sounds of big-band swing—Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Ziggy Elman, Glen Miller, Vaughn Monroe, and the incomparable Duke Ellington. I listened to a lot of radio in those days—Eddie Cantor, Ben Bernie, the Lux Radio Theater. I was entranced with the late night shows, especially I Love a Mystery, with its great cast of Jack, Doc, and Reggie.
My favorite comic strip was Prince Valiant. By the time I was in high school, America was at war with Japan and Nazi Germany. I expected to be drafted in due course, and then I'd be a returning serviceman and get to date all the best-looking girls. The newspapers were full of American victories and defeats. My parents told me to take only the food I could eat, and to remember the starving Finnish children who weren't getting enough. I listened to Lowell Thomas tell of the Finnish winter war against the Russians, and my mind was filled with the image of men in white parkas with rifles on their backs gliding on skis through dense, dark snow-covered forests.
At an early age, we boys fought with each other over who should be the next president, Landon or Roosevelt. We didn't know anything about either man. We just wanted to get into the action. Despite that, we didn't talk about the war much, though it dominated everything. Movies in the late '30s and early '40s were heroic and sentimental. John Wayne was king. Greer Garson's Mrs. Miniver gave me my first impression of heroic England.
There were still pulp magazines in those days of the early '40s, and I used to be a regular at our corner magazine store, reading what I could not afford to buy, buying what I could of the science-fiction magazines. There were Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Weird Tales (still running!), Planet Stories, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Novels, others I've forgotten. It became my ambition to become a science-fiction pulp writer. But this was not all that I read. Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, O. Henry, Stephen Leacock, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Horace, a great undisciplined mass of books, mostly borrowed from the town library. The list of the influences could go on endlessly, if I could only remember.
I learned from my cousin Bud to play the guitar. Not well, but loudly, and in time. From this I graduated to high school dance bands, for which I got paid. I liked the experience of having my own money, of not having
to rely on an allowance from my parents. It seemed a mark of accomplishment rather than a necessity of life. The Depression passed us, unnoticed by me. My parents were always frugal, but my sister and I lacked for nothing.
I entered the dating world, was often able to borrow the family car (always a new Plymouth every year or so—my father thought there was something flashy about the GM brands).
Every summer in those years, when I was between the ages of six and sixteen, my parents would pack us up and drive the 300 miles or so to my Uncle Moses' farm in Keene, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. There was no Northway then, no super-highways, so we wound our way up on local roads and highways, passing through places like Mechanicsville and Saratoga Springs, finally reaching Keene and Keene Valley, and the long drive up Spruce Hill, past Bertha's Cabins, to Moses' 200 acre farm bordering on the Adirondack Wilderness. Moses was my mother's brother, the only one of seven brothers who did not go into law or medicine. He was basically a dairy farmer, though he had corn and grass, and there was a vegetable patch in the back, and pigs to one side. He had a herd of twenty or so cows, and bought milk from local farmers in the area. He was the first in the North Country (as it was called) to put in pasteurization, and could have made a good business out of it, if he had been a businessman rather than a hard-working tinkerer.
My friend and idol in those years was my cousin Bud (Bernard). He was Moses' youngest son, about ten years older than I. He delivered the milk that Moses pasteurized. And I delivered it, too, standing on the running board of the pickup so I could do it faster and get finished in time for Bud to attend his softball game in the town, or go on one of his dates in the early evening. Moses' elder son, Steve, lived in town, served on PT boats during the war, killed himself in a motorcycle accident. His sister, Cecilia, whom we all called Sis, worked as a nurse at the local infirmary. She was married to Si, a tall, black-haired part-Indian fellow, who raced trotting horses. Si didn't know until much later that his wife was having an affair with Freddie, a stranger from downstate who had retired to this region "for his nerves" it was said, and had a house and a few cabins to rent on the road to Elizabethtown. Freddie was a tall, handsome fellow, but he looked somehow fragile. I used to walk the five miles to his house from Moses' farm, and Freddie would play me classical music on his Victrola. Often I'd go on from there, hitching a ride the twenty or so miles to Elizabethtown, where there was a drug store that sold Modern Library Giants, and where I first became acquainted with Alfred Lord Tennyson and others.
I'm looking at all this now in a golden light. But it wasn't always so good. Moses and the rest of the family frequently were not on speaking terms. The hired man, a French-Canadian from Quebec, often didn't speak to anyone; and the local idiot whom Moses
boarded for a fee sometimes wouldn't speak at all, brooding over some slight, real or imagined. He may have been an idiot, but he was a remarkably good piano player. And there were the square dances, which made things better, at least for a little while. Doc Goff, a summer person from New York, was usually in attendance at these, accompanied by his beautiful daughters or nieces. Bud was a square-dance caller as well as a guitar player. I watched all this with delight; I could hardly wait for the day when I'd be old enough to square dance, too, or maybe to play the guitar.
Some summers, one or another of my uncles would show up and stay for a while. There was Zip (Ezra), a successful New York City lawyer, and his wife, Anne. Zip was an ardent fly fisherman, and he collected early American glass bottles. He and Anne were both killed years later when a car went out of control at 72nd street and Broadway and mowed them both down. My Uncle Simon would sometimes come. He was a dentist, husband of my father's sister, Ida, a stately, beautiful woman.
All of this was taking place between my fifth and sixteenth years. As I grew older, the farm life became less precious to me; but I always wanted to go there.
My sister, Joan, three and a half years my junior, always went to the farm with the rest of us. She was (and is) a pretty blonde woman, apparently amiable and easy-going, showing no signs of the inner doubts and uncertainties that troubled her. In later years, she married; had a daughter, Susan; divorced; became a licensed psychotherapist; and practices to this day on Manhattan's West Side. We were friends and companions in those early years, before I became obsessed with my own growing-up issues. I remember once we went out to climb a mountain to a lookout post. We got lost and were gone all day, finally found a road out, and were dismayed to learn that our parents had called the police to look for us.
The summers were mainly a round of haying, delivering milk, sometimes fishing in the little stream that went through Moses' land, occasionally swimming in Mirror Lake at Lake Placid, where the cold water turned my lips blue.
Meanwhile, back in Maplewood, where I lived most of the year, I continued school. I was a fair scholar, though it was noted that I never did what I was capable of. Instead I read books, played in a dance band, having mastered enough of the guitar, and dreamed of becoming a writer. I dated, had my heart broken, recovered. Looking back on it now, it all seems very tame. I had very few problems. But something must have been amiss because, at the age of fifteen or so, I ran away from home, went to New York City, found a job in a photography lab. I telephoned my parents to let them know I was all right. They asked to see me, I agreed, and they asked me to stay home until I was seventeen and had graduated high school, at which point, if I still wanted to leave, I could go with their blessings. I agreed to do it that way, but I never ran away again.
Then one summer the Second World War ended. I was seventeen, on Moses' farm in upstate New York. The draft was still on. If I were drafted, it would mean a three-year hitch. But if I enlisted, I could join for eighteen months. Of course, the draft might be over by the time they got around to me. But it might not be. With eighteen months' service I could get three years of college on the G.I. Bill. And I wasn't ready for college yet. I enlisted.
I was sent to Fort Dix, then to Camp Polk, Louisiana, for my basic training. After four weeks' training as a medic, I was shipped to Camp Stoneman, California, and from there onto a troopship bound for Korea, where I was to become an infantryman, even though I had not yet fired a rifle.
I landed in Korea, at the port of Inchon. There was a long, slow train ride to Yungdungpo, then another train ride to Seoul. I was in Seoul just long enough to be assigned to George Company, 32nd Infantry, 7th division, stationed at Kaesong on the 38th parallel.
Once there, I walked guard duty. Outpost guard, ammo dump guard, outpost guard.
Guard duty was all our company did. I had one break from this when the sergeant, noticing from my papers that I was able to type, assigned me to type up secret reports on the location of gold mines in north Korea.
I wanted to get to Seoul, where I could find work with the regimental dance band. But there were no passes to Seoul. Finally I got a pass, by breaking my glasses.
Life in George Company was slow duty. Most of it was walking guard duty, interspersed with sitting guard duty at our two outposts. One of those outposts was thirty yards from a small wooden bridge. On the other side of the bridge was North Korea. Russians were on duty then: friendly people with flat oriental faces, all of them claiming to be from Moscow. We got along with them well enough to exchange weapons for examination. Their sniperscope-equipped rifles and submachine guns clearly outclassed our M1 Garrand rifles. We'd sometimes speculate on how soon they could drive us the length of Korea into the sea. Guesses ranged from one day to three days. Our morale was not high.
The captain of our company assigned me to write about the work that George Company was doing on the 38th parallel, to be published in the regimental newspaper. I wrote what I thought was a pretty good article, and handed it in. He called me in the following day. After a lot of beating around the bush, I learned that he was dissatisfied with the role I had given him in the work the company was doing, which, as far as I could see, was walking its guard posts. I took the article back and redid it. He still wasn't satisfied. I expanded his role in my by now entirely imaginary account. He still didn't like it. I told him I had done my best and could do no more. He asked me if I really meant that. I said I did. He dismissed me.
A week later, I had gone outside of the company area to give my laundry to the Korean washerwomen. This was something we always did, without a pass. When I got back, I learned that a search had been instituted for me; I had been posted absent without leave, and had my choice of seven days company punishment or a trial by court martial.
So I dug ice out of the company ditch system for seven days.
In Seoul I was doing what I had done in high school—playing in the band, and being paid for it. With my private's money and what I made playing officers' dances, I was earning the equivalent of a major's pay. This continued until my time was up and I was sent home.
I arrived in northern California, got my honorable discharge, and continued playing band dates. Finally I returned to New Jersey, applied at NYU, was accepted, and started classes in the fall.
By taking courses summer as well as winter, I managed to graduate in two and a half years, with a new wife—Barbara Scadron—whom I had met in a writing class given at NYU by Irwin Shaw—and a new baby. I hadn't exactly planned all this, but it happened. I found a job at Wright Aeronautical in New Jersey, rented an apartment in Ridgefield Park, and tried to get back to writing short stories.
My only real chance to do this came when my union went out on strike. I was not needed for the picket line, so I went home, and, for the several weeks that the strike lasted, I wrote short stories as hard and as fast as I could. I went back to work when the strike ended, x-raying jet engine parts. A job with a future, I was told. But the only future for me, at that point, was freelance writing.
Over the next months, I began selling those stories. My first sale was to William Hamling's magazine Imagination. After that, "Doc" Lowndes' Future Science Fiction. Then the others began to sell. I found an agent—the redoubtable Frederik Pohl. He said to me, at the beginning of our association, "I'll sell every word of science fiction you write." It was the finest compliment I've ever received. Isaac Asimov, also a client of Fred's, said some encouraging words to me. Not long after that, I gave up my factory job and entered the precarious world of full-time freelance writing.
Oh, those early days of writing full time. Too bad you can only write full time for the first time once. I got an office in nearby Fort Lee, the extra room of a dentist's suite. And I went there every day and I wrote and wrote. And just about everything I wrote sold.
I have sometimes been asked how I got my story ideas. I had no specific method. Ideas would come to me at any time. Something I read, or something someone said to me, or something I overheard, would provide the initial impetus. Or, just doing nothing, an idea, or a chain of associations would come up, and I would follow them to a story idea. I kept pocket notebooks on my person at all times, and soon after I had an idea, I would jot it down. Otherwise I was likely to forget it.
I sometimes wondered if I shouldn't try a formal study of the short-story form. Should I read books on how to get ideas? My more or less instinctive answer was a resounding No! I felt I was similar to the goose of the old folk tale that laid the golden eggs. Attempts to find out how I did it would be more likely to screw up my interior works rather than to make them go better. I tried to preserve the attitude I'd had had since childhood: that I was a pulp writer, one of that anonymous (to me) bunch of writers who used to write for the old detective pulps. At the same time, I also had the feeling, hardly ever voiced, that I was something more than a pulp writer, with the connotations of mediocrity that that label implied. I wanted to write better, to make better stories, to make stories that the reader would feel, not just go along with the narrative's mechanical properties. I wanted to be damned good; but I never talked to myself about what I meant by that. I had no single model at that time. O. Henry still appealed to me, but I recognized the mechanical and predictable qualities of so many of his stories. At the same time I felt, arguing in my own head with his critics, "If it's so easy and explainable, let's see you do it."
Early in those first years of my writing I sold one of my stories to a new magazine, called Galaxy. Soon after that I met Horace Gold, who lived at that time in Stuyvesant Town, not too far from where I later lived in West Greenwich Village. Horace liked my stuff, and indicated that he would be very happy if I showed him everything first. This was fine by me—he paid the best rates in the field. I sent him most of what I wrote, always leaving myself time to sell stories to the old pulp magazines that I had loved since childhood. During those years I began selling to Playboy, whose one-price-fits-all $1,500 for a short story was far better than anything the science-fiction pulps, or digest-size magazines, as they were now called, could do. They provided superior illustrations for the stories, too, and you got to associate with names like A. C. Spectorsky, Ray Russell, and with famous non-genre writers like Irwin Shaw, John Updike, and many others.
But Playboy was not a market I could count on. My income came from science-fiction magazines, most notably Galaxy. I began to socialize with Horace, and became a regular at his Friday-night poker games, where the evening usually ended with the ritual cry of "Once around to Sheckley." Many non-science-fiction people came to these games. I remember John Cage, silent and smiling, a winner at poker as at so many other things. Louie and Bebe Barron were there, well-known soundtrack artists for the movies. We sf writers lusted for movie sales, but had to wait a few years for the market to develop.
I did several miscellaneous writing chores during that period. I was hired to write a fifteen-episode series for Captain Video. That was when I still lived in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, because I can remember the messenger who came every evening to pick up my day's episode and to take it to Dumont, Channel 5 in the old Wanamaker Building in downtown Manhattan. They were in a hurry for my script, since it was the only one suitable for advertising a plastic space helmet that one of their advertisers was offering, along with whatever product he was selling. I found the work easy enough, but there seemed no reason to continue it. Esthetically or artistically it didn't impress me, and the pay at that time, $100 for a half-hour episode—or was it an hour?—was comparable to the magazine work I was already doing. How was I to know of the much better prices television would pay in a few years? And if I had known, what would I have done about it? Nothing, probably. I was out there to be a freelance fiction writer. One of the French surrealist writers had a character say, "As for living, we will let our servants do that for us." That was very much my attitude. I had no serious money desires. Not even solvency was a sufficient goal to divert me from what, without much conscious plan, I was doing.
I was asked by ABC radio to write a story for them to be used for a two-hour dramatic presentation. I came up with "The People Trap," which someone adapted. It starred Stuart Whitman and Vera Ralston, among others, and was successful, in its way, but not to the point of Hollywood beating a path to my door.
I also did a little work in Hollywood in those years, coming out to California from time to time and staying with my good friend Harlan Ellison. I would typically stay about a month, do a little screen work, and return to New York to continue writing short stories for the New York market. I sold my story "Watchbird" to Outer Limits during that time, and was hired to write the script. I was working along with reasonable happiness when I got a call from the studio. The powers that be wanted me to tell them what a Watchbird looked like, and to explain how they would show that on screen. My story, which they had bought rights to, told what a Watchbird looked like, and, as for how to show it, that was certainly their problem, not mine. I asked to be taken off the project, and soon returned to New York.
More impressive for me was a chance to sell my short-story writing services to Beyond the Green Door, for Monitor Radio. In this one, Basil Rathbone read brief stories with surprise endings. The program had a five-minute format, and the format required three breaks for commercials. This made it about a 1,000-to 1,500-word story, structured in a particular way. This was just the kind of problem I liked: a technical one, without a lot of collegiate chatter about meaning, effect, etc. That I had solved those matters, at least to an extent, had to be obvious from the listener's reaction to the story itself. It would have been easy enough to write three or thirty times as much wordage on each story; far easier than to write the story itself. But that was not my way. I have lost or misplaced most of the stories in the years since then, and have been unable to find the radio recordings (better researchers than I have looked for them, too—) but I have been able to find and publish five of the sixty.
I turned these stories in each week, five of them. My entire life became a matter of looking for plots all day, then writing furiously half the night. This was very much my idea of the sort of thing a pulp writer ought to do, so I didn't resent it. But at the end of sixty stories, I asked for some time off. The producers were unwilling to grant that, so I quit. I stayed quit despite a very nice telephone call from Mr. Rathbone himself, requesting me to go on. He was one of my heroes, but I refused to work any longer at that pace even for him. And the $60 they paid me per story was not a huge inducement.
So much happened to me in that ten-year period. During that time I wrote my first novel, Immortality, Inc., which I sold first as a four-part serial to Galaxy magazine under the title "Time Killer." Writing it in four 15,000-word segments was easier to my short-story writer mind than considering an entire 60,000-word novel in its own right. Some years later I sold this story to Ron Shusset, who adapted it for a movie, which was called Freejack, and starred Emilio Estevez, Renee Russo, and Mick Jagger. I didn't think too much of the movie—maybe because I already knew the plot.
But before that, also in this period, I sold my short story "The Seventh Victim" to Carlo Ponti, who gave it to the director Elio Petri who made The Tenth Victim. I rather liked this movie. One of my favorite actors was in the starring role—Marcello Mastroianni—though I didn't think he looked his best in blond hair.
During the ten years or so between the age of twenty-two, when I began selling, and my mid-thirties, I was a happy man in my writing. I filled my pocket notebooks, numbering them so as not to lose track. Sometimes I lost track anyhow. I conducted my writing business with the bare amount of method, just enough to not lose pages of my drafts, and to ensure that I got a finished product out to market. It was still pretty chaotic. But I managed to get my stories done. In the first two or three years I was writing at least a story a week, sometimes two or even three. These were all pretty short. For years I had trouble getting beyond 1,500 words. I loved the short-short story form, but felt that I had to be able to write stories of 3,000 to 5,000 words, or even longer. Occasionally I found an idea large enough for a novelette.
Those years that I did stories for Galaxy were the best years of my short-story output. But then things
changed. Horace Gold had to leave Galaxy, for health reasons, and moved to California. Galaxy, and the magazine field in general, started getting into tough times. Magazines began to fold, unable to compete with television. I began to get restless.
During this period I had begun to write novels. After my first, Immortality, Inc., I wrote Mindswap, Journey of Joenes, and a novel titled Man in the Water. I wrote five paperback thrillers for Bantam Books featuring my idea of a secret agent, Stephen Dain. Dain was my idea of a tough government agent, ruthless, but with good liberal values. My concept of Iran and Arabia was even more naïve—influenced by Kipling's Kim, and by Eric Ambler and Graham Greene.
Somewhere during this time my marriage with Barbara came apart. Barbara was a good person. But we were just too far apart in important ways. I moved out, into an apartment in what was then Hell's Kitchen, once rented by science-fiction writer Lester del Rey. It was a cold-water railroad flat, heated by a kerosene stove, and the rent was $13.80 a month.
Hell's Kitchen was an interesting, seedy, run-down part of Manhattan. Lincoln Center now overflows onto where I used to live. I began to get my life back together. I met a fascinating woman—Ziva Kwitney. I found an apartment in the West Village, and proposed marriage. We moved to Perry Street, and so began a most productive phase of my life.
Early years in the Village: Walking, talking with Phil Klass, who wrote under the pen name William Tenn, always writing stories, browsing in bookstores, drinking a lot of coffee at various places around the Village. Considering whether I should try a formal study of the short-story form. Sometimes I thought of going back to NYU, or to another of the excellent institutions for higher learning in the downtown Manhattan area. I was often tempted, but never did it. I had what I considered a healthy antischolastic instinct. To study what I was already successfully doing seemed to me a mistake. I was afraid of tampering with the mechanism, of destroying what I had in an attempt to gain more. I was filled with a simple wisdom learned from the pulps. My early instructional influences were from Jack Woodford, Mark Twain, one or two others. I was interested in the Higher Criticism, but not to the extent of learning it, just as I was interested in Kafka, but not to the extent of studying him formally.
I loved Greenwich Village in those days. I was surprised to see them pass away. But I did it myself. Ziva and I were going to have a baby. Our two-room Village apartment wasn't big enough for the two of us, much less for three. Through my then-brother-in-law, Larry Klein, I had a chance to rent a large seven-room apartment on West End Avenue between 99th and 100th Streets. It seemed a no-lose proposition.
But, as soon as I got up there, I was lost, in a city very different from the West Village I had known for so many years. This was a dirty and somewhat dangerous part of New York. Broadway was ugly, filled with whores and dangerous-looking men. It was a slummy Latin-looking area, of high-rise apartments where people, many of them seemingly characters from Isaac Bashevis Singer's short stories, tried to stay aloof from the life around them. I adored Singer's work, still reread it often. But then as now, I had no desire to mingle with his people. Jewishness interested me, but in much the same way as Kafka—something to read and admire, but not make a formal study of. Jewishness was always a problem for me, as it seems to be for almost all Jews, I was interested but not involved.
I had the same desire to stay uninvolved from whatever didn't impinge on me and which represented none of my desires. This part of New York looked and smelled different. The food was different and the people I saw on the streets were different. I never got used to it, and I never fell in love with it.
I had to travel the better part of an hour on the subway to get back into familiar surroundings. Laptop computers hadn't been invented yet, and I never accustomed myself to working in longhand, in a coffee shop. I had cleverly moved myself from being at home in the West Village to being a stranger on the upper West Side.
During this time, I bought a cruising 32-foot sailboat, called Windsong. I sailed it for a season or two on Long Island Sound, then cruised to Florida in it along the Intracoastal Waterway. Barbara and I wintered in Fort Lauderdale, and I sailed it back in the spring. I sold the boat—it represented a very different lifestyle, and it was not my idea of how a freelance writer should live.
Then one day I packed up and went away to Ibiza, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean.
I had visited Ibiza twice before, briefly, in 1960 and 1963. I had loved the island, and the writer's life there. Ziva, a New Yorker to her fingertips, hadn't liked it much and certainly didn't want to live there. I was mad to live there, or at least somewhere in southern Europe.
So I ran away and began a new life. Ibiza lived up to my expectations. I found an inexpensive finca, and followed the writer's round there—stay home and work until noon or so, then drive to Sandy's bar for mail, and then go to El Kiosko, the big out-of-doors café in the center of town, for a coffee and to talk with friends, then as often as not have lunch with those friends. Then home for a siesta. And then the evening.
I loved it. And when I met a new woman, Abby Schulman, there for the summer to visit friends, life got even better. Abby stayed on in the fall and we moved in together.
I was really enjoying my life now. Trouble was, I wasn't writing as much as I thought I should. Freelancing between America and a Spanish island presented delays, technical difficulties, a falling off of communication with friends and editors, especially in those pre-computer days. But I was making some money from movie sales, the Ibiza life seemed worth the difficulties I faced in making a living, and life went merrily on.
I was heavily into drugs at that period. I had never thought of myself as a junkie. But that's what I was, though I didn't realize it at the time. It began with marijuana. Then, acid—LSD. Then psilocybin mushrooms, and other mind-changing substances. Marijuana was hard to find in Ibiza, but there was plenty of hashish, smuggled in from Morocco and Afghanistan.
I was also using sleeping pills, ever since first getting on them in Acapulco, where Barbara and I had gone on our honeymoon and for me to write my first novel. The little house we rented on Hornitos Bay was only about a hundred yards from an indigent who lived in a broken-down hovel and whose only possession was a radio, which he blared at all hours of the night and day. It played hell with my work. I could not sleep, and so went to a pharmacy in Acapulco to get sleeping pills. What they sold me were barbiturates, and this was the beginning of my twenty-or-so-year habituation to them.
Sleeping pills performed their magic, but often left me tired and hungover the next day. And they were unreliable—I had to increase the dose to get the effect, and that was getting into dangerous overdose territory. I tried to counteract their next-day-hangover effects by using stimulants. Dexedrine and dexamyl, for the most part. I couldn't get these in Ibiza. But I did find a better sleeping pill there—quaaludin, a heavy hypnotic drug, terribly habit-forming. These were obtainable over the counter at any pharmacy. The druggists weren't always glad to see me buy a dozen packs at a time. But they always sold them to me.
I brought my drug problem to Ibiza, and it was a bad combination. My life became a matter of trying to balance one drug effect against another. And also trying to write. But writing was becoming a face-saving maneuver for me as I lived my drug habit. My output fell off sharply. I struggled to maintain it, but it was becoming a losing battle. Ibiza was too soft for me; it was too easy to get by with a minimum effort. Still, I had the lifestyle. I had a lovely finca in San Carlos, a wife who took drugs with me, and a lot of friends who also took drugs, and who approved of them. I suppose the only drug I didn't get into was alcohol.
I wish I could say that I came to my senses one day and quit the drugging. But this wasn't to happen for some years yet; not until I had left Ibiza, ended my marriage, traveled to the Far East, and returned, first to Paris, then to London.
Abby and I broke up our time in Ibiza with one stay of about a year in Palma de Mallorca. Why? It seemed a good idea at the time. Ibiza was very dear, but very tight, and I wasn't getting much work done. I kidded myself as to the reasons for this, but I thought that living in a different place, with none of our usual friends around, would be helpful. During a visit there we had met a man who had a place to rent near the Plaza Cort, one of the old, historical sections of Palma. A film option had come through, so I blew it on rent, and we went over, with our motorcycle, a classy Bultaco Matador 250 cc trail bike.
The trip began well. We drove the bike out on the island, visiting Deya, where we met Robert Graves, and to Valdemosa, where Chopin and George Sand had lived and scandalized the neighbors with their unmarried state. But soon our life in Ibiza turned darker. First, our motorcycle was stolen, though we recovered it a few days later, a little the worse for wear. Second, and more serious, was what happened when we were lounging in our apartment late one night. When I looked up, I saw a man looking at me. I got up and chased him out. I didn't exactly run hard after him, because the thought had occurred to me that he might be armed. So I made haste slowly.
When I got down to the bottom landing, I found a note in our mailbox. It was written in Spanish, and it said, "Tonight you will die." It was signed with a black hand.
This was more than a little disturbing. I went to the municipal police, and was directed to the Secret Police, who had a building marked Policia Secreta. They directed us to the Guardia Civil. The Guardia took the threat calmly, told us not to worry, they'd look into it. But as far as I know, they never did.
Only months later did I find out what that was all about. Our landlord's girlfriend had been certain that the landlord was having a threesome with Abby and me. She had hired a friend to catch us in the act in the apartment, and to leave the threatening note. Nothing ever came of this, and nothing further ever developed.
We went broke in Palma, and were reduced to cadging food from a smorgasbord place. We'd pay for our dinners, but load our pockets with Swedish meatballs and cold cuts.
I loved Palma, a noble old city, much of it still enclosed within the old walls. There was a cathedral, the oldest purely gothic building in Europe, I was told.
The cathedral's grounds had benches, and I often worked there, in longhand. There were interesting restaurants and tapas bars everywhere, and fancy shopping for those who could afford it.
Finally, with a sigh of relief, we returned to Ibiza.
We were also frequently in Paris, since several friends let us use their apartments. I had some good friends in Paris, and it was always a pleasure to be in what has to be the world's most beautiful city.
The next year, in Ibiza, I began to suffer intermittent pains in my throat. We went to a doctor in Mallorca to check this out, and I was told that I was having a slow-motion heart attack and it needed to be taken care of immediately. Through the good offices of a Spanish friend, we flew to Madrid and checked into a central hospital. My heart doctor was one of Spain's leading specialists. He wisely counseled no immediate action: we were to wait it out and see how it progressed. The situation abated, and we returned to Ibiza and the lifestyle that had undoubtedly brought it on. Before we left, the doctor told me that if I had presented my condition in the States, I would undoubtedly have been subjected to a multiple bypass operation. I was slow in recovering full strength, but in six months I felt as good as I ever had.
My next heart attack came some years later. Abby and I had left Ibiza and moved to London. We flew to the Greek island of Corfu to try to put our lives back together. We argued all the way, loudly and vehemently, and in Corfu we continued arguing. Suddenly I had a severe chest pain. It was a warning I had more or less been waiting for. We got on a plane to London, without revealing my condition to the airline, which would never have flown me in that condition. In London, a friend met us with an ambulance and took me off to a private clinic. There, once again, they didn't operate. Instead they put me on a mixture of (I think) phenergyl and Valium, and basically knocked me out for a week. During that time I had terrible dreams of fighting with Abby, and once or twice I thought she was there to kill me. When I got out, we completed our breakup. I moved to a flat in Highgate. A month or so later, I began my trip to the Far East. It seemed a good idea at the time . . .
I left for the Far East with a minimum of clothing and a maximum of manuscripts. Also a portable typewriter. The only thing I did not have was a portable sound system, and I determined to get this at the first opportunity. My plane made a fuel stop in Calcutta, and then went on to Singapore. I stayed only a day or so—the extreme cleanliness and neatness of the place put me off, especially since I had heard stories of people being arrested for throwing away an empty cigarette pack. I had no intention of doing this, of course, but it set me on edge anyhow.
My next stop, Kuala Lumpur, was not much better. I was suddenly in an unruly Moslem world. Some sense of terrorists-to-come might have infected me. I did my obligatory sightseeing tour to the great mosque—which I had heard was the largest in the world—spent one night, and flew on to Penang.
I liked Penang at once. It is an island, home to at least three differing groups—Moslem, Hindu, and Chinese. Each with their separate religions and holidays. I stayed at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, with its memories of Queen Victoria—and there dropped my first acid in the Far East. My psychedelic trip was not a happy one, however. On the lawn below me, couples were dining and dancing. I was desperately lonely. I played Pink Floyd on the boombox I had bought earlier, and wondered, not for the first time, what I was doing with my life.
Penang was good eating. I found a market area outside of the city where there were dozens of individual food stalls, each serving just one dish. It was the style of eating I most enjoy, little dishes, each specially flavored. A sort of spread-out far eastern smorgasbord, or an al fresco rijstafel. And it was a lovely walk from the E & O along the channel to this place.
Penang was also where I bought Penang "bullets," as they were called—marijuana rolled in waxed paper, each about the length of a rifle bullet. Very powerful!
I spent a week or two there, then went on to Bangkok, a place that at first disturbed me by its size and busyness. It was a huge city. Many of the main streets were former canals, and it was as much as your life was worth trying to cross one of them, with or without the light. Bangkok was an all-night city, with plenty of glittering coffee shops where ladies of the evening were waiting to entertain you. I bought a number of bootleg cassette tapes here, mostly old rock of the sixties and seventies. Finding books was more difficult, but I did find some.
After about a week in Bangkok, I went on to Chiang Mai, the northern capital. I liked the size of this city—it seemed almost comprehensible—and soon found places where I could get my morning coffee and my curry lunches and dinners. I also found a large Buddhist temple on the edge of the city. Going there to sightsee, I met an English-speaking German monk who had been in residence for a number of years. He had quarters of his own on one side of the temple compound, a one-room place overlooking a small stagnant lake. He was calm, friendly, and seemed happy with his lot. I tried to learn his secret—if that's what it was—because I was a long way from being satisfied with my own lot. He had no particular advice for me, but his presence was calming.
I wish I could tell you the story of how my unruly mind became pacified by the wisdom of the East, but such was not the case with me. I had no desire to become a Buddhist priest, or even a Buddhist. I was already what I wanted to be—a freelance writer. But if I had what I wanted, why was I so unhappy? That question was not to be answered at that time, and maybe not even now.
During my stay in Chiang Mai I became friends with a Thai who wanted me to buy an empty lot alongside the Chiang Mai Hotel—best hotel in the city. My friend said he and his family would build a restaurant. He would cook. Their food would be better and less expensive than at the Chiang Mai inn. We would make a lot of money.
I was interested, but not very. Writing and selling words is the only business I've ever followed, and the only one I want to follow. I might conceivably have raised the money to buy this lot. And then my story might be a lot different.
But I didn't. Instead I prevailed on a friend of his, a schoolteacher, to drive me on his motorcycle on his day off into Burma, so that I might smoke opium with the Meo tribesmen. I would pay him well for this, of course, and so we made the trip.
We had no trouble crossing into Burma; forbidden territory, but no one was paying any attention. And we found the Meo tribe, where he had taught in former years. Arrangements were swiftly made. I paid my money and was brought to a house on stilts, with a grass room. The breeze was delightful after the heat of the day. I was brought a pipe, and there was even a boy to light it for me. It was not a big deal for them. For me if was as much a literary experiment as anything else. I got very high, but I didn't have any of the hallucinations others have reported. I enjoyed it, I think, but I had no desire to repeat it again, and have not.
Not long after that I returned to Paris, and then London, and then New York.
I can still remember the day when I gave up the drugs. I had returned from the Far East. I was staying in a friend's flat in London. I took acid to cheer myself up, and had the worst trip of my life. I remember crying for hours, in my friend's bleak apartment with rain falling outside. I had begun to repeat my acid trips. What I was having now was acid tape loops of all the worst trips of the past. Acid was telling me it was time to quit.
There was another factor, too. My ex-wife Abby had just accused me of being a junky. Me, a junky? How could that be? And yet, I knew it was true.
I dropped it all cold turkey. That acid trip told me I was killing myself, and that I had a choice of ways to go right there and then.
Back in New York, the city felt strange to me after ten years mostly in Ibiza. Many of my old friends were gone. They had moved out to greener fields and cheaper rents. I managed to find a place again in the West Village, but I didn't like it. The Village had undergone gentrification since I'd left, and prices were sky high. Even the couple rooms I had were overpriced by my standards, and my landlord was no gem. I tried to settle into freelance writing. I had at least one big project ahead of me. While in Europe I had begun a novel, called Dramocles. After a good start, I found myself unable to continue. But I had to finish it! I had taken a contract and spent the advance! I had to get square with my professional life!
Easier said than done. The novel continued to languish. I felt blocked from getting into regular short-story production while I had this novel hanging over my head. Then I was suddenly and unexpected offered a job as fiction editor of Omni magazine. Ben Bova, whom I didn't even know at that time, had made me the offer. The salary was good, and I would only have to work in the Omni offices three days a week. This would give me a chance to make a living and finish my novel, and continue the slow-moving divorce proceedings between Abby and me. She had returned also, and was living in Woodstock, New York. I took the job. I moved into a new apartment building on Greenwich Avenue. I was getting my life back into order.
I worked for Omni for two years. I enjoyed the editorial work very much, and enjoyed even more the writing chores I did for Omni. I liked my new apartment and my new life. I was making friends again; everything was going well . . . except that I was not finishing my novel.
I gave it all my spare time. For four days a week and my vacation time I worked on it. And got nowhere. I had never been so stuck in my life.
During my stay at Omni, I devoted all of my free time to the novel. At the end of two years, I asked for a few weeks of unpaid leave. My request was turned down. I quit.
And, as soon as my severance pay ran out, I went broke. The apartment had to go. Even more important, I had to go. There was no way I could live in Manhattan on my vanishing resources and finish my novel.
I had met a woman during this time. A writer named Jay Rothbell. She was eager to leave New York too. We came up with the idea of investing what money I had left in a car and camping equipment, and driving to Florida. There we'd live in the state and national park systems, and I'd complete my book. We bought an old clunker of a car from Abby, my ex-wife, and took off.
A week or so later, we were in Florida, staying at one park or another. I had bought a state-of-the-art tent, and a folding table. I had an Olympia standard with
me. We moved around from the Keys to Sebring, and from Miami to the West Coast. We ate mostly powdered camping food, except for the odd hot dog or hamburger. It was a pretty good life. We did this for some months. Finally, at a campsite on Florida Bay, at the tip of Florida, I finished my novel.
We returned to New York to deliver it. And also to get the news that my film agent had sold my novel The Status Civilization to the movies, and I was to write the first draft of the script in London, in collaboration with the director. It was fall when this happened. My work was supposed to begin in the spring, in England. In the meantime, however, Marvin Minsky of MIT had invited me to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to be his first Visiting Scholar.
Jay I spent the winter months in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in the spring we went to England. Over a period of several days, the director acted out his idea of the movie, and I took copious notes. I began work on the draft soon after. In a month or two I had it finished, and gave it to the director. He told me he was pleased. But the project never went beyond that.
I flew us down to Gibraltar. There, Jay and I married. We returned to Paris. Not long after that, we broke up. I sent Jay back to America, and continued trying to work in Paris.
I was very lonely. Finally, I rejoined Jay in Portland, Oregon, where she had gone. We tried again to make our marriage work. It didn't. I went to Miami to do research on a new novel. I stayed away until Jay left. We divorced not long after that.
I remained in Portland. And I have been here ever since. I met a wonderful woman at a party given by friends. We began seeing a lot of each other, and several months later, we married. My wife's name is Gail Dana. She was and is a very talented journalist, and a highly gifted yoga student and instructor. All this and she's beautiful, too! We have separated and come back together several times. It hasn't been easy for either of us, but it has been very rewarding for me. I can't imagine life without her.
As I write this, I am half way through my seventy-fifth year. I continue writing, and I continue my difficulties with writing. We are a team, my difficulties and I.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 8: Twentieth-Century American Science-Fiction Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Stephenson, Gregory, Comic Inferno: The SatiricalWorld of Robert Sheckley, Borgo Press (San Bernardino, CA), 1997.
Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Booklist, March 15, 1995, Carl Hays, review of AFarce to Be Reckoned With, p. 1314; July, 1996, Thomas Gaughan, review of Draconian New York, p. 1810.
Library Journal, January, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of Soma Blues, p. 153; January, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of Godshome, p. 166.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 18, 1982, p. 10; January 15, 1984, p. 9.
New Statesman, April 14, 1978, p. 502; February 6, 1987, p. 28.
New York Times Book Review, May 14, 1972, p. 34; May 20, 1979, p. 28; November 6, 1983, p. 38; April 17, 1988, p. 38; February 28, 1999, Gerald Jonas, review of Godshome, p. 18.
Observer, July 2, 1978, p. 26; April 26, 1987, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1993, review of TheAlternative Detective, p. 79; June 10, 1996, review of Draconian New York, p. 89; January 27, 1997, review of Soma Blues, p. 80; December 21, 1998, review of Godshome, p. 59.
Science Fiction Studies, November, 1997, Rob Latham, review of Comic Inferno: The Satirical World of Robert Sheckley, p. 520.
Times Literary Supplement, June 16, 1978, p. 662.
Washington Post Book World, June 27, 1982, p. 6; July 31, 1983, p. 4; August 26, 1984, p. 6.
Robert Sheckley Web site,http://www.sheckley.com/ (April 14, 2004)*.