Tuesday, May 03, 2011

28. Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley

This was the third and final book in the stash I found hidden away at my job. I have never read anything by Sheckley, but have since learned that he was a very successful, popular and critically-acclaimed science fiction author who eventually became the managing editor for Omni magazine. Dimension of Miracles was written in 1968 and while I respect this kind of science fiction, it really isn't my cup of tea. These guys wrote in a period when ideas were more important than story and they really do have a lot of cool ideas, but without a strong narrative, I find myself getting distracted often.

This book, for example, is ostensibly about a human from 1968 New York who is mistakenly given a galactic prize. The mistake is that only species who are able to travel about in space, time and dimensions are eligible to receive this prize. Tom Carmody, is thus left adrift in space time whatever where he received the prize having no idea of how to get back to his right place time and version. Furthermore, because of the universal law of predation, by being taken out of his own place in the hierarchy of eaten and eater, Carmody has now a predator on his tail whose sole raison d'être is to eat him.

It kind of sounds like fun and the back and front cover copy make you think of some kind of world-spanning chase. [As an aside, this is one thing I don't get about sci-fi publishers from this period. They always had the most abstract, trippy cover art that never had anything at all to do with the content of the book juxtaposed against the most blatant, lowest-common-denominator copy. Why were they willing to be all speculative and creative with the cover art, but completely pandering with the copy?] Instead, as I had expected, we get an excuse to put the protagonist in many different situations where ideas of philosophy and crazy science can be discussed. He meets a god who is the sole inhabitant of a planet and stuck in an existential crisis. There is a builder of worlds (who reminded me a lot of Slartibartfast), who built earth on God's request and wanted to apologize to him for cutting corners. We go to super-consumerized Manhattan where everybody talks in advertising jargons. We meet an intelligent city whose nagging personality has driven away all the citizens. And so on. Some of it was clever. This book reminded me a lot of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in its tone.

But ultimately, it all kind of fizzles out because there is no real storyline and I'm not super concerned about the fate of the protagonist as it seems kind of random to me anyhow. It's not a bad read and it fired off some synapses in the lazier parts of my mind, if you enjoy this period of science fiction. It has helped me to get a better sense of what elements of that period I do and don't enjoy.

10 comments:

Lantzvillager said...

I think you exactly hit the nail on the head: many of the writers had good ideas but weren't great storytellers. That is why you saw so may short stories and collections of short stories in the era.

I dig the nice cover by Paul Lehr though.

OlmanFeelyus said...

I thought you might know who the artist was. There are several images of it up on the web, but none of them were great quality so I scanned it in myself at a larger size than I usually do. Glad you like it!

rocketdave said...

I just read this book and was pretty annoyed to find so much glowing praise for it on Amazon, so then I stumbled on this review after a Google search and am gratified to find my negative impressions rather neatly reflected in this review. There are some interesting ideas in this book, but there's no story. You also make a good point about how the covers to so many sci-fi books from the past often seem completely unrelated to the actual text; that's something I've noticed many times myself.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Thanks for your comment, RocketDave! I think that this genre of book appeals to a certain kind of sci-fi reader who is already accepting of the tropes of the genre. Thus, they tend to be not super critical of it. That's my off-the-cuff guess why it would have such a positive review on Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Posting an even semi negative review to pretty much any Sheckley book, let alone one written this early is akin to admitting that you have no taste.

Ideas over story? Sheckley was a singular master of both and there is a reason why he was called the greatest the field of science fiction ever produced.

All this gripes aside, Sheckley really is absolutely wonderful and I urge you to give his work another chance, especially his short stories.

Anonymous said...

Dimension of Miracles is absolutely amazing. Sheckley is a phenominal writer. No wonder Neil Gaiman put so much effort to popularize this book.

Martin Olson said...

Dimension of Miracles is one of the most brilliant, funniest books I have ever read. I disagree with the few folks who said there was no story. It's one of the best, most paradoxically brilliant stories ever, and the ending is truly beautiful.

And sorry, Adams fans, Douglas Adams admitted to reading this all of Sheckley's stories and stole a LOT of his style and stories from Sheckley. An unfortunate fact. This book aside, Adams stole an entire sequence from the Sheckley story "Ask a Foolish Question." Thank goodness Adams was so talented and funny on his own, but no wonder he reformulated Sheckley's "Dimesion" first as a radio series, which he later adapted to a novel; if he had written the novel straightaway, his pilfering would have been extremely obvious. Don't believe me (or Neil Gaiman), check it out for yourself if you're interested.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Very cool to see all these defenders of Dimension of Miracles come out! I don't disagree that this book was groundbreaking and interesting and a great favourite among sci-fi readers. It just doesn't work for me personally. I've said many times, I'm kind of childish in my desire for a strong narrative. There is a story in Dimension, but I see it as a framework to hang all these cool ideas on, rather than the raison d'être of the book.

I can also definitely see the connection and influence on Douglas Adams. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for that tidbit of info.

Anonymous said...

Dimension Of Miracles is my all time favourite book. The cover came out with various artwork, at least three different versions.

Anonymous said...

Dimension Of Miracles is my all time favourite book. The cover came out with various artwork, at least three different versions.