Saturday, March 23, 2013
11. The 10th Victim by Robert Sheckley
It's a great setting: the near future where war has been eliminated in favour of an ongoing, global game of voluntary human hunt. The rules are simple. You offer yourself up and then you have a total of 10 kills to succeed, 5 as the Hunter and 5 as the Victim. It's totally legal as long as you don't injure any non-participants. It is all televised and a major part of the culture. If you do make it to 10 kills, you become a high-status person in your community. The book begins with a few example kills and then focuses on two people, both heading to their tenth kill. Catherine Meredith is a New York executive with a big media organization behind her. Marcello Polletti is a feckless middle-aged Italian man who doesn't seem to care about the hunt at all.
When I was an adolescent, I got into Killer big-time. It was a game where you played assassins trying to take out your friends with dart guns, squirt guns, bombs that were notes etc. It was a brief phenomenon in the '80s, I guess on college campuses. We lived in a small town and were only like 12 or 13 but we had some pretty good games, including one that took place in the woods behind my house (with my uptight neighbour freaking out about us making noise and screaming into the woods that there was a cougar sighting earlier that day). This book was a huge influence on the original game. This is why it has been on my list for so long.
However, the tone of the book is actually quite light, almost sardonic, which was far from the way I as an intense, nerdy 12-year old boy thought about how assassination should go down. I'm quite glad I didn't read it back then, as I wouldn't have gotten it and probably been kind of annoyed and disappointed. Today, I find it a fun read, doing some nice satire of the media and our culture of violence. The Marcello character is quite funny. It's just all a bit light and kind of goes nowhere in the end. But I guess that is not too surprising given that it really was just a short story. There are two sequels. I am at least curious to know how Sheckley followed this story up.