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Am I Not Your Virus? Am I Not Your Virus?

Dimension of Sheckley

Novel Reviews and Ratings *****


Mindswap (1st Edition) MINDSWAP (1966)

"Gentleman from Mars, age 43, quiet, studious, cultured, wishes to exchange bodies with similarly inclined Earth gentleman; August 1 to September 1. References exchanged. Brokers. Protected."

Marvin Flynn longs to visit space, but exchanging bodies with an alien seems the only affordable option. Naturally enough things go slightly wrong...

Sheckley could do no wrong at this point, another brilliant novel. ****

This novel is now available in the omnibus volume Dimensions of Sheckley.



Dimension of Miracles (UK Paperback Edition) DIMENSION OF MIRACLES (1968)

Thomas Carmody wins the jackpot in the Intergalactic Sweepstakes and finds himself at Galactic Centre to recieve his prize. The only problem is how does he get back to Earth? He has to find Earth (Where), then get to the right time (When), and then make sure he's on the right Earth (Which). While he searches he is being chased by a creature designed specifically to devour Carmodys.

This novel is incredible! As Carmody gets ever closer to home the world he finds himself in just seems to become more and more insane!! It's dark, funny and memorable, perhaps Sheckley's finest hour. *****

This novel is now available in the omnibus volume Dimensions of Sheckley.



Options (1st Paperback Edition) OPTIONS (1975)

Tom Mishkin's spacecraft is grounded. He searches for spare part L-1223A on the strange planet Harmonia, accompanied only by his robot.

This novel consists of seventy seven short chapters, all/none/some of which may be hallucinations. Here Sheckley takes some of the ideas in "Dimension of Miracles" to perverse extremes, dispensing almost entirely with linear narrative i.e. shuffling the order of these chapters wouldn't really make much difference. Avant-garde? Or had he (literally) lost the plot? It doesn't really work, but some of these seventy seven discontinuities are gems in their own right. **


THE ALCHEMICAL MARRIAGE OF ALASTAIR CROMPTON (1978)

Alternative title: "Crompton Divided"

N.B. This is an expanded version of the novella "Join Now" (also known as "The Humours") which originally appeared in Galaxy way back in 1958!

As a child Alastair Crompton suffers from virus schizophrenia. Two dangerous aspects of his personality are separated from him and continue their lives in artificial bodies. Loomis contains all Crompton's lust and is grossly self-indulgent. Stack contains all Crompton's anger and is dangerously violent. Left behind, Alastair is healthy but deeply dull. He must reintegrate himself!

The premise is pretty mind boggling even for Sheckley. Alistair, moderate and prim, is sickened by Loomis and Stack, yet knows he needs their lust and anger to be whole. He is probably Sheckley's most developed character. Another fine novel. ****


DRAMOCLES (1983)

*** An Intergalactic Soap Opera ***

King Dramocles has ruled the planet Glorm for thirty peaceful years. One day his destiny is revealed to him, and a chain of bizzare events starts. Things seem to be leading to an interplanetary war...

At this point Sheckley seems to abandon some of the weird and experimental elements that appear in most of his previous novels. "Dramocles" is a light comedy, and the sub-title "An Intergalactic Soap Opera" gives a good indication of how the plot progresses. It's all good clean fun! ***


VICTIM PRIME (1987)

Country boy Harold Erdman sets out on a hazardous trip to the island Esmerelda. There he can join the Hunt, where Hunters and Victims try to kill each other for prize money. He needs this money to send back to save his dying home town. Harold isn't exactly streetwise, but luck seems to be on his side.

Described as a companion novel to "The Tenth Victim", this puts new characters in a situation similar to its predecessor. A slightly lazy ploy perhaps (Sheckley running out of ideas?), but still an extremely enjoyable effort. ***


HUNTER/VICTIM (1988)

Whilst on holiday Frank Blackwell's wife is killed in a terrorist attack. He decides to join "The Hunt", an illegal (but tolerated) organisation which assassinates various undesirable characters. Frank is assigned Guzman, a Nicaraguan arms dealer who has turned his Miami mansion into a fortress.

Set much earlier than the first two "Victim" novels, this throws a few new ideas into the pot rather than simply sticking to the formula. The last(?) and darkest of the series doesn't dissapoint. ***


DIMENSIONS OF SHECKLEY: THE SHORT NOVELS OF ROBERT SHECKLEY (2002)

An omnibus edition collecting four of his greatest novels, plus "The Minotaur Maze" (previously only available as a limited edition). The other novels are:

Immortality Inc. (1958)
Journey Beyond Tommorow (1962)
Mindswap (1966)
Dimension of Miracles (1968)

At last these terriffic books are back in print (click titles above for individual reviews). Short? Well, the whole volume isn't much over 500 pages. If Sheckley was writing "Dimension of Miracles" today he would no doubt be encouraged to pad it out to at least double its 140(ish) page length. And it would probably be volume one of the "Carmody Chronicles". Not a good idea in my opinion! *****


BILL THE GALACTIC HERO... ON THE PLANET OF BOTTLED BRAINS (1990)

Harry Harrison wrote the original "Bill the Galactic Hero" novel in 1965. In 1989 he returned to the character and wrote six sequels, of which "Bottled Brains" is the second (i.e. the third "Bill" book). Most of the novels are collaborations, but Sheckley was only involved in this one.

Bill lands on the planet Tsuris, a place which has plenty of brains but not enough bodies. Guess whose body they feel like snatching? "Bottled Brains" is a lightweight effort lacking the satirical edge of the original "Bill" book. Galactic fluff for children of all ages. **


BRING ME THE HEAD OF PRINCE CHARMING (1991)

The demon Azzie Elbub re-enacts the story of Prince Charming and the Sleeping Beauty, creating the bodies of the couple from a bizarre selection of spare limbs. The first of three collaborations with Roger Zelazny (RIP).

Azzie is a rather cuddly demon, and the whimsical style of the book is not a million parallel worlds away from the 'Discworld' series by Terry Pratchett. I'm not a great fan of this style of humourous fantasy (I like my demons nasty!), but this is a popular example of the genre. **

Sequels: IF AT FAUST YOU DON'T SUCEED, A FARCE TO BE RECKONED WITH


FUTUROPOLIS (1978)

*** Impossible cities of science fiction and fantasy ***

This is a large format book with loads of illustrations, many in colour. Sheckley considers the weird and wonderful cities that science fiction writers have dreamt up, but the text plays second fiddle to the pictures. These range from vintage sci-fi magazine covers to serious architectural designs. The optimistic tone of the book (cities in space are just around the corner!) seems a bit quaint these days.


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