My favorite SF writer Robert Sheckley died last week.
I posted some memories of him a couple of months ago when he got sick.
A few more notes.
In the mid-1980s I co-edited with Peter Lamborn Wilson and Robert Anton Wilson an edgy SF anthology called Semiotext(e) SF (AK Press, Edinburgh 1989). I got Bob to mail me Xeroxed pages from his journals, which we included as a piece called “Amsterdam Diary.” Let me quote three good bits here.
“How much reading of other fiction writers must I do to convince myself that the finest work done is woven out of the author’s own experience, his own and no others, no matter how much he chooses to disguise or exploit the fact.”
“Good fiction is never preachy. It tells its truth only by inference and analogy. It uses the specific detail as its building block rather than the vague generalization. In my case it’s usually humorous — no mistaking my stuff for the Platform Talk of the 6th Patriarch. But I do not try to be funny, I merely write as I write. In the meantime I trust the voice I can never lose — my own. The directions of its interest may change, even by morning. But what does that mater if I simply follow them, along for the trip rather than the payoff (always disappointing), enjoying writing my story rather than looking forward to its completion. Wise-sounding words which I hope describe where I’m really at.”
“Two weeks until my 50 birthday. The thought, the mood, of impending doom. Fifty is well enough — but what about 60, what about 70? What about death, a second away or 20 more years, but looming up faster every year. They go by faster & faster as one grows older. What happened to the golden inexhaustible summers of my youth? Maybe they weren’t always golden, but they did seem to stretch on forever. I thought I’d never grow up.”
Robert did me the signal honor of writing a very warm and hilarious preface for my collection Transreal (WCS Books, Englewood CO 1991). He initially protests, “What is Rucker trying to do to me? Why did he select me for this job? Why is he seeking to undermine me with his mind-experiment, why does he want to invade my mind with the contents of his trashy situations, with the faecid droppings of his clever simian mind?” But then he relents. “This is SF rigorously following crazy rules. My mind of science fiction. At the heart of it is a rage to extrapolate. This is what Rucker does. Among other things. At the heart of it is a rage to extrapolate. Excuse me, shall I extrapolate that for you? Won’t take a jiffy. And so we have it. Rudy the crazed mathematician, like a poet hidden in the light of thought singing songs unbidden ‘til the world is wrought to sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not…”
In return, I got the opportunity to write a preface for Sheckley’s Minotaur Maze (Pulphouse, Eugene OR 1990). I said, “The paramount quality of Sheckley’s writing is the purity of his language. The timing of his cadenced phrases is exquisite. His richly charged clarity arises, I would say, from the excellent moral qualities which Sheckley as a writer exemplifies — he is a man in love with writing and with the simple sweetness of life.”
One final quote from the Sheck-man himself in Minotaur Maze, one to bring tears to the eyes: “The premise could be seen wavering, there were repercussions of a rhetorical nature, and the author could be glimpsed, a ghostly figure of unbelievable beauty and intelligence, trying desperately, despite his many personal problems, to put things together again.”