« Gnome-o-gram: Mortgage Bailout, Roman Style | Main | Reading List: Patriots »

Friday, December 5, 2008

Reading List: The People Trap and Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert. The People Trap and Mindswap. New York: Ace Books, [1952–1966, 1968] 1981. ISBN 978-0-441-65874-9.
This “Ace Double” (albeit not in the classic dos-à-dos format, but simply concatenated) contains a collection of mostly unrelated short stories by Robert Sheckley, and the short novel Mindswap, which is an extraordinarily zany story even by the standards of the year in which it was written, 1966, which was a pretty zany year—perhaps Sheckley foresaw just how weird the next few years would get.

I bought this book because it contained a story I've remembered ever since I first read it four decades ago (and, even then, a decade after it was first published in Galaxy in 1953), “The Laxian Key”. In a century and a half of science fiction, this is the only exemplar of which I'm aware of a story based upon economics which is also riotously funny. I won't give away the plot, but just imagine the ultimate implications of “it's free!”.

These stories are gems from the era in which science fiction was truly the “literature of ideas”—it's the ideas that matter; don't look for character development or introspection: the characters are props for the idea that underlies each story. If you like this kind of thing, which I do enormously, here is a master at work at the apogee of the genre, when you could pick up any one of the science fiction magazines and find several stories that made you look at the world through glasses which presented reality in a very different light.

This book is long out of print, but used copies are readily available, often for less than the 1981 reprint cover price.

Posted at December 5, 2008 01:07