Jan 25, 2012

The Status Civilization, by Robert Sheckley

I was lent this little novella from 1960 and was quite surprised by it. I expected a ridiculously farfetched premise and cliched writing, but what I read was actually very well thought out and fairly well written. This futuristic story takes place mostly on the planet Omega, which is populated entirely by criminals whose memories have been erased. Bennant is convicted of murder, but he doesn't FEEL like a murderer; this is where the underground resistance comes in - they want to send him back to Earth.

The society we read about is the antithesis of our own: murder is the greatest good, Evil is worshiped as the only legal religion, and movement between classes is both exceedingly difficult and incredibly rare. The strength in this book is Sheckley's determined follow-though. He takes the idea of a tyrannical government run by the dregs of society and brings it to its logical conclusion. He does the same with Earth: peace is only possible when there are no differences between people, so logically, society must be completely conformed. This is dystopian science fiction to the core.

The writing is mostly good, though there are awkward bits. A lot of time is glossed over in a matter of a few sentences, leaving the reader to assume Sheckley was either too lazy to bother describing those times, or had an editor who demanded a maximum of 150 pages. Aside from that, this is a very engaging read and does what all good fiction should: it makes you think.

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