Visions of Paradise

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Dimension of Miracles

Recently I purchased the NESFA edition of Dimensions of Sheckley, which contains 4 of his best novels and a novella. Rather than read them in order, I took the advice of Mike Resnick who, in his Introduction, called Dimensions of Miracles one of the finest science fiction novels ever.

While Resnick might have overstated slightly, it is indeed a very fine novel. The plot is simple: the protagonist Carmody, who lives on Earth circa 1960s, wins an intergalactic prize which requires him to go to Galactic Center and claim it. The alien who informs him of the prize takes him to claim it, but apparently nobody has any idea how to get Carmody back home. After all, the planets are in constant movement, and unless Carmody can provide some coordinates himself–which he cannot, since he is a rather typical 20th century American– there is nothing anybody can do for him.

Thus begins Carmody’s search across the galaxy seeking help in finding Earth again. He encounters a god who engages in philosophical discussions with Carmody and teaches him about the law of predation which basically states that every being incurs its own natural predator. And such a predator is seeking Carmody across the galaxy with the intention of devouring him. Carmody’s only safety lies on his home planet Earth, since that is his cave where he is safe from predators.

Carmody learns that there is a series of alternate Earths, all of which resemble his own Earth, although not precisely, on only one of which will he be safe from his predator. So with the help of an alien builder of worlds, Carmody visits one possible Earth after another. Eventually he either realizes himself that each world is not his Earth, or his predator finds him and he flees ahead of it.

Perhaps the most detailed, and interesting, chapter is when Carmody arrives on the correct Earth, but during the upper Cretaceous where he finds a society of intelligent dinosaurs who are stunned at the appearance of a talking mammal. In their culture, mammals are small, nonintelligent animals. At one point Carmody engages in a very funny conversation with a tyrannosaur–the leading race of dinosaurs–about the future of dinosaur society, all the while Carmody realizing that dinosaurs are doomed to extinction and replacement by mammals. The tyrannosaur asks Carmody about the future:

“Then you are the dominant species?” of the dominant species.”

“But what about the reptiles?”

Carmody had neither the heart nor the nerve to tell him that dinosaurs were extinct in his day, and had been extinct for sixty million years or so.

“Your race is doing every bit as well as could be expected,” Carmody replied.

“Good! I thought it would be like that! We’re a tough race, you know, and most of us have will power and common sense. Do men and reptiles have much trouble coexisting?’

“ No, not much trouble,” Carmody said.

“Glad to hear it. I was afraid that dinosaurs might have become high-handed on account of their size.”

“No, no,” Carmody said. “Speaking for the mammals of the future, I think I can safely say that everybody likes a dinosaur.”

Carmody’s prize itself is hilarious, apparently nothing more than a talking, shape-changing entity which mostly engages in witty repartee with Carmody.

Dimensions of Miracles is primarily a comedy which successfully pokes frequent jabs at the foibles of contemporary society, which is typical of Sheckley at his best. This is a highly-recommended novel. Now I eagerly await Sheckley’s other dimensions.


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