Dimension of Miracles: Absurd, amusing, thought-provoking

Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley

Dimension of Miracles by Robert SheckleyA few years ago, Neil Gaiman produced a series of audiobooks called Neil Gaiman Presents in which he identified several of his favorite novels that had not yet been produced in audio format, found suitable narrators, and provided his own introductions to the books. I’ve purchased almost all of them.

In his introduction to Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles (1968), Gaiman discusses his discovery of Sheckley’s work after reading about the author in Brian W. AldissBillion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction (1973) and calls him one of the “sharpest” and “funniest” writers of science fiction in the 1950s and 1960s. Interestingly, he discovered that the assistant editor of his SANDMAN novels at DC/Vertigo was Sheckley’s daughter.

Dimension of Miracles is about a man named Carmody who gets a visit from an interstellar messenger and is told that he’s won a big prize but must accompany the messenger to “Galactic Center” if he wants to claim it. Unaware of worlds other than our own, Carmody reasons that he’s either insane, or the messenger tells the truth. Either way, it won’t hurt to go. So, Carmody goes to the Galactic Center, a place full of technological wonders that are far beyond the capability of Earth’s humans.

Due to some bureaucratic nonsense, Carmody gets stranded on this unfamiliar world and has to try to make his way back home with his prize. During the subsequent adventure, he meets several unusual people and learns some startling things about how the universe really works. It’s enlightening, to say the least, and Carmody’s worldview will be drastically changed by the time it’s over.

Sheckley’s story is creative, absurd, and often very amusing with characters you won’t soon forget such as the computer that’s proud of its mistakes, a god with ennui, the penny-pinching architect of Earth, a society of friendly dinosaurs who are worried about the future of their species, and a sentient city that tries to benevolently micromanage its inhabitants.Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley

As Gaiman mentions in his introduction, in content and tone Dimension of Miracles is very similar to Douglas AdamsHITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Both stories are absurd and entertaining, but also thought-provoking with much satire and some biting social commentary.

Adams was unfamiliar with Sheckley’s story (published 11 years earlier) until someone pointed out the similarity to him. He told Neil Gaiman that it was shocking because it was so much “like reading himself.” Gaiman was able to introduce Sheckley and Adams to each other.

For many readers, Dimension of Miracles will be a 5-star book. It’s so creative, clever, and funny. I found, though, that I didn’t really care about Carmody — he’s quite a dull and passive protagonist — and, though I loved it at first, eventually I tired of the conceit. Some of the scenes went on too long after they were no longer funny. I was ready for Dimension of Miracles to be over before it was, and the book was only about 5 hours long. But, overall, this was a good experience and I can’t wait to read more of Robert Sheckley’s work.

The audiobook was read by John Hodgman who was handpicked by Neil Gaiman. This was (not surprisingly) a brilliant choice. Hodgman is perfect. I enjoyed listening to Gaiman interview Hodgman at the end of the audiobook.

Published in 1968. It had to be somewhere, Carmody knew that much. It was waiting for him, just as he had left it. But where? He only knew he was in the center of a galaxy in a universe of galaxies. Within them lay endless varieties of the planet Earth. And there was only one way to find his Earth again: he would have to visit each one. And he would have to hurry — because his search for home had turned into a race with death.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. It’s great to read that Sheckley and Adams got to meet each other, since they worked with similar themes.

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