REVIEW SUMMARY: SF satire and adventure story rolled into one fun read.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Murderer Will Barrent has his memory erased and is sent to the prison planet of Omega where society rewards evil.
PROS: Moves fast; interesting society; a short, quick read;
CONS: Little characterization; I’m not a huge fan of satire.
BOTTOM LINE: A good satire about social status.
The story opens with Will Barrent waking up with no memory in a ship arriving at the prison planet of Omega. Nobody tells the hundreds of prisoners exactly what the rules are in this society that is completely run by the criminals who are sent there. The only signs of authority are the guard ships that fly overhead preventing any escape. Barrent learns the rules of Omega are a bit backward from Earth. On Omega, evil is rewarded with a promotion in social status. Eventually, Barrent longs to regain his memories and return to Earth and conspires with an underground rebellion to do just that.
Sheckley wrote this satirical look at social status in 1960 so the writing style has a classic feel to it. That is to say that it is a terse, fast-moving adventure story that clocks in at only 140 pages. This is actually refreshing in today’s era of 800-page doorstops that begin a never-ending series. Of course, the speed is at the expense of the characterization (you have to cut corners somewhere) but it is still a good read. And after all, how sympathetic is a reader supposed to be to a planet full of criminals anyway?
The portrayal of society on Omega, with its low life expectancy, was interesting in a Star Trek episode sort of way. Drug addiction and worship of the Dark One are required by law. Occasionally there are holidays where the upper class gets to kill the lower class and Games where a convicted man must fight a machine of death which boasts 23 modes of killing.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of satirical sf (even though I did enjoy The Space Merchants) because I’m generally reading sf for the sense of wonder. With satire, the social commentary tends to get in the way of my enjoyment. Fortunately, Sheckley (who apparently writes much satire) doesn’t lay it on too thickly and I was able to read this like a quick-moving adventure story. And a fun one at that.