Is That What People Do?: Stories

Is That What People Do?: Stories

by Robert Sheckley

NOOK Book(eBook)

$9.49 $9.99 Save 5% Current price is $9.49, Original price is $9.99. You Save 5%.

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now
LEND ME® See Details


More than three dozen of the best and most popular stories by the acknowledged master of the short science fiction story. The thirty-nine works contained in this volume—twenty-six from the author’s ten other Open Road collections, plus thirteen additional pieces unique to this volume—include these vintage Sheckley stories: “The Eye of Reality,” “The Language of Love,” “The Accountant,” “A Wind Is Rising,” “The Robot Who Looked Like Me,” “The Mnemone,” “Warm,” “The Native Problem,” “Fishing Season,” “Shape,” “Beside Still Waters,” “Silversmith Wishes,” “Meanwhile, Back at the Bromide,” “Fool’s Mate,” “Pilgrimage to Earth,” “All the Things You Are,” “The Store of the Worlds,” “Seventh Victim,” “Cordle to Onion to Carrot,” “Is That What People Do?”, “The Prize of Peril,” “Fear in the Night,” “Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?”, “The Battle,” “The Monsters,” and “The Petrified World.”

This volume also includes the following uncollected Sheckley tales: “Five Minutes Early,” “Miss Mouse and the Fourth Dimension,” “The Skag Castle,” “The Helping Hand,” “The Last Days of (Parallel?) Earth,” “The Future Lost,” “Wild Talents, Inc.,” “The Swamp,” “The Future of Sex: Speculative Journalism,” “The Life of Anybody,” “Goodbye Forever to Mr. Pain,” “The Shaggy Average American Man Story,” “Shootout in the Toy Shop,” and “How Pro Writers Really Write—or Try To.”

From the very beginning of his career, Robert Sheckley was recognized by fans, reviewers, and fellow authors as a master storyteller and the wittiest satirist working in the science fiction field. Open Road is proud to republish his acclaimed body of work, with nearly thirty volumes of full-length fiction and short story collections. Rediscover, or discover for the first time, a master of science fiction who, according to the New York Times, was “a precursor to Douglas Adams.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497649781
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 05/13/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 402
Sales rank: 452,084
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Robert Sheckley was one of the funniest writers in the history of science fiction. He did screwball comedy, broad satire, and farce. He could also be deadly serious, but he was always entertaining and always had something pointed to say about our world using the skewed versions of reality he created in his fiction. Starting in the early 1950s, he was an amazingly prolific short story writer, with a lot of his stories appearing in Galaxy Magazine. He launched his novel‑writing career with Immortality, Inc., which he followed up with a sequence of excellent books: The Status CivilizationJourney Beyond Tomorrow, and Mindswap. He continued to produce novels and short stories in abundance until his death in 2005.

Robert Sheckley was one of the funniest writers in the history of science fiction. He did screwball comedy, broad satire, and farce. He could also be deadly serious, but he was always entertaining and always had something pointed to say about our world using the skewed versions of reality he created in his fiction. Starting in the early 1950s, he was an amazingly prolific short story writer, with a lot of his stories appearing in Galaxy Magazine. He launched his novel-writing career with Immortality, Inc., which he followed up with a sequence of excellent books: The Status CivilizationJourney Beyond Tomorrow, and Mindswap. He continued to produce novels and short stories in abundance until his death in 2005.

Read an Excerpt




Jefferson Toms went into an auto-cafe one afternoon after classes, to drink coffee and study. He sat down, philosophy texts piled neatly before him, and saw a girl directing the robot waiters. She had smoky-gray eyes and hair the color of a rocket exhaust. Her figure was slight but sweetly curved and, gazing at it, Toms felt a lump in his throat and a sudden recollection of autumn, evening, rain and candlelight.

This was how love came to Jefferson Toms. Although he was ordinarily a very reserved young man, he complained about the robot service in order to meet her. When they did meet, he was inarticulate, overwhelmed by feeling. Somehow, though, he managed to ask her for a date.

The girl, whose name was Doris, was strangely moved by the stocky, black-haired young student, for she accepted at once. And then Jefferson Toms' troubles began.

He found love delightful, yet extremely disturbing, in spite of his advanced studies in philosophy. But love was a confusing thing even in Toms' age, when spaceliners bridged the gaps between the worlds, disease lay dead, war was inconceivable, and just about anything of any importance had been solved in an exemplary manner.

Old Earth was in better shape than ever before. Her cities were bright with plastic and stainless steel. Her remaining forests were carefully tended bits of greenery where one might picnic in perfect safety, since all beasts and insects had been removed to sanitary zoos which reproduced their living conditions with admirable skill.

Even the climate of Earth had been mastered. Farmers received their quota of rain between three and three-thirty in the morning, people gathered at stadiums to watch a program of sunsets, and a tornado was produced once a year in a special arena as part of the World Peace Day Celebration.

But love was as confusing as ever and Toms found this distressing.

He simply could not put his feelings into words. Such expressions as "I love you," "I adore you," "I'm crazy about you" were overworked and inadequate. They conveyed nothing of the depth and fervor of his emotions. Indeed they cheapened them, since every stereo, every second-rate play was filled with similar words. People used them in casual conversation and spoke of how much they loved pork chops, adored sunsets, were crazy about tennis.

Every fiber of Toms' being revolted against this. Never, he swore, would he speak of his love in terms used for pork chops. But he found, to his dismay, that he had nothing better to say.

He brought the problem to his philosophy professor. "Mr. Toms," the professor said, gesturing wearily with his glasses, "ah — love, as it is commonly called, is not an operational area with us as yet. No significant work has been done in this field, aside from the so-called Language of Love of the Tyanian race."

This was no help. Toms continued to muse on love and think lengthily of Doris. In the long haunted evenings on her porch when the shadows from the trellis vines crossed her face, revealing and concealing it, Toms struggled to tell her what he felt. And since he could not bring himself to use the weary commonplaces of love, he tried to express himself in extravagances.

"I feel about you," he would say, "the way a star feels about its planet" "How immense!" she would answer, immensely flattered at being compared to anything so cosmic.

"That's not what I meant," Toms amended. "The feeling I was trying to express was more — well, for example, when you walk, I am reminded of —"

"Of a what?"

"A doe in a forest glade," Toms said, frowning.

"How charming!"

"It wasn't intended to be charming. I was trying to express the awkwardness inherent in youth and yet —"

"But, honey," she said, "I'm not awkward. My dancing teacher —"

"I didn't mean awkward. But the essence of awkwardness is — is —"

"I understand," she said.

But Toms knew she didn't.

So he was forced to give up extravagances. Soon he found himself unable to say anything of any importance to Doris, for it was not what he meant, nor even close to it

The girl became concerned at the long, moody silences which developed between them.

"Jeff," she would urge, "surely you can say something!" Toms shrugged his shoulders.

"Even if it isn't absolutely what you mean."

Toms sighed.

"Please," she cried, "say anything at all! I can't stand this!"

"Oh, hell —"

"Yes?" she breathed, her face transfigured.

"That wasn't what I meant," Toms said, relapsing into his gloomy silence.

At last he asked her to marry him. He was willing to admit that he "loved" her — but he refused to expand onit. He explained that a marriage must be founded upon truth or it is doomed from the start. If he cheapened and falsified his emotions at the beginning, what could the future hold for them?

Doris found his sentiments admirable, but refused to marry him.

"You must tell a girl that you love her," she declared. "You have to tell her a hundred times a day, Jefferson, and even then it's not enough."

"But I do love you!" Toms protested. "I mean to say I have an emotion corresponding to —"

"Oh, stop it!"

In this predicament, Toms thought about the Language of Love and went to his professor's office to ask about it.

"We are told," his professor said, "that the race indigenous to Tyana II had a specific and unique language for the expression of sensations of love. To say 'I love you' was unthinkable for Tyanians. They would use a phrase denoting the exact kind and class of love they felt at that specific moment, and used for no other purpose."

Toms nodded, and the professor continued. "Of course, developed with this language was, necessarily, a technique of lovemaking quite incredible in its perfection. We are told that it made all ordinary techniques seem like the clumsy pawing of a grizzly in heat." The professor coughed in embarrassment.

"It is precisely what I need!" Toms exclaimed.

"Ridiculous," said the professor. "The technique might be interesting, but your own is doubtless sufficient for most needs. And the language, by its very nature, can be used with only one person. To learn it impresses me as wasted energy."

"Labor for love," Toms said, "is the most worthwhile work in the world, since it produces a rich harvest of feeling."

"I refuse to stand here and listen to bad epigrams. Mr. Toms, why all this fuss about love?"

"It is the only perfect thing in this world," Toms answered fervently. "If one must learn a special language to appreciate it, one can do no less. Tell me, is it far to Tyana II?"

"A considerable distance," his professor said, with a thin smile. "And an unrewarding one, since the race is extinct."

"Extinct! But why? A sudden pestilence? An invasion?"

"It is one of the mysteries of the galaxy," his professor said somberly.

"Then the language is lost!"

"Not quite. Twenty years ago, an Earthman named George Varris went to Tyana and learned the Language of Love from the last remnants of the race." The professor shrugged his shoulders. "I never considered it sufficiently important to read his scientific papers."

Toms looked up Varris in the Interspatial Explorers Who's Who and found that he was credited with the discovery of Tyana, had wandered around the frontier planets for a time, but at last had returned to deserted Tyana, to devote his life to investigating every aspect of its culture.

After learning this, Toms thought long and hard. The journey to Tyana was a difficult one, time-consuming, and expensive. Perhaps Varris would be dead before he got there, or unwilling to teach him the language. Was it worth the gamble?

"Is love worth it?" Toms asked himself, and knew the answer.

So he sold his ultra-fi, his memory recorder, his philosophy texts, and several stocks his grandfather had left him, and booked passage to Cranthis IV, which was the closest he could come to Tyana on a scheduled spaceway. And after all his preparations had been made, he went to Doris.

"When I return," he said, "I will be able to tell you exactly how much — I mean the particular quality and class of — I mean, Doris, when I have mastered the Tyanian Technique, you will be loved as no woman has ever been loved!"

"Do you mean that'" she asked, her eyes glowing.

"Well," Toms said, "the term 'loved', doesn't quite express it. But I mean something very much like it."

"I will wait for you, Jeff," she said. "But — please don't be too long."

Jefferson Toms nodded, blinked back his tears, clutched Doris inarticulately, and hurried to the spaceport.

Within the hour, he was on his way.

Four months later, after considerable difficulties, Toms stood on Tyana, on the outskirts of the capital city. Slowly he walked down the broad, deserted main thoroughfare. On either side of him, noble buildings soared to dizzy heights. Peering inside one, Toms saw complex machinery and gleaming switchboards. With his pocket Tyana-English dictionary, he was able to translate the lettering above one of the buildings.


Other buildings were much the same, filled with calculating machinery, switchboards, ticker tapes, and the like. He passed THE INSTITUTE FOR RESEARCH INTO AFFECTION DELAY, stared at the two-hundred-story HOME FOR THE EMOTIONALLY RETARDED, and glanced at several others. Slowly the awesome, dazzling truth dawned upon him.

Here was an entire city given over to the research and aid of love.

He had no time for further speculation. In front of him was the gigantic GENERAL LOVE SERVICES BUILDING. And out of its marble hallway stepped an old man.

"Who the hell are you?" the old man asked.

"I am Jefferson Toms, of Earth. I have come here to learn the Language of Love, Mr. Varris."

Varris raised his shaggy white eyebrows. He was a small, wrinkled old man, stoop-shouldered and shaky in the knees. But his eyes were alert and filled with a cold suspicion.

"Perhaps you think the language will make you more attractive to women," Varris said. "Don't believe it, young man. Knowledge has its advantages, of course. But it had distinct drawbacks, as the Tyanians discovered."

"What drawbacks?" Toms asked.

Varris grinned, displaying a single yellow tooth. "You wouldn't understand, if you don't already know. It takes knowledge to understand the limitations of knowledge."

"Nevertheless," Toms said, "I want to learn the language."

Varris stared at him thoughtfully. "But it is not a simple thing, Toms. The Language of Love, and its resultant technique, is every bit as complex as brain surgery or the practice of corporation law. It takes work, much work, and a talent as well."

"I will do the work. And I'm sure I have the talent."

"Most people think that," Varris said, "and most of them are mistaken. But never mind, never mind. It's been a long time since I've had any company. We'll see how you get on, Toms."

Together they went into the General Services Building, which Varris called his home. They went to the Main Control Room, where the old man had put down a sleeping bag and set up a camp stove. There, in the shadow of the giant calculators, Toms' lessons began.

Varris was a thorough teacher. In the beginning, with the aid of a portable Semantic Differentiator, he taught Toms to isolate the delicate apprehension one feels in the presence of a to-be-loved person, to detect the subtle tensions that come into being as the potentiality of love draws near.

These sensations, Toms learned, must never be spoken of directly, for frankness frightens love. They must be expressed in simile, metaphor, and hyperbole, half-truths and white lies. With these, one creates an atmosphere and lays a foundation for love. And the mind, deceived by its own predisposition, thinks of booming surf and raging sea, mournful black rocks and fields of green corn.

"Nice images," Toms said admiringly.

"Those were samples," Varris told him. "Now you must learn them all."

So Toms went to work memorizing great long lists of natural wonders, to what sensations they were comparable, and at what stage they appeared in the anticipation of love. The language was thorough in this regard. Every state or object in nature for which there was a response in love-anticipation had been cataloged, classified, and listed with suitable modifying adjectives.

When he had memorized the list, Varris drilled him in perceptions of love. Toms learned the small, strange things that make up a state of love. Some were so ridiculous that he had to laugh.

The old man admonished him sternly. "Love is a serious business, Toms. You seem to find some humor in the fact that love is frequently predisposed by wind speed and direction."

"It seems foolish," Toms admitted.

"There are stranger things than that," Varris said, and mentioned another factor.

Toms shuddered. "That I can't believe. It's preposterous. Everyone knows —"

"If everyone knows how love operates, why hasn't someone reduced it to a formula? Murky thinking, Toms, murky thinking is the answer, and an unwillingness to accept cold facts. If you cannot face them —" "I can face anything," Toms said, "if I have to. Let's continue."

As the weeks passed, Toms learned the words which express the first quickening of interest, shade by shade, until an attachment is formed. He learned what that attachment really is and the three words that express it. This brought him to the rhetoric of sensation, where the body becomes supreme.

Here the language was specific instead of allusive, and dealt with feelings produced by certain words, and above all, by certain physical actions.

A startling little black machine taught Toms the thirty-eight separate and distinct sensations which the touch of a hand can engender, and he learned how to locate that sensitive area, no larger than a dime, which exists just below the right shoulder blade.

He learned an entirely new system of caressing, which caused impulses to explode — and even implode — along the nerve paths and to shower colored sparks before the eyes.

He was also taught the social advantages of conspicuous desensitization.

He learned many things about physical love which he had dimly suspected, and still more things which no one had suspected.

It was intimidating knowledge. Toms had imagined himself to be at least an adequate lover. Now he found that he knew nothing, nothing at all, and that his best efforts had been comparable to the play of amorous hippopotami.

"But what else could you expect'" Varris asked. "Good lovemaking, Toms, calls for more study, more sheer intensive labor than any other acquired skill. Do you still wish to learn?"

"Definitely!" Toms said. "Why, when I'm an expert on lovemaking, I'll — I can —"

"That is no concern of mine," the old man stated. "Let's return to our lessons."

Next, Toms learned the Cycles of Love. Love, he discovered, is dynamic, constantly rising and falling, and doing so in definite patterns. There were fifty-two major patterns, three hundred and six minor patterns, four general exceptions, and nine specific exceptions.

Toms learned them better than his own name.

He acquired the uses of the Tertiary Touch. And he never forgot the day he was taught what a bosom really was like.

"But I can't say that!" Toms objected, appalled.

"It's true, isn't it?" Varris insisted.

"No! I mean — yes, I suppose it is. But it's unflattering."

"So it seems. But examine, Toms. Is it actually unflattering?" Toms examined and found the compliment that lies beneath the insult, and so he learned another facet of the Language of Love.

Soon he was ready for the study of the Apparent Negations. He discovered that for every degree of love, there is a corresponding degree of hate, which is in itself a form of love. He came to understand how valuable hate is, how it gives substance and body to love, and how even indifference and loathing have their place in the nature of love.

Varris gave him a ten-hour written examination, which Toms passed with superlative marks. He was eager to finish, but Varris noticed that a slight tic had developed in his student's left eye and that his hands had a tendency to shake.

"You need a vacation," the old man informed him.

Toms had been thinking this himself. "You may be right," he said, with barely concealed eagerness. "Suppose I go to Cythera V for a few weeks."

Varris, who knew Cythera's reputation, smiled cynically. "Eager to try out your new knowledge?"

"Well, why not? Knowledge is to be used."

"Only after it's mastered."

"But I have mastered it! Couldn't we call this field work? A thesis, perhaps?"

"No thesis is necessary," Varris said.

"But damn it all," Toms exploded, "I should do a little experimentation! I should find out for myself how all this works. Especially Approach 33-CV. It sounds fine in theory, but I've been wondering how it works out in actual practice. There's nothing like direct experience, you know, to reinforce —"

"Did you journey all this way to become a super-seducer?" Varris asked, with evident disgust.


Excerpted from "Is That What People Do?"
by .
Copyright © 1984 Robert Sheckley.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Dedication
  • Epigraph
  • Contents
  • The Eye of Reality
    • The Language of Love
    • The Accountant
    • A Wind is Rising
    • The Robot Who Looked Like Me
    • The Mnemone
    • Warm
    • The Native Problem
    • Fishing Season
    • Shape
    • Beside Still Waters
    • Silversmith Wishes
    • Meanwhile, Back at the Bromide
    • Fool’s Mate
    • Pilgrimage to Earth
    • All the Things You Are
    • The Store of the Worlds
    • Seventh Victim
    • Cordle to Onion to Carrot
    • Is That What People Do?
    • The Prize of Peril
    • Fear in the Night
    • Can You Really Feel Anything When I Do This?
    • The Battle
    • The Monsters
    • The Petrified World
    • Five Minutes Early
    • Miss Mouse and the Fourth Dimension
    • The Skag Castle
    • The Helping Hand
    • The Last Days of (Parallel?) Earth
    • The Future Lost
    • Wild Talents, Inc.
    • The Swamp
    • The Future of Sex – Speculative Journalism
    • The Life of Anybody
    • Goodbye Forever to Mr. Pain
    • The Shaggy Average American Man Story
    • Shootout in the Toy Shop
    • How Pro Writers Really Write—Or Try To
  • Copyright

Customer Reviews