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Review © 2004 by Thomas M. Wagner.

The 10th Victim is one of the funniest, most trenchant, and least politically correct SF novels I've read this side of Robert Heinlein. I loved it pretty much from its first page, quite a feat for any book, much less one nearly four decades old at the time of reading. Its premise isn't original by today's standards — an absurdist commentary upon humanity's violent and greedy nature, as well as the cult of celebrity — but it was remarkably prescient in its satirical breadth. It was made into a film (in Italy) the year of its publication, and it could likely be considered a precursor to such stories as The Running Man, Rollerball, Series 7, and Japan's Battle Royale. Of course, The 10th Victim isn't nearly so serious, but it's held up just fine over the years.

In the near future, war has been eradicated through the simple expedient of allowing anyone with an urge to kill somebody to sign up for the Hunt. The rules are simple. You must engage in ten kills total, five as Hunter and five as Victim. Hunters are given a full battery of information about their Victims, but Victims are only told they have someone hunting them and must use all their considerable wits to survive by, if possible, killing their Hunter. If you survive all ten rounds you attain wealth and celebrity and power and all that great stuff. Few people do, of course. Naturally, the Hunt itself has become big business in the mass media, and the more prominent Hunters have corporate sponsorship and the like.

One of these is the stunning Caroline Meredith, up for her tenth and final Hunt, in which she will be stalking and trying to kill Italian Marcello Polletti. Caroline has some of the biggest media sponsorship of any Hunter ever, and her handlers (led by an odious mogul "whose taste for the vulgar was exceeded only by his enjoyment of the vile") want her to take out Polletti right in the Roman Colosseum itself, under the glare of lights and cameras while a dance team kicks off a celebratory number.

You can probably see where this short novel is headed in terms of story resolution, but so what? Few writers can construct this kind of outrageous satire like Robert Sheckley. One can see possible influences upon Douglas Adams and other latter day SF humorists in Sheckley's whip-smart prose. There are enough laugh-out-loud moments here for any ten stories. It isn't just comedy; it's wit, which is harder to do. And if the whole "killing for entertainment" thing seems warmed over, remember that in 1965 they didn't have the "reality TV" craze, nor even the kind of pervasive corporate media to the extent that we have it today. The 10th Victim in many ways deserves its own cliché: that it's a book more relevant today than when it came out. I'm puzzled that it hasn't managed to find a way to stay in print over the years, particularly in light of that relevance and the recycling of its premise by so many subsequent books and movies. Indeed I think it's an indicator of the sad state of current SF publishing that pretty much everything of Sheckley's is currently out of print and obscure. The 10th Victim would be a prime candidate for a contemporary reissue. Until then, scour your used bookstore for The 10th Victim. It can run, but it can't hide.

Followed many years later by Victim Prime and Hunter/Victim.