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Review © 2004 by Thomas M. Wagner.
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Dimension of Miracles is a wild metaphysical farce that presages some of the things Douglas Adams was doing so succinctly that I suspect Adams was a fanatical Sheckley devotee. The story relates the adventures of the hapless Thomas Carmody, who finds one day that he has been awarded the grand prize in the Intergalactic Sweepstakes. He was unaware he was even in the running. Carmody is promptly whisked away to the Galactic Center to collect his Prize, which turns out to be a strange talking device that changes shape with impunity and serves no actual function. After a minor dispute with another "Carmody" from another world who thinks he is supposed to be the rightful winner, our Carmody suddenly finds himself in a new quandary: he has no idea how to get home.

Where, among all of the possible configurations in time and space of Earth, is the Earth he left behind, and how can he find it? On his journeys Carmody meets a handful of disenchanted gods, and visits numerous permutations of the Earth, none of which is quite like the one he remembers. In one, he visits a town that talks to him in a gratingly solicitous tone, always making sure he's had enough dessert and is comfortable napping — but there is no other human being to be found. In another, everyone speaks in advertising slogans. In another, dinosaurs are sentient and avid practitioners of science. In another, Carmody seems to recognize everyone in his home town as old friends, except they are all famous movie stars.

The wealth of imagination here is so far beyond anything I've seen coming from just about any contemporary SF writer that it's tempting to read a book like Dimension of Miracles and conclude that all of the real wit in the genre has dried up and blown away. But that would be unfair to everyone, of course. There was a lot of junk being published in the 60's, too. Sheckley would have been sui generis in any time period. He was truly one of SF's most astounding minds, and it's a travesty that none of his work is available in print from a major publisher right now.

There are times when Sheckley's comedy resorts to the obvious, as in a scene lampooning the 60's counterculture in obligatory fashion. And I'm not sure that I agree with the ultimate thematic point of Dimension of Miracles, if I read it correctly. It seems to indicate that living for the moment should be enough for anyone, and that striving to reach above and beyond realistic goals (and what do we mean by that?) more often than not will land humanity into trouble. (The Prize itself seems to represent such a goal; once attained, it is really useless.) That seems to go against the fundamental message of SF at its core: that human beings have an imperative, a duty to strive in just such a way. There was a time when space travel was a "unrealistic" goal, after all, and now we have little go-karts putting around on Mars. Bet you dollars to donuts the guys who worked on that read an SF book or two as a kid.

But perhaps I'm taking that part of the book too seriously, and should just enjoy it for what it is — a farce, and a very eye-popping, mind-expanding, and funny one. Certainly things have changed in SF publishing in the years since it was released. Written today, it would be a miracle indeed for something as wildly inventive and unconventional as Dimension of Miracles to find a publisher.

Re-released in 2002 by NESFA Press as part of their glorious omnibus edition Dimensions of Sheckley.