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October/November 2003
 
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In a Land of Clear Colors by Robert Sheckley (1979)

ONCE UPON a time, dear reader, multimedia meant a book with pictures and a long-playing vinyl record to pop on your turntable and listen to as you turn the pages in a synaesthetic trance. One example, at least, of this vanished art form is worth remembering in these digital daydream times. The multimedia album of In a Land of Clear Colors features an exotic and humorous novella of interplanetary exploration by Robert Sheckley, illustrated by Leonor Quiles; the lp is narrated by Peter Sinfield in rich, expressive tones, and interspersed with atmospheric musical compositions by Brian Eno. It is a beautiful, large-format book.

Sheckley's unlikely hero, Goldstein, was one of the first idealists "to go E.T." The tale is a journal of his experiences on the alien planet of Kaldor V. Sheckley deftly balances a comedy of intercultural misunderstandings against a genuinely moving tale of a man who finds the world changing in ways he can never quite grasp. From an urban, technological culture, the Kaldorians pass through a phase of sensual excess, then abruptly become a nomadic primitive tribe. There are numerous portents whose meaning Goldstein is unable to anticipate; only when Kaldorian society has undergone one further, almost inconceivable change does he piece together what has happened.

Sheckley has written other satirical stories on "the exploration of space," including "Shall We Have a Little Talk?" and "Aspects of Langranak"(decidedly anti-heroic), and the more recent, whimsical "Emissary from a Green and Yellow World" (F&SF, Oct./Nov. 1998). In a Land of Clear Colors is memorable and worth looking for.

—Henry Wessells

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