Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review of The Tenth Victim by Robert Sheckley

Before Running Man and before Surviving the Game there was Robert Sheckley’s nifty little short story “Seventh Victim.”  About a man hunting a woman through an urban environment, it is a mini-gem representative of Sheckley’s very particular brand of black satire.  The Italians apparently appreciative of the story, they expanded it into a script, the film La decimal vittima (The Tenth Victim) the result.  Later, Sheckley was later contracted to write the novelization.

The Tenth Victim is set in a world where humanity’s penchant for violence is curbed by legal manhunts called the Big Hunt.  The survivors of ten hunts gaining prestige and a major cash prize, the Hunt is a major media event.  Television studios worldwide vie for the best angles, the best insider info, and of course, the kill shot—literally and figuratively—tracking the hunter and hunted across the globe.

Just short of the big prize, Caroline Meredith is a hunter looking for her tenth victim. Big Hunt administration assign her Marcello Poletti, and both parties are informed.  Meredith contacted in the early hunt by a major tv network, she agrees to try to stage the kill in a particular location for maximum coverage, in exchange for a sponsorship deal.  Poletti caught in a personal funk, at first he seems not to care that he will die, and when Meredith contacts him, the two even strike up a relationship.  But, as they say, all is not fair in love and war. 

I have read both the short story and novel (but not seen the film), and while I prefer the short story, the novel expands the story in effective fashion.  Both operate on the same premise, but are told from two entirely different perspectives, making for interesting comparative reading.  (I should also note the difference between seventh and tenth makes for a nice and operative juxtaposition.) Overall, “Seventh Victim” has perhaps the greater impact, but The Tenth Victim certainly delves into its characters and relationships deeper, and the media get significantly stronger page time, making for a more comprehensive read. 

Black, edgy satire, The Tenth Victim is a successful expansion of Sheckley’s “Seventh Victim.”  Contrasting the intents and motivations of big media against humanity’s penchant for violence, it’s clear the story is intended more as commentary rather than melodrama—something such a premise could easily have descended into.  Thus, while American culture has (yet) to dip into manhunts for its reality tv, seeing how Fox news prey on drama for ratings only vindicates Sheckley’s vision.

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