by Nathaniel Poggiali
Robert Sheckley’s short story “Seventh Victim” first appeared in an April 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, and imagined a future society where military wars were nonexistent because of a government-sponsored game that legalized murder. Players alternated the role of Hunter and Victim according to random assignment, with only Hunters knowing the identity of an opponent. Any player that survived five rounds as Hunter and five rounds as Victim was awarded membership to the Tens Club, a position of significant power and wealth. The central figure is Stanton Frelaine, a Manhattan manufacturer of the Hunt-employed body defense Protec-Suit (“Why not drop into the Protec-Store nearest you? Why not be safe?”). When Frelaine falls in love with his seventh assigned Victim, he mistakenly assumes the young woman shares his feelings and decides not to kill her. Bang.
Oddly enough, in the essay Sheckley never tells us that he wrote a novel based on the film: The 10th Victim (Ballantine, 1965), the work of an author adapting someone else’s adaptation of his story.
Caroline is another problem. If Sheckley retains Marcello’s (somehow) charming self-pity, he makes Caroline unsympathetic and shifts focus from her during key scenes. In the Omni essay Sheckley writes that Caroline singlemindedly wants marriage from Marcello, and the female Hunter’s words and actions in the novel comically indicate as much. But Ursula Andress, however miscast, brings warmth to the role, and has an appropriate world-weariness that matches Marcello’s disillusionment. In the novel Caroline seems petty and narcissistic to the end, and since we’re never allowed to read her thoughts we don’t see much of a personality. Rather than depicting the scene in which Caroline tells Marcello that she loves him and proposes marriage, Sheckley has Caroline describe the encounter to her colleagues, further distancing us.
He had high, prominent cheekbones suggesting deep reserves of passion, the restrained smile of the natural skeptic, and the tawny, heavy-lidded eyes which spoke strongly of a streak of indolence in the man. These qualities were immediately apparent to several thousand people in the reviewing stands, and they commented on them with pungent wisdom. (24)
Sheckley, Robert. “Seventh Victim.” Galaxy Science Fiction. Apr. 1953: 38-51. Print.
---. “’The Seventh Victim’ and The 10th Victim.” Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies: The Future According to Science Fiction. Ed. Danny Peary. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984. 124-126. Print.
---. The 10th Victim. New York: Signet, 1987. Print.
---. Victim Prime. New York: Signet, 1987. Print.