Ramsey Campbell, master of the British horror story, recommends

(CLASSIC: first published in The Testament of Andros, Arrow Books)

Like the best of Borges, a short story swarming with ideas – a tale with enough substance for a novel. I first read it in my pre-teens and hardly understood it, but went back to it again and again because I found it so insidiously disturbing. Is it a study of paranoid schizophrenia, a vision of the apocalypse (nearly half a century ago, but maybe the tale undermines our certainty about what happened then), a portrait of the human race in many of its extremes? I’ve just reread it and would say it’s all that and more. A masterpiece by one of the field’s most intelligent authors, and a tribute to the taste of Robert Lowndes, who bought it for Future Science Fiction.

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(MODERN: from Untouched by Human Hands, Four Square)

Sheckley was one of science fiction’s wittiest humourists (others include Eric Frank Russell and John Sladek). He was at his sharpest when sketching alien cultures and shining the light of confrontation on them. “Ritual” is hilarious, but by no means only that; in just a few pages it confronts cultural misunderstanding and the way religions (like other systems of belief) can grow monolithic. Highly intelligent fun with an inventively satirical edge.

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