The Status Civilizationby Robert Sheckley
His return to consciousness was a slow and painful process. It was a journey in which he traversed all time. He dreamed. He rose through thick layers of sleep, out of the imaginary beginnings of all things. He lifted a pseudopod from primordial ooze, and the pseudopod was him. He became an amoeba which contained his essence; then a fish marked with his own peculiar… See more details below
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His return to consciousness was a slow and painful process. It was a journey in which he traversed all time. He dreamed. He rose through thick layers of sleep, out of the imaginary beginnings of all things. He lifted a pseudopod from primordial ooze, and the pseudopod was him. He became an amoeba which contained his essence; then a fish marked with his own peculiar individuality; then an ape unlike all other apes. And finally, he became a man.
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The Status Civilization is an excellent tale that never gets old. Will Barrent is among a group of prisoners from Earth who have had their memories wiped and are left to live on the planet Omega. This is a planet ruled by criminals where you advance by being bad and devising clever ways to beat the law. One may recall the film Escape from Manhattan where Manhattan Island is made a prison. This world is different in that there are class systems in this world (the highest appears to be Hadji) and there are actual laws that govern. One of the best ways to advance is to find ways to get around the law. Barrent is almost killed by a group of Hadjis but manages to outsmart them and this allows him to gain a "Free Man" status. Challenges are thrown at him that he keeps overcoming and slowly advances. He encounters an underground organiztion whose goal is to get back to Earth and reclaim their place there. Eventually Barrent will become the agent to execute their plan. When the reader finally learns what is going on back on Earth, it is not what you expect and like the Twilght Zone there is an ironic end to the tale. The book that I read also included Sheckley's Notions:Unlimited collection of short stories. These are each excellent twist ending tales that would be perfect for episodes of The Twilight Zone. From a tale with a creature that is similar to The Blob, to a planet with dangerous winds, a world inhabited by a lone Earthman that other Earth people think he is lying about his heritage. My favorite of these tales is called Double Indemnity where a time traveler attempts a new scheme at insurance fraud. Each tale is excellent and as good as any short science fiction tale being written today. If you can get your hands on a copy of this book, don't hesitate to get it! An extremely pleasant surprise that will not disappoint you!