"Shape"

Summary:
    This is the story of a group of aliens from the planet Glom who have come to earth to take over the planet so they can expand their amount of space and resources. The aliens are creatures from a highly specialized society that regiments specific  body shapes for the creatures to maintain according to the jobs they practice. At birth, the Gloms are formless blobs, but are immediately assigned their jobs and shapes in accordance with those of their ancestors.Pid, the pilot of the ship of the earthbound crew, emphasizes the importance of maintaining "proper shape" so as to keep up focus on their work and mission. There are times when it is necessary for the creatures to morph into exotic shapes to disguise themselves while on earth, but overuse of shape-shifting abilities can result in lack of focus on one's main job, and that is unacceptable in the Glom culture.
    The Gloms search for, and land near one of earth's atomic power installations. Since Glom is so far away and lacking in travel resources, in order to transport a conquering space fleet from Glom over to earth, Pid and his crew have to set up a displacer in the reactor room of this installation. Another displacer is set up at the atomic power source on Glom, and once both displacers are activated, it is their intention that a bridge will form between the two planets, allowing the Glom fleet to step through the passageway onto earth. 
    Pid is accompanied by Ger the Detector and Ilg the Radioman.  Upon landing on earth, the crew discusses ways of getting into the installation. They observe, and are fascinated by the way that all earth dwellers are fixed in one immutable form for all of their lives. The crew ultimately decides that Ger will go through the gate in the shape of a dog in order to get to the reaction room. They figure that the earthmen on guard will notice nothing odd about his entry, since their dogs enter and leave the facility freely. Before Ger dispatches, they notice that Ilg is missing. Without much time to search for their friend, Pid eventually sends Ger, in the facsimile of a dog, off to try to get into the installation. Once Ger is past the front gate, Pid notices him running around to the rear of the building with another dog. Pid thinks that this is a clever move because he guesses that there must be another entrance to the installation at the rear of the building. 
    When Ger does not return for a whole day, Pid figures he had failed, and decides that he must take on the job himself. He morphs into the shape of a human man, and as he is about to go in, a dog passes by him in the woods where he is concealed. This dog turns out to be Ger, who states that he is enjoying being in the shape of a dog, which has an ideal shape for hunting. Ger informs Pid that he never even attempted to enter the installation because he and another dog (who turns out to be a Glom from another mission that was considered to have failed) went hunting. Pid is enraged that Ger is living in and enjoying a shape that he was not born into. Ger tells Pid that he always wanted to be a Hunter, and on earth he can live in a Hunter shape with out fear of punishment from the government of Glom. Ger will not go into the installation and set up the displacer because he loves the freedom that earth allows him. He does not want the Glom to come over to this planet and ruin it for him. Pid then hears a voice in agreement with Ger's. It is Ilg, who has been sitting in the forest in the form of an oak tree this whole time. He has been "Thinking," which is an action for a Thinker, not a Radioman. Pid yells at Ilg and questions why he would proceed to partake in actions illegal for his caste, and Ilg says, "Pilot, why don't you wake up? Most of the people on Glom are miserable. Only custom makes us take the caste-shape of our ancestors. Pilot, all Glom are born shapeless!" (44) Then Ger adds,"And being born shapeless, all Glom should have freedom of shape!" (44) 
    Pid, so loyal to the government of Gola, is disgusted by these statements and sneaks into the atomic power installation himself. Right before he activates the displacer in the reactor room, he sees a bird fly past the window, and realizes that this animal has a shape that goes above and beyond his wants and needs. Disregarding all that he has just said and accused his friends of, he jumps out of the window and morphs into the shape of a bird, abandoning the assignment he was given, and deciding to live in the shape most desirable to him. 


 One of the earlier covers of Untouched by Human Hands."Shape" first appeared in this anthology.

Analysis:
  • Reverse Estrangement:
    • Sheckley's common theme of reverse estrangement is shown in the way that the Gloms look at the humans. Pid talks about how the earthmen are similar to the Glom in that they have pets, families, culture, and are skilled mechanically. The earthmen are extremely different, however, because they are born in a fixed and immutable state that they spend the rest of their lives in. Besides growing and developing, the humans have no way of shifting shape. The Gloms find this mysterious and abnormal, but admire the fact that, because of this, there is a vast multitude of species on earth. 
  • Disadvantages of Unnatural Specialization:
    • Sheckley used the idea of specialization to make a very different point in "Shape" than he does in "Specialist."
    • On earth, the species are born with all of the internal and external facilities needed to be what they are, and only that. The different species, such as humans and dog species, are completely fixed, and each individual is born completely suited as the species they are a part of. Because of this complete fitness of each individual to what species they are, there is no need to have shape shifting capabilities like the Glom have. 
    • The Glom, however, are born as shapeless globules, and are given specific shapes that depend on the job that the government places them in, which corresponds with the jobs of their ancestors. Not all Glom feel happy and natural in the shapes that they are allowed to use. All Glom have natural tendencies that display their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, just like humans do, and to want to use specific shapes that they see as most suitable to them. Sheckley makes it obvious that the Glom live in a corrupt society and should have freedom of shape to make their world a happier place.
    • The necessity that the Glom have of finding a suitable shape to find happiness, and the fact that that many are coerced into taking shapes that are not desirable is a metaphor for how humans should not be forced by other people or authority figures into jobs, relationships, or lifestyle choices. Sheckley recognized that this is a problem with our society. Each person has a different personality and different needs. To make the happiest, most efficient, and most prosperous world, it is necessary that individuals can have freedom of choice over the big decisions in their lives. 
  • Satire:
    • Sheckley, similarly to how he does in "Specialist," softens his heavy ideas and visions by using absurdist plotting and satire. The idea that the Gloms come to our planet and take shape as creatures of earth is rather nonsensical. When they shape-shift into creatures of earth, Sheckley refers to the awkwardness of getting all the details right, such as making ears and tails the right length. Pid instructs, "A little less tail," and "More ears"(41). This portrayal of awkwardness provides a bit of light comedy to the plot.
    •  There is comedy in the way that the Glom creatures act as well. An example is the way Ilg seems to constantly be in a daze, answering, "What? Oh, yes...Sorry. What were you saying?"(39) when he chooses to emerge from his deep thoughts.