"Specialist" begins with a spaceship  getting caught in a dangerous photon storm when it is returning to the "Galactic Center" after transporting cargo to a far away planet. The ship's mechanical parts and systems communicate and cooperate with each other in order to get past the storm in the safest way possible. The different parts of the ship make up the crew, and each is highly specialized to achieve a specific job. Sheckley personifies the components of the vessel, and each has a personality that makes it interesting. Talker is the organism in charge of translating and communicating the ideas and directions of one part of the ship to another. He goes throughout the vessel and asks the different components, such as the Walls, Feeder, Engine, and Doctor, if they had been injured during the storm. The Walls have minor injuries, such as dents, but the only death is that of Pusher. This is a detrimental loss for the ship because without a Pusher, the ship can not be boosted to multiples of the speed of light, and will not be able to make it back to the Galactic Center during the lifetimes of most of the ship's members. There are also no galactic planets within reach. 
    Thinker, a globulous form that contemplates ideas for the ship's course, comes up with an option that the ship can keep moving forward and will hopefully come close to a primitive "Pusher planet," from which they can find a Pusher to propel their ship back to the galactic planets. The ship is on a search for weeks, and right when Engine is about to go out, they spot a planet of primitive Pushers. As Eye looks down at the planet from the ship, Thinker processes what the eye is seeing and states that the primitive Pushers are making a "mechanical civilization" (257) in which there are buildings, vehicles, and other structures all made from inanimate material. Feeder states his opinion that the Pushers would not be able to make anything substantial out of non-living material because "the metal doesn't know when its weakening," (257) and would not be able to advise when it needs fixing or replacement. The crew considers all of this a sign of extreme primitivity on the planet. 
    The ship lands, and locates an unaccompanied Pusher almost at once. Feeder, Talker, and Doctor leave the ship and try to get the frightened Pusher to join them on their expedition. The Pusher reacts in a nervous and spastic way at being approached by these alien creatures, and they resort to capturing it and placing it on the ship. This causes the Pusher to become even more frightened, and it runs around the ship, beating on walls and acting in a frantic manner. All of the ship members are confused at the Pusher's panic-stricken behavior, and Eye states an insightful idea about what he believes the trouble is. He states, "These Pushers have evolved a mechanical civilization....They developed the use of their fingers, like Doctor, to shape metal. They utilized their seeing organs, like myself. And probably countless other organs....These Pushers have become unspecialized!" (259) This Pusher could do everything except Push. Thinker explains that this planet is probably not primitive after all. It is probably quite old, and since it has not been made a part of the galactic Cooperation, the Pushers have been "robbed of their birthright. Their ability, their specialty was to Push, but there was nothing to Push. Naturally, they have developed a deviant culture" (259). Once Talker has thrust one of his communication filaments into the Pushers head, they begin to explain to it the problems that they are encountering, and how the Pusher could help them by using his specialized ability. The reader finds out that the Pusher is human, and his planet is earth. The human explains the concept of war as a reason for him needing to stay on earth, but the aliens offer him a way to end war forever. They tell him that being a part of the galactic Cooperation will help this Pusher planet find its place in the galaxy, and their mechanical civilization full of unnatural occupations and unspecialization will end because there will no longer be any need for it. Thinking that this all must be a dream, the earthman eventually accepts the job as the ship's Pusher. As they fly into space, he finds his Pusher organ through his realization of how his doubts and fears control him, and how humans have a special way of overcoming these preoccupations. The ship zooms off.
A more recent cover of  Untouched by Human Hands, Sheckley's first and very celebrated collection of short stories. "Specialist" first appeared in this anthology.

  • Reverse Estrangement:
    • Reverse estrangement is a theme that is shown in "Specialist" as the intergalactic crew looks upon the human (Pusher), and the "mechanical" society that his species have created. They look at the way that the earthmen build cities out of inanimate metals and materials as useless and insufficient. The crew is horrified by the way that the humans have evolved to be able to use multiple sensory organs since they were never able to make use of their special talent, Pushing. There is also mention of the humans as looking stranger than any of the other galactic creatures. Feeder thinks that the idea of "a Pusher--one of the strangest sights in the Galaxy, with its multiple organs--being startled at someone else's appearance" (258) is silly. The humans are the alien creatures in this story.
  • Specialization: Its Benefits 
    • Specialization, and how it can bring forth success when individuals use their talents to work together, is a theme of Sheckley's "Specialist." Sheckley enforces the importance of team work constantly in this story, and depicts the strong bond among the parts of the ship as something crucial and wonderful. These creatures all come from different planets, and possibly even different universes. They all look completely unalike, and have separate languages, yet are able to find a way of communicating and using their differences to create a system that is efficient and successful. The Galactic Cooperation ties them together. 
    • Sheckley is trying to make the point that Humans need to work together to make our world successful. The current state of humanity is one of disconnection. Humans can be so competitive and judgmental that they fail to see what good could come from cooperation. We need each other, just like the ship needs a Pusher to make itself complete. By using the individual talents of each and every person on earth, and by getting over gender-related and racial barriers, the human race could become one with more happiness, efficiency, and success.
  • Satire:
    • Sheckley's use of satire takes some of the edge off of his harsh comments on the state of human kind. His playful style allows him to make powerful accusations and observations, but not greatly offend people. In "Specialist," a lot of the humor comes from the drinking comments. An example is:
      • "They zoomed back into space to make plans. Feeder produced twenty-three different kinds of intoxicants for a celebration" (256).
    • It is so absurd to think of walls and globulous organs getting drunk that it evokes humor and provides comic relief.