Other Notable Deaths


December 12, 2005

Robert Sheckley, 77, a writer of science fiction whose disarmingly playful stories pack a nihilistic subtext, died Friday from complications of a brain aneurysm in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

He wrote more than 15 novels and about 400 short stories; the actual total is uncertain since he was so prolific in his heyday, the 1950s and '60s, that magazine editors insisted he publish some stories under pseudonyms to avoid having his byline appear more than once in an issue.

Four of his stories were made into films; the best known, The Tenth Victim (1965), starred Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress.

Many of his novels were well received, among them Journey Beyond Tomorrow (1962) and Dimension of Miracles (1968), but Mr. Sheckley was best known for his short stories. At a time when science fiction was just starting to grapple with the social implications of technology - from atomic bombs to missile-carrying rockets - he turned a satirist's eye on the genre and its concerns.

Roger Shattuck, 82, a National Book Award winner who was a leading literary scholar, died Thursday of prostate cancer at his home in Lincoln, Vt.

He was a professor emeritus at Boston University and was described as a leading authority on 20th-century French literature. His book Marcel Proust won the National Book Award for Arts and Letters in 1975. He also wrote Proust's Binoculars (1963) and Proust's Way: A Field Guide to "In Search of Lost Time" (2000). His best known work was published in 1958: The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I.

In his later decades, he became a caustic, if often witty, opponent of postmodern trends in the study and teaching of literature, including deconstructionism and semiotics, which he contended stripped literature of its intellectual, moral and human environment. In particular, he lamented that the literary world increasingly failed to celebrate the works of classic writers.

Edward L. Masry, 73, a flamboyantly pugnacious lawyer who won millions from a utility company in a pollution suit and was portrayed by the actor Albert Finney in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, died Dec. 5 at a hospital in Thousand Oaks, Calif., of complications from diabetes.

Mr. Masry, a criminal and tort lawyer, and Erin Brockovich, a self-trained legal assistant, filed a class action lawsuit in 1993 against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. In 1997, they, joined by two large law firms, won a $333 million settlement on behalf of 648 residents of the town of Hinkley, Calif. The utility agreed to the settlement in a private arbitration and never admitted to causing cancer and other health problems through emissions of chromium into Hinkley's water supply. It did accept responsibility for the pollution.

Erin Brockovich was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Julia Roberts winning the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Ms. Brockovich, who attended the ceremony with Mr. Masry.

Atsuko Tanaka, 73, one of Japan's most important avant-garde artists, died Dec. 3 of pneumonia at a hospital near her home in Nara, Japan.

She was a member of the artists group Gutai. Founded in 1954, at a time when many Japanese were exploring new freedoms, Gutai reacted to American Abstract Expressionism and the French Informel movement by advocating a radically nontraditional, experimental play with nonrepresentational materials. Ms. Tanaka, who joined the group in 1955, became widely known for works that combined sculpture, electric sound and light, and performance.

In the 1950s, she made works of colored fabric that were cut with scissors and pinned unstretched to gallery walls, challenging traditional definitions of painting and artistic craft.

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