All reviews copyright 1984-2016 Evelyn C. Leeper.
"...And My Fear Is Great" by Theodore Sturgeon:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/02/2004]
Second choice for me for Retro Hugo for Novella for me was "...And My Fear Is Great" by Theodore Sturgeon. The topic--individuals with special powers that become stronger when they join together--shows up in many of Sturgeon's works. For some reason it worked better for me here than elsewhere.
It! by Theodore Sturgeon:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2016]
"It!" by Theodore Sturgeon (Unknown, Aug 1940): This is a nice little atmospheric horror story, and a welcome change from the preponderance of nitty-gritty science fiction from "Astounding".
MORE THAN HUMAN by Theodore Sturgeon:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/18/2004]
I know Theodore Sturgeon's MORE THAN HUMAN (ISBN 0-375-70371-3) is a classic. I know people love it. I am not one of them. I have tried many times to read this book, and while I probably did finish it at least one of those times, this time I decided life was too short and my reading list too long.
To order More Than Human from amazon.com, click here.
SELECTED STORIES by Theodore Sturgeon:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/06/2012]
Our science fiction discussion group met earlier than usual in January, due to scheduling conflicts for several of the members. The book selected was Theodore Sturgeon's SELECTED STORIES (ISBN 978-0-375-70375-1). To keep the page count below 300 (our unofficial cut-off), we skipped (or postponed) the three novellas ("The Golden Helix", "Killdozer!", and "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff"), leaving us ten short stories and novelettes. However, not having the book chosen, I read all the stories in other collections and probably in a different order than in SELECTED STORIES, so I will comment on them in publication order.
The earliest stories here, "It" (1940) and "Bianca's Hands" (1947), are more horror stories a la Robert Bloch than science fiction. Sturgeon is not thought of as a horror story writer, but this may just be a mistake in perception. (Admittedly, his later stories did tend more toward science fiction.) Of "Bianca's Hands", James Gunn says, "It was written in 1939 and rejected many times (often violently) before it won a $1,000 British magazine contest in 1947."
"Thunder and Roses" (1947) seems very clichéd now, but when you recall it was published in 1947, it is clear that it was not a cliché when Sturgeon wrote it, and was certainly one of the first of its kind. Of it, David Drake writes, "If you were a kid who read SF [in the Fifties], the feeling of [nuclear] dread was even more acute. It wasn't formless for us, you see: there were hundreds of stories to describe nuclear war and its aftermath of lingering death, deformity, and savagery in vivid detail. "Thunder and Roses," which I read in THE ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION ANTHOLOGY when I was thirteen, is one of the earlier stories of the type."
"The Sex Opposite" (1952) is another one of those stories that may have been cutting-edge when it was written, but no longer has that virtue and just seems flat. It is possible to write a story that becomes in some sense outdated as events pass it by, but there has to be more to the story than the gimmick, the message, or whatever it is that made it once so notable. It is like re-reading DANGEROUS VISIONS: it may be that the stories were "dangerous" once upon a time, but now they are often just bland. (Or like the scene in TIME AFTER TIME where Wells is trying to seduce Amy by saying in meaningful tones that he wrote about "free love," and she responds in surprise, "Free love? I haven't heard that term since junior high.")
"A Way of Thinking" (1953) seems to be trying to show someone "thinking outside of the box," but his solution to the problem in the story did not seem particularly original. Indeed, if you do not accept the magical premise, the solution is the only solution possible.
"Mr. Costello, Hero" (1953) was made into an "X Minus 1" episode which aired July 3, 1956. Both its original publication and this adaptation were during the McCarthy Era, so the theme of being suspicious of everyone and especially those who wanted to be alone (for example, readers, writers, and other intellectuals) was an obvious work to shape a science fiction story around.
Of course, after I wrote this, I read John Grant's statement that, "At best one could describe the tale as an extremely inept satire of Soviet-style communism--one of those pseudo-satires that is ineffective through misrepresenting its target. At its worst it's just a rather flabby tale." Even after he has suggested this, I find it hard to see in the story. And Paul Williams takes my side on the topic, and completely disagrees with Grant on the quality: "'Mr. Costello, Hero' is one of the finer pieces of writing to come out of the whole McCarthy experience."
Two side notes on this story: Everyone on the "X Minus 1" episode pronounced "Costello" as "COS-teh-lo" rather than (cos-TEH-lo). I could almost understand this were it not that Abbott and Costello had been a popular comedy team for years. (Mark thinks maybe they wanted to make sure people didn't think of Abbott and Costello.) The other note is that the planet all this takes place on is Borinquen; Borinquen is another name for Puerto Rico. Normally, if you find a planet in a story named after a country, you assume there is some reason or significance to it, but apparently there is none here.
My observation of "The Skills of Xanadu" (1956) is that it looks as if Sturgeon were trying to write a story based on Clarke's Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.")--except that the Law was not proposed until 1973. John Grant feels it "takes a long time telling something very simple; Eric Frank Russell would have done the same in half the wordage and twice as effectively--and made you laugh at the same time." It is, of course, not clear that making the reader laugh should necessarily be a prime consideration when writing a story.
"Bright Segment" (1955) is yet another horror story (at least according to someone; Mark sys it is more Collieresque). I skipped this one, based on the samples I read.
"The Man Who Lost the Sea" (1959) was nominated for a Hugo for Best Short Story. I am not sure why. I suppose the style is very literary, but the ending hardly justifies the rest of the story.
"Slow Sculpture" (1970) is the most recent of the stories and won a Hugo for Best Novelette. Again, the message seems a bit obvious. Maybe I am just not attuned to Sturgeon's style.
To order Selected Stories from amazon.com, click here.