9
Mar 09

SF Writers: Theodore Sturgeon

The Brown Wedge1 comment • 204 views

I happened to just now read one of his, The Cosmic Rape, which prompted me to write about him next. This short 1958 novel is about a hivemind entity making first contact with humanity. It has taken over two galaxies and is working its way through its third, and all of the intelligences it has encountered are collective. It concludes that humanity has split apart as a defensive measure at first contact with this alien mind, so its first task, before taking it over, is to put it back together.

There are two points to make about this. Firstly, unlike almost any other writer before the New wave, Sturgeon’s interest is in mind, in how we think, rather than in futuristic tech and aliens and so on – this is what made him a key figure to the New Wave, why we get a blurb on the back cover by Samuel Delany saying his work “is the single most important body of science fiction by an American to date”.

But beyond that, his approach is different. Chapters tracking the angry bum first infected by the alien consciousness, his moves towards conquering the world, are interleaved with chapters that seem like little vignettes centring on a wide variety of humans – these are a little like reading some kind of anthology of modern short stories, perhaps Carver-influenced Dirty Realism, even. The characters in these play their part in the climax, when the entity succeeds in “re”uniting the human mind, but they stand alone as small character pieces, and many have only the tiniest role beyond this.

One of my early and surviving favourite novels within SF was his More Than Human, which has a fair amount in common with The Cosmic Rape: in MTH, a bunch of humans come together to form what is a kind of gestalt consciousness. I really felt that it opened up new conceptual vistas in my teenage understanding of the mind, science fictional as the story is, and I am still moved by his compassion and breadth of thought. This is also on show in many of his superb short stories, addressing sometimes difficult issues in smart and open-minded ways. ‘If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?’ talks about incest, while the inspired ‘Mr Costello, Hero’, is a brilliant attack on McCarthyism.

I respect some writers more than I love them – someone like Cormac McCarthy is a great and powerful novelist, but too aggressively demanding to really be fond of. I wouldn’t wish to imply that Sturgeon doesn’t deserve plenty of respect for his originality, craft and willingness to think beyond easy answers for a lot of fascinating and important questions, but really he has a special place in my heart for the heart he shows, the passionate interest in a diverse humanity, in a genre dominated by lovers of machinery.

Particularly recommended: More Than Human, The Dreaming Jewels and any short story collection.

Comments

  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 17 Mar 2009 #

    I remember the ‘If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?’ story from Harlan Ellison’s ‘Dangerous Visions’ anthology but was never prompted to read more by him.
    Reading his Wikipedia entry I discover that he wrote episodes of Star Trek including ‘Amok time’ when Spock gets all hormonal – and which features the first use of the ‘Live long and prosper’ phrase and gesture. That alone should earn him some respect.

    Oh, and Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout was a play on his name.

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