Sturgeon, Theodore

Tagged: Author

(1918-1985) Working name of US writer born Edward Hamilton Waldo in New York City, later adopting his stepfather's surname and taking on a new first name; Argyll (1993 chap) prints a long anguished letter Sturgeon wrote to his stepfather, plus an autobiographical essay from 1965, both of which more than confirm the hints of emotional turmoil implied by these name changes. Certainly Sturgeon early suffered or entered into several exiles: illness cut him off from any chance he might become a gymnast; when still a teenager he went to sea, where he spent three years during which he made his first fiction sales – beginning in 1937 – to McClure's syndicate for newspaper publication. After beginning to publish sf with "Ether Breather" (September 1939 Astounding) he remained active as a member of the small band of Genre SF writers for only a few years before he abruptly stopped producing; he then spent half a decade abroad, variously employed, before returning to his primary career in 1946. The next 15 years saw him produce, in an almost constant flood, virtually all the remaining stories and novels for which he is remembered. Then, for the last twenty-five years of his life, except for two or three short periods of renewed flow, he was relatively silent. Given that all of Sturgeon's best work somehow or other moves from alienation to some form of Transcendent community, it might – crassly – be suggested that, in his own life, it was story-writing itself which represented that blissful movement towards acceptance and resolution which makes so many of his tales so emotionally fulfilling, and that when he was silent he was in exile. Certainly there can be no denying the green force that shoots through even the silliest Pulp-magazine conceits to which he put his mind, or the sense of achieved and joyful tour de force generated by his best work.

He had, one might say, a binary career: either he was writing nothing or he was writing at a high pitch. Of his approximately 200 stories, a very high proportion are as successful as he was allowed to be in a field not well designed, during his active years, to accommodate sf tales told with raw passion. Sturgeon was, in fact, initially less comfortable with Astounding Science-Fiction than with Unknown, whose remit was moderately less restrictive, and that magazine's demise may have had something to do with his first departure from the field. In those first three years, however, he produced more than twenty-five stories, all in Astounding and Unknown, using the pseudonyms E Waldo Hunter or E Hunter Waldo on occasions when he had two stories in an issue; several of the twenty-five remain among his best known, including It (August 1940 Unknown; 1948 chap) and "Microcosmic God" (April 1941 Astounding). Along with A E van Vogt, Robert A Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, Sturgeon was a central contributor to and shaper of John W Campbell Jr's so-called Golden Age of SF, though less comfortably than his colleagues, as even in those early years, while obeying the generic commands governing the creation of Campbellian technological or Hard SF, he was also writing sexually threatening, explorative tales, which he found difficult to publish domestically; "Bianca's Hands" (May 1947 Argosy), for instance, never appeared in an American magazine.

In the late 1940s and the 1950s Sturgeon came into his full stride, and almost all his collections sort and resort this material. The central titles are Without Sorcery (coll 1948; cut vt Not Without Sorcery 1961), E Pluribus Unicorn (coll 1953), A Way Home (coll 1955; with two stories cut 1956; with three stories cut, vt Thunder and Roses 1957), Caviar (coll 1955), A Touch of Strange (coll 1958; with two stories cut 1959), Aliens 4 (coll 1959), Beyond (coll 1960), Sturgeon in Orbit (coll 1964), The Worlds of Theodore Sturgeon (coll 1972), The Stars are the Styx (coll 1979), The Golden Helix (coll 1979) and Alien Cargo (coll 1984). A late compilation, A Touch of Sturgeon (coll 1987) edited by David Pringle, usefully selects from this mass, and Selected Stories (coll 2000) is also convenient. But to gain some sense of the emotional range and technical skill of his work, the Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, the first eleven (of thirteen volumes) being edited by Paul Williams, is both necessary and definitive. The sequence begins with The Ultimate Egoist, Volume I: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (coll 1994) and ends with Case and the Dreamer, Volume XIII: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (coll 2010), edited by his daughter Noël Sturgeon [see Checklist]. Although he continued to contribute to Astounding for several years, most of the work assembled in these collections first appeared in newer and more flexible markets like Galaxy Science Fiction, where he published much of his best work after 1950. Though shibboleths (> Taboos) still haunted editors of Genre SF, he clearly felt increasingly free to write stories expressive of his sense that Sex in all its innumerable manifestations – including the then dangerous subject of homosexuality – was the most intense and central form of Communication the human race was capable of, and constituted a set of codes or maps capable of leading maimed adolescents out of alienation and into the light. Though most of his explorations of this material seem unexceptionable in the present century, stories like "The World Well Lost" (June 1953 Universe), about Aliens exiled from their own culture because of their homosexuality, created considerable stir in the 1950s (> Sex). And although the road to liberation (or transcendent community) was sometimes solely internal, the dictates of sf and fantasy, and Sturgeon's own romantic impulses, generated a large number of tales in which Children, gifted with paranormal powers, must fight against a repressive world until they meet others of their kind. Sturgeon's short stories read like instruction manuals for finding the new world.

The most famous examples of the sense of enablement he generated, however, were his three best novels. The Dreaming Jewels (February 1950 Fantastic Adventures; exp 1950; vt The Synthetic Man 1957) is an enjoyable and sophisticated Young Adult tale whose young protagonist, forced by his wicked step-parents to run away to a circus, gradually becomes aware of his Psi Powers, and defeats the evil adult forces about him. More Than Human (fixup 1953), winner of the 1954 International Fantasy Award and Sturgeon's most famous single title, consists of three connected parts, "Baby is Three" (October 1952 Galaxy), preceded and followed by two novella-length narratives. With very considerable intensity it depicts the coming together of six "deficient" human beings into a Psi-Powered gestalt, where their various powers – including Telepathy, Telekinesis, Teleportation – are sorted by Baby, a human Computer who invents Antigravity en passant, and harnessed by a co-ordinating personality. The complicated but episodic storyline involves two cases of Amnesia, extended flashbacks, a mechanical trust in laws of Psychology, and what might seem a distracting disinclination to focus on any one character; but transcends these genuine problems, closing with a powerful paean to human Evolution. Others of their kind, who are Secret Masters, have been Uplifting the human race for centuries; the protagonists of the novel, who understand that together they are a new species, Homo gestalt, join their fellows in the long task. In The Cosmic Rape (August 1958 Galaxy as "To Marry Medusa"; exp 1958; vt To Marry Medusa 1987) a Hive Mind from the stars invades mankind but finds itself – to its ultimate betterment – catalysing Homo sapiens as a racial entity into one Transcendent gestalt: the sense of homecoming generated by the final pages of this short book is deeply touching.

A less effective novel, but one with in which Sturgeon bravely attempted to make cognitive arguments for heart-felt convictions, Venus Plus X (1960) comes as close to a traditional Utopia as any American genre-sf writer had approached before the efforts of Mack Reynolds. Charlie Johns awakens in Ledom (that is, Model), a melodious unisex society, longingly and effectively depicted as having transcended that sexual divisiveness of mankind against which Sturgeon always argued, and finds that he has been translated into this Pocket Universe in order to examine Ledom and judge its success. Though he discovers to his distress that the androgynous bliss of Ledom depends not on a mutation or "natural" turn of Evolution but on surgery immediately after birth (> Transgender SF), the final message of the novel combines didactic arguments for and against this vision of human paradise with longing for its realization; and Charlie, with a native of Ledom, finds that through Sex and profound pairing they may make a new world together (> Adam and Eve). None of Sturgeon's later novels were successful, though Some of Your Blood (1961), a non-sf study of a blood-drinking psychotic (> Vampires), is moderately effective. Godbody (1986), a short novel on which he had been working for some time before his death, weakly reiterates earlier paeans to Transcendence.

Sturgeon won both the Hugo and Nebula for one of his infrequent later stories, "Slow Sculpture" (February 1970 Galaxy Science Fiction), but his latter career was not happy, thought the continued publication of stories from the years of his prime helped maintain an appropriate sense of very considerable stature. His influence upon writers like Harlan Ellison and Samuel R Delany was seminal, and in his life and work he was a powerful and generally liberating influence in post-World War Two American sf. Though his mannerisms were sometimes self-indulgent, though his excesses of sympathy for tortured adolescents sometimes gave off a sense of self-pity, and though his technical experiments were perhaps less substantial than their exuberance made them seem, his very faults illuminated the stresses of being an American author writing for pay in an alienated era and in the solitude of his craft. Out of that solitude, he remained, all the same, occasionally capable of a story as strong, immeasurably complex, word-perfect and deeply fixative to the reader's memory as "The Man Who Lost the Sea" (October 1959 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), a tale which – along with everything else – is a tone-perfect eulogy to the world and ambitions of the traditional American sf he knew so well (> Modernism in SF). Later stories were variously assembled in Sturgeon is Alive and Well . . . (coll 1971) – this also includes "To Here and the Easel" (in Star Short Novels, anth 1954, ed Frederik Pohl), uncollected since its first appearance – Case and the Dreamer (coll 1974; vt Case and the Dreamer and Other Stories 1974) and Alien Cargo (coll 1984); but the Complete Stories is the central source for any reader. In late 1985 Sturgeon was posthumously accorded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement; and he was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2000. [JC]

see also: Arrested Development; Biology; Cities; Clones; Conceptual Breakthrough; Definitions of SF; Devolution; Dimensions; ESP; Feminism; Gods and Demons; Great and Small; Invasion; Islands; Living Worlds; Machines; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Mars; Media Landscape; Messiahs; New Worlds; Nuclear Energy; Omega Point; Panspermia; Paranoia; Power Sources; Reincarnation; Religion; Scientists; Seiun Award; Shapeshifters; Ship of Fools; Sociology; Sturgeon's Law; Superman; Supernatural Creatures; Technofantasy; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award; Transportation; Under the Sea; Writers of the Future Contest.

Edward Hamilton Waldo

born New York: 26 February 1918

died Eugene, Oregon: 8 May 1985

works

series

Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon

individual titles

collections and stories

nonfiction

  • Argyll: A Memoir (Glen Ellen, California/Pullman, Washington: The Sturgeon Project, 1993) [nonfiction: chap: pb/Donna Nassar]

about the author

links

Previous versions of this entry

Website design and build: STEEL

Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011 SFE Ltd.