Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Theodore Sturgeon

Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Theodore Sturgeon Hot

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Engineer Al shares his love of sci-fi literature.

I have always loved Science Fiction. Maybe it all started with Saturday Morning cartoons, but I disappeared into novels and short stories at a very young age.  When I was a kid in grade school my mother would force me outside on nice days for exercise and “fresh air”, but most of the time I would bring my current science fiction escape and sit beneath a tree in the backyard, lost between the pages.  At this point in my life I have collected quite an impressive library full of old favorites and new acquisitions waiting to be devoured.  I thought it would be fun to share my library with my F:ATie friends.

I am a relative newcomer to Theodore Sturgeon.  I’ve known of him for years of course.  He’s one of those science fiction writers who has “always” been around.  There from the very beginning in the forties when the pulps came to sci-fi.  Also, he wrote two episodes of the original Star Trek, making him a modern day hero in my book.  True, one of the episodes he wrote is “Shore Leave” which was never one of my favorites.  In Sturgeons defense though, the story goes that Roddenberry asked Gene Coon to rewrite the script a bit because it contained too much fantasy and Coon thought he was supposed to ADD more fantasy.  This misunderstanding led to Roddenberry trying to rewrite the script again, on the set as they were filming.  So it goes.  The other episode Sturgeon wrote is “Amok Time”, the one with Spock’s wedding and it is one of the very best.  It features the first use of the Vulcan greeting “Live long and prosper.”  Go Ted!

Recently I figured this hole in my literary background was inexcusable and I picked up MORE THAN HUMAN which Sturgeon wrote way back in 1953.  I can hardly convey the staggering extent to which this novel blew the top of my head right off of my body.  BAM!  Blown away.  It is a beautifully written and thoughtfully developed work of art.  It is “Literature” in a way that is rarely achieved by writers of Science Fiction or Fantasy other than a precious few like Tolkien or Delany.  But it is also a page turning incredibly fun romp filled with joyously developed characters and startling plot twists.  As you can tell, I really can’t recommend this book enough! 

I wanted more and I had read that Sturgeon was best known for his short stories, so I looked on the internets for a short story collection and sure enough for the past few years North Atlantic Books has been publishing a 13 book collection of the more than 200 stories Sturgeon wrote over his lifetime.  I bought the first one THE ULTIMAT EGOIST and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It obviously contains Sturgeon’s earliest work and it is not up to the caliber of MORE THAN HUMAN, but still very enjoyable.  Interestingly, much like Ray Bradbury’s early work, very few of the stories were science fiction.  There was some, and some horror (including the story that inspired “Swamp Thing”), but most of it was either romantic stories or stories about sailors.  All of the stories centered around characters.  And this seems to be the crux of Sturgeon’s writing.  He is not just a Science Fiction writer, but a writer and a writer first.  A writer who turned down the path of Science Fiction because that’s what the pulps were paying for at the time he was trying to get published. He is a superb storyteller and I am excited that there is so much more out there for me to discover.

 I’ve already ordered the next short story collection MICROCOSMIC GOD.  I’m looking forward to seeing Sturgeon continue to develop his writing and begin to focus on Science Fiction.  I’ll let you know!

Other opinions?  Any other Sturgeon fans?  I would love to know!

Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Theodore Sturgeon There Will Be Games
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Posted: 09 Feb 2015 21:34 by RobertB #197244
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I remember reading "Microcosmic God" and "Occam's Scalpel" back when I was in junior high (middle school, now). Good stuff. I think I've read some of his other stuff, but none of it has stuck.

If for nothing else, he should be remembered for Sturgeon's Law. To show that he wasn't immune to his own law, he got to novelize the movie _The Rare Breed_. Movies don't get much dumber than _The Rare Breed_.
Posted: 09 Feb 2015 22:09 by engineer Al #197246
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Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud."
Posted: 10 Feb 2015 06:08 by Josh Look #197252
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The only thing I've read by Theodore Sturgeon is his entry in Harlan Ellison's DANGEROUS VISIONS, a story called "If All Men Are Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" I'll add MORE THAN HUMAN to my list.
Posted: 10 Feb 2015 07:56 by iguanaDitty #197267
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I love More than Human!! Still haven't read anything like it attempting to explore what the next steps of human evolution would be. There's a cute short story by Heinlein maybe? but that's about it. Know any others in this sub-genre?

I look forward to hearing about your further exploration of Sturgeon - I never did read anything else by him.
Posted: 10 Feb 2015 08:21 by RobertB #197271
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@iguanaDitty: Greg Bear's Darwin'd Radio and Darwin's Children are about the next steps in human evolution. They're worth reading.
Posted: 10 Feb 2015 09:11 by Shellhead #197281
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I was too young when I read More Than Human, so some of it went over my head. Never got around to trying it again, or any other stories by Sturgeon. I was sometimes intimidated by the classic science fiction writers because they took the science seriously and the characters often seemed dry.
Posted: 10 Feb 2015 09:22 by Chapel #197285
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I've only read Cosmic Rape and after that I haven't picked up any of his other works. His material is what I consider in the "New Age" science fiction. During that time when Heinlein went all weird and sexual. The hippy era was a strange mind expanding time for SciFI writers. Not a huge fan of the "weird", mostly liking hard SciFi from the decades earlier. But an interesting read none the less.
Posted: 10 Feb 2015 12:38 by Michael Barnes #197326
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More Than Human is one of the best science fiction novels ever written...man, what a great book that is. I've only read a smattering of his other stuff (most notably "To Marry Medusa", an abridged version of "The Cosmic Rape".

This is much more my kind of science fiction...I like the "new age" stuff that Chappie doesn't. SciFi is at its best when it is about sex and drugs AS WELL AS robots and spaceships. I'm more into PKD, Disch, Delaney, that kind of stuff. Sturgeon is line with those sorts of writers, IMO.
Posted: 11 Feb 2015 14:45 by engineer Al #197451
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@michael I also love Delany. I will probably write about him soon. I do think that some of his stuff is just the best ever. However his early work is blatantly immature and his later work preposterously pretentious.
Posted: 11 Feb 2015 17:00 by Michael Barnes #197463
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Looking forward to it...also to "Dhalgren: The Board Game".
Posted: 11 Feb 2015 18:00 by engineer Al #197468
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Michael Barnes wrote:
"Dhalgren: The Board Game".

Already working on it for my next Kickstarter. So far it takes eight hours to play and nothing happens.
Posted: 12 Feb 2015 19:28 by Frohike #197615
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More Than Human was one of the most stunning pieces of science fiction I've read, alongside The Stars My Destination (Bester). Also a huge fan of Samuel R Delany, especially his Einstein Intersection era stuff and his autobiography The Motion of Light in Water. I never could get into his Neveryon stuff as deeply because it often bled into theory and criticism, which was an interesting experiment unto itself but turned my reading into something else, more academic.

Speaking of literary SF writers, I'm curious about what you think of Gene Wolfe's novels/stories.
Posted: 13 Feb 2015 21:12 by engineer Al #197699
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Frohike wrote:
More Than Human was one of the most stunning pieces of science fiction I've read, alongside The Stars My Destination (Bester). Also a huge fan of Samuel R Delany, especially his Einstein Intersection era stuff and his autobiography The Motion of Light in Water. I never could get into his Neveryon stuff as deeply because it often bled into theory and criticism, which was an interesting experiment unto itself but turned my reading into something else, more academic.

Speaking of literary SF writers, I'm curious about what you think of Gene Wolfe's novels/stories.

I must say that I agree with every single word written here.

As for Wolfe, well, I guess I have to admit that I have never read any of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. Some years ago I came across THE KNIGHT in a used book shop and picked it up because I had been wanting to try out something by Wolfe. I loved it and immediately ordered it's sequel THE WIZARD from Amazon. THE WIZARD is one of the very few books I ever gave up on without finishing. It just seemed that he was trying too hard. I wasn't impressed and I wasn't having fun. So I put it down.

Someday I will pick up BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. I have all of it in my library. . .
Posted: 15 Feb 2015 00:38 by Frohike #197715
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engineer Al wrote:

As for Wolfe, well, I guess I have to admit that I have never read any of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. Some years ago I came across THE KNIGHT in a used book shop and picked it up because I had been wanting to try out something by Wolfe. I loved it and immediately ordered it's sequel THE WIZARD from Amazon. THE WIZARD is one of the very few books I ever gave up on without finishing. It just seemed that he was trying too hard. I wasn't impressed and I wasn't having fun. So I put it down.

Someday I will pick up BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. I have all of it in my library. . .

The Wizard Knight was a very weird exercise in mashing up Wolfe's unreliable narrator conceit with a YA fantasy novel. In my opinion, it didn't work all that well. Maybe try a short story as a palate cleanser before diving in to the Book of the New Sun. I would recommend The Death of Doctor Island. If you're up for a triptych of interrelated stories that require some sleuthing (again, unreliable/unauthoritative narrator, etc), check out The Fifth Head of Cerberus.
Posted: 15 Feb 2015 10:50 by DukeofChutney #197723
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i have death of doctor island on the reading shelf and have read both the New Sun and the Soldier of Mist. I have typed up a review / interpretation but its not quite ready for posting yet.
Posted: 15 Feb 2015 11:40 by engineer Al #197725
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Frohike wrote:
I would recommend The Death of Doctor Island.

OK, I ordered a copy on Amazon. Thanks for the recommendation!
Posted: 16 Feb 2015 07:36 by Columbob #197752
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For a short Wolfe read, I quite enjoyed Pirate Freedom. Again with the unreliable narrator and WTF is really happening? But still pretty good.
Posted: 16 Feb 2015 15:43 by Frohike #197789
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Oh cool, you must be picking up the collection. Yeah he wrote three stories with variations of the title.

Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories: is just ok. Something interesting looms in that one, but it feels like more of a sketch. Definitely an early story.

The other two are much more interesting: The Death of Doctor Island, and Doctor of Death Island. There are some other gems in that collection too; definitely worth looking into. I also try to read PEACE every couple of years or so, now that I had the "aha" moment about the narrator that reviewers kept alluding to but never explaining. But that one isn't SF. It's more Horror meets Tristram Shandy.