Theodore Sturgeon (STUR-juhn) was one of the most important writers of short stories and novels within the American science-fiction and fantasy genres between about 1940 and 1960. His great concern for characters and emotions was unique at a time when most of the works in those genres were concerned with plots and settings. He was born Edward Hamilton Waldo; his name was changed when he was adopted in 1929. Because of a ruthlessly strict stepfather, Sturgeon’s childhood was unhappy, a situation only made clear in the posthumously published Argyll: A Memoir. His childhood also provided much material for his fiction, in which characters feel compelled to be cruel with the best of intentions (in stories including “Cellmate” and novels such as The Dreaming Jewels).
Sturgeon attended high school in Philadelphia. In his early teens he showed great promise as a gymnast, winning a national title on the horizontal bar and having high hopes of becoming a circus performer. When he developed rheumatic fever, his stepfather would not allow him to be ill, insisting that he must go to school. This worsened the condition and ended his circus ambitions. He escaped from home by going to nautical school; there he observed and suffered from the misuse of authority, so that he developed the antiauthority stance which he maintained for the rest of his life. After running away from the school, he became a merchant seaman.
At the same time, in his late teens, he was writing stories. The first of these appeared in 1937 in newspapers owned by the McClure syndicate. This gave him the confidence to leave the merchant marine and, from about 1938, to live in New York as a full-time writer. His first science fiction story, “Ether Breather,” was published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in September, 1939. Many of the stories which followed it were fantasy-horror stories which appeared in Unknown magazine. Sturgeon worked hard at writing stories, but it was a poor living, and in 1940 he was afflicted by the first of a series of writer’s blocks.
Trying to escape from these, and also needing more money because he had married in 1940, he tried a string of different jobs. He worked as a hotel manager in the West Indies, as a steward in the U.S. Army, and as a...
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