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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Born Edward Hamilton Waldo, Theodore Sturgeon led one of those archetypal writer’s lives, roaming the world and holding many different kinds of jobs. In 1929, his name was officially changed to Theodore Sturgeon. As a child, he wanted to be a circus performer, even gaining an athletic scholarship to Temple University, but his career in gymnastics was stopped by rheumatic fever. As an adult, he sold newspapers; collected garbage; sailed the seas as an engine-room wiper; worked as a musician, a ghostwriter, and a literary agent; operated a bulldozer and a gas station; and held several door-to-door sales positions. During World War II, he worked building airstrips and later writing technical manuals. Married five times, usually to younger women, he fathered six children. Strugeon died in Eugene, Oregon, on May 8, 1985.
Theodore Sturgeon was born Edward Hamilton Waldo on February 26, 1918, on Staten Island, New York. His parents were divorced and, after his mother remarried in 1929, his name was legally changed when he was adopted by his stepfather. After he graduated from high school, where his career as a gymnast was ended by rheumatic fever, he finished a term at Penn State Nautical School and then spent three years at sea. During that time he began to write, producing some forty conventional short stories for McClure’s Syndicate before turning to science fiction, which he began to publish in John W. Campbell, Jr.’s Astounding Science Fiction in 1939.
Sturgeon recalled that science fiction was “the pornography of its day” and recounted how his stepfather discovered and destroyed his 1935 issues of Amazing. When he took up science fiction, Sturgeon was making a commitment to a literary form that promised little prestige and very modest financial returns. He married in the same year he launched his science-fiction career and contributed regularly to Unknown and Astounding Science Fiction in order to support his family. Although he produced highly regarded stories, such as “It” (1940) and “Microcosmic God” (1941), he had to seek employment in addition to writing to earn a living.
After operating a hotel in the British West Indies in 1940, Sturgeon worked as a door-to-door salesman, as assistant chief steward at Fort Simonds, and as a bulldozer operator. In 1942, he pursued the last of these occupations in Puerto Rico. Except for Killdozer, a novelette about a machine possessed by a malignant force, his literary output declined sharply between 1942 and 1944, when he returned to the United States and became a copy editor....
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