Theodore Sturgeon Sturgeon, Theodore - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Theodore Sturgeon 1918–

(Born Edward Hamilton Waldo; also wrote under the pseudonym of Frederick R. Ewing) American author of science fiction novels and short stories.

Sturgeon is one of the first writers of the genre to convey emotions such as love in his work. A deft craftsman, Sturgeon received both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84, and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8: Twentieth Century American Science-Fiction Writers.)

Sam Moskowitz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Authors had created monsters before, many whose names became synonyms for terror, but none of them had been treated with such objectivity or presented with such incredible mastery of style [as Theodore Sturgeon's monster in It].

"Styles" would have been the better term, for the author was a virtuoso, possessing an absolute pitch for the cadence of words, altering the mood and beat of his phraseology with the deliberateness of background music in a moving picture. (p. 230)

The Ether Breather was a clever spoof of the television industry, in a year when there was virtually no such industry, involving "etheric" intelligences that humorously altered television transmission. Lightly, almost frothily written, it invited examination of the style to no greater a degree than would a theatrical bedroom farce.

The same slick, lightweight prose and superficially bubbling good humor dominated A God in the Garden,… a fantasy in which a prehistoric "god" grants a man the handy attribute of having every word he utters come factually true, even if it were not so before he opened his mouth; Derm Fool … is built about the plight of several people who shed their skin every twenty-four hours as the result of a poisonous snake bite, and He Shuttles … is a variation of the old tale of a man granted three wishes which ends up with the wishes in such contradiction that the man must back up in time and perpetually repeat his actions. (pp. 230-31)

Sturgeon's first four stories had entertained but made no permanent impact. They were written, apparently by a lighthearted, pleasing young man with a facile style who intended to do no more than entertain. It, however, displayed that an extraordinary talent was at work, capable of producing serious work of a lasting nature. (p. 231)

Poker Face … is historically important as one of the earliest science-fiction stories based on the notion that other worldly aliens are living and working among us and at any moment may open the lid on that third eye or pull their extra hands from beneath their waistcoats.


(The entire section is 895 words.)

James Blish

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There seems to be a certain incredulity in the title and in the author's preface of Sturgeon Is Alive and Well …, so perhaps it's not surprising that one of the most powerful stories in it is that of a man trying to fight his way out of a bungled suicide attempt. Appropriately, it is the last story.

There are twelve stories all told, of which three may be familiar to you…. The others all appeared in men's magazines, and sometimes show it—by the time I finished the book I was a little tired of the heroine who lies down for the hero a few hours after they've met.

Of the nine probably unfamiliar tales, five, including "Suicide," are straight mainstream stories and very good ones; it's well past high time that editors allowed Sturgeon to show his potentials in this field. Another, "Crate," is a shipwreck-and-survival story to which the science-fiction trappings are nearly superfluous (and it's also very good). "Uncle Fremmis," about a man who can thump people's worn-out thinking patterns back into alignment as he would thump a misbehaving old radio, is on the borderline between fantasy and science fiction, as is the marvelous prime mover of "Brownshoes"; only "The Patterns of Dorne" is pure-quill science fiction, as seen through the unique Sturgeon eye…. "To Here and the Easel," which is about a stuck painter whose blockage takes the form of identification with a character in Ariosto's Orlando...

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David Ketterer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In [Venus Plus X], Sturgeon makes subtle use of various conventions of the science-fiction genre and of social conventions, particularly sexual conventions. The well-nigh-perfect society of the Ledom, a new form of "humanity," is explained as a consequence of their hermaphroditic sexuality. Everybody is equipped with both male and female sexual organs. Impregnation is a mutual affair. With the lack of sexual differentiation goes, it is assumed, a corresponding lack of other dichotomies…. In a series of alternating chapters devoted to the conventionalized sexual responses of a pair of contemporary American families, Sturgeon presents, as an effective satiric contrast, our alternative and divisive situation. This arrangement serves to disguise the fact that Venus Plus X is really a short story skillfully padded out. The utopia theme simply does not allow for very much in the way of narrative elaboration.

Sturgeon is aware that the English language, as it has developed, is incompatible with utopia, and consequently the Ledom don't use it. The Ledom language appears to be scientific in its unusual exactness and avoidance of metaphorical statement…. The only book referred to is a technical manual.

Aesthetic appeal is, however, a function of the total environment, which is essentially pastoral. Johns is first struck by an extensive tree-spotted area of even, springy greensward. There is a technology, however, as instanced by the impossibly curved buildings, which defy the laws of gravity: "nothing was ever square, flat, vertical, or exactly smooth."… Presumably the shapes approximate those found in nature. It transpires that the incredible engineering of Sturgeon's scientifically based fairyland depends upon invisible force fields. By means of a skillful domestication of the impossible, the reality of this utopia insinuates itself. But the technological aspect is incidental…. The most important aspect of the Ledom society is an exclusively pastoral retreat known as the "Children's One." The children who inhabit this area with their kindly guardians live in very basic homey cottages…. According to Johns' instructor, Philos, the value of such...

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Richard Eliot Pincus

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

More than Human is the story of the first collective entity. Six misfits link consciousnesses to become a single, yet still individual, gestalt entity. The book explores the very roots of identity….

It asks very deep questions about morality—for the gestalt must decide where its loyalties lie. It asks questions about the nature of evolution. It forces the reader to consider a world where he or she is the outmoded, is Neanderthal. On a more basic level, the questions surrounding attitudes towards freakishness, the crippled and different come at the reader from every corner.

None of these are pleasant or easy questions. They are not meant to be. (p. 83)

Richard Eliot Pincus, "Science Friction," in English Journal (copyright © 1975 by the National Council of Teachers of English; reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author), Vol. 64, No. 8, November, 1975, pp. 80-3.∗

Donald M. Hassler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The true technician is indeed the form-changer, transforming simple materials into near limitless proliferations and a variety of forms. Sturgeon can do this with words and with narrative lines, and he often creates protagonists who possess a similar fecundity of inventiveness and controlled variation. These mad scientists of Sturgeon's, who are usually quite sane, loving, and gentle men, are his images for the technician and craftsman that is he himself as artist. James Kidder, the protagonist in … "Microcosmic God," is an invention capable of incredible proliferation and variation who finally turns his inventive skills to the basic problem of how to increase the rate of proliferation itself…. Kidder does this by...

(The entire section is 2160 words.)