Celebrating Theodore Sturgeon's Centenary--so should we all.
August 6, 2018 9:08 PM   Subscribe

There are multitudinous reasons why Sturgeon deserves to be better remembered than he already is, and we would probably require several conferences just to begin discussing them. [T]he strange beauty of Sturgeon’s stories has something to do with the weird incongruity they share with their own generic intentions; the technophilic logic of his plots never quite jives with Sturgeon’s compassion for his most fallible, messy and illogical characters. posted by craniac (29 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Sturgeon's Law holds.
posted by sammyo at 9:23 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sturgeon's Law.

“Ninety percent of everything is crud”. Derived from a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud.” Sturgeon himself called this “Sturgeon's Revelation”, and it first appeared in the March 1958 issue of Venture Science Fiction; he gave Sturgeon's Law as “Nothing is always absolutely so.” Oddly, when Sturgeon's Revelation is cited, the final word is almost invariably changed to ‘crap’.
posted by craniac at 9:27 PM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oddly, I was just reading a John Clute piece about Sturgeon being unjustly forgotten.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:32 PM on August 6, 2018

the final word is almost invariably changed to ‘crap’.
Or something even worse. But Sturgeon could be considered an exception to his own law because based on my readings, his works were FAR more than 10% non-crud.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:34 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

John Clute on Sturgeon [Salon]
posted by craniac at 9:40 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

That was it! Thanks, craniac.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:41 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've read a ton of Sturgeon because my local library has an ancient multi-volume hardbound series of his entire works.

Definitely a ton of disposable pulp but lots of stuff that seems trite now only because Sturgeon invented it. A ton of seminal sci-fi.
posted by GuyZero at 10:08 PM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sturgeon is one of my favorite SF writers and I think characterization is where he really distinguished himself from many of his contemporaries in his better work. His output was pretty widely variable: his novels never quite rise to the level of his best short story work and of the stories it's clear that many of them served no higher function than to earn him a paycheck. And some of his stories are not ones that I would recommend for other reasons and his personal life was not necessarily one I'd've wanted a friend of mine to live, but his best stories are gems that stay with you for a long time.

It was written about McCarthyism but I've spent some time lately thinking about "Mr. Costello, Hero" and its depiction of the damage a manipulative leader with a cult of personality can do to a society. If you got me started I suspect I could think of a pretty long list of others that sometimes come to me, in odd moments, that have affected the way in which I see the world.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:45 PM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Dreaming Jewels had a large impact on my young eight year old self. I forgot the name but remembered bits of it for years, sometimes doubting it existed at all, until a few years ago when I realized it was something I could probably just Google now.

IMO Sturgeon is like the askew reality of Twilight Zone, plus the messy human vulnerability of Stephen King, but then you take that mixture and down into something soft and bit unsettling.
posted by fleacircus at 3:30 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sturgeon’s compassion for his most fallible, messy and illogical characters.

A Saucer of Loneliness
this is the second time I've taken the clear opportunity to link to one of my favourite short stories
posted by infini at 4:08 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sturgeon was great. Besides the stories mentioned in the article, look for "Scars" and "Affair With A Green Monkey", which both discuss sex/gender issues in remarkable ways. Also, watch for "syzygy", Sturgeon's alternative sexual congress.
posted by CCBC at 4:11 AM on August 7, 2018

Haven't read anything by him in a long time, I should go re-read some of his short stories. He was such a better writer than his more famous contemporaries, it's a shame that he's only remember for one off the cuff quip.
posted by octothorpe at 5:06 AM on August 7, 2018

Sturgeon influenced my early years and my writing more than almost anyone, including Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein. Some of his stories still float upwards from my subconscious from time to time today, as if they were early childhood memories of my own. For instance, "Some of Your Blood," which showed tangentially a willingness to engage with aspects of normal female physiology that was extraordinary for the time.
posted by Peach at 5:07 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Many of his stories can be found dramatized on Old Time Radio by the way - I don't know if they were on Dimension X, but they were certainly a few on X-Minus One.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:34 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Microcosmic God was the story that burned his name deep into my brain. I highly recommend the short story collection that contains it. Either the one titled Microcosmic God, or The Science Fiction Hall of Fame one.

The story itself is available as a PDF on the first page of google results, but that seems shady.
posted by DigDoug at 5:39 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was just coming here to mention "Some of Your Blood" as well. It's a great book that has stuck with me all these years too.
posted by Catblack at 6:07 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Giants Unleashed, a short story collection with Microcosmic God in it, burned itself into my brain when I was 12 and had borrowed the book from the library. It's one of the books I later tracked down as an adult to buy so I could reread periodically, and that short is a big part of why.
posted by fings at 6:43 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

My personal favorite (so far, haven't read them all!) is "Killdozer!" It might be considered on the pulpy end of the spectrum, but it is very well written, and the level of detail on the mechanical workings of a giant bulldozer are pretty spot on. It used to be available online, but the website I read it on back in 2012 [blog post I wrote way back then] seems to not work anymore. Definitely an author to be remembered!
posted by HycoSpeed at 8:35 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

His level of fame is definitely lower than it should be: I was coming in to remind us all that he had a big influence on Star Trek for the last half-century, having written “Amok Time,” which gave fans a view of Vulcan that has cast a long, long shadow. I had forgotten he also wrote one other episode of the original series: “Shore Leave,” which for better or worse is the ur-malfunctioning-holodeck episode (two decades before the word “holodeck” was ever spoken).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:26 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Besides the stories mentioned in the article, look for "Scars" and "Affair With A Green Monkey", which both discuss sex/gender issues in remarkable ways.
"The World Well Lost" was another story which presented a forward-thinking attitude towards sexuality for 1953. Wikipedia's entry claims:
Its sensitive treatment of homosexuality was unusual for science fiction published at that time, and it is now regarded as a milestone in science fiction's portrayal of homosexuality. According to an anecdote related by Samuel R. Delany, when Sturgeon first submitted the story, his editor not only rejected it but phoned every other editor he knew and urged them to reject it as well.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:35 AM on August 7, 2018

I have read and reread “Killdozer” an inordinate number of times. Have to go DMD that again somewhere.
posted by Peach at 10:47 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

“It was like a mad thing. Its moldboard rose and fell. It curved away from the mound, howling governor gone wild, controls flailing. The blade dug repeatedly into the earth, gouging it up in great dips through which the tractor plunged, clanking and bellowing furiously. It raced away in a great irregular arc, turned and came snorting back to the mound, where it beat at the buried wall, slewed and scraped and roared.” - “Killdozer”
posted by Peach at 11:18 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Killdozer never really did much for me, maybe the writing was better than i remember. The conceit of the story seemed kid of basic. But I'd have to re-read it. I liked his stuff but my memory isn't what it could be so nothing in particular sticks out as a high point. I'll have to head back to the library.
posted by GuyZero at 12:49 PM on August 7, 2018

Several people have mentioned some of their favorites. Here are a few random recommendations from me -- in no particular order and not meant to represent the best of the best, just ones that I enjoy revisiting from time to time and that perhaps display Sturgeon's gift for creating characters who seem far more human than is typical for the SF of his era:
  • When You Care, When You Love
  • Brownshoes
  • The Graveyard Reader
  • Affair With a Green Monkey
  • Need
On edit: "Killdozer!" doesn't do much for me, either -- it's not a bad story but I like Sturgeon for other reasons. If anyone has started with "Killdozer!" and concluded "this guy isn't for me.." then give one of the above recommendations a try (and possibly marvel at the fact that they're the work of the same author..)
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sturgeon's simply one of the finest SF authors who ever wrote. His stories are filled with heart and humanism, so much so that his excellent SF idea-crafting (which at the time he was writing was all most SF aspired to) is of secondary importance. Here's some favorites, probably his 3 most famous works but worthy of it:

"More Than Human" -- when damaged people come together in a messy interlocking of need and sex and friendship, something new is born that exceeds anything normals could accomplish

"The Golden Helix" -- where Sturgeon astonishingly prefigures the shape of DNA years before its discovery in a story all about genetic alteration, but also and mainly personal growth and individuality versus community and whole living systems

"And Now The News" -- as trenchant an examination as ever there was of the price of our media-saturated lives, and the desperate and seemingly hopeless urge to escape it
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 2:04 PM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Came here to recommend More Than Human, and also to note just how much "Amok Time" contributed to Star Trek, not only in providing a surprisingly large amount of canon for Vulcans, but also in metacommentary on the dangers of assuming too much about another culture by how they usually present themselves to outsiders.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:26 PM on August 7, 2018

Former flower child here (Yikes! I just wrote that?) attesting to the fact that "More Than Human" was required reading, equal to "Stranger in a Strange Land", back in the day.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:25 PM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sturgeon was great. Besides the stories mentioned in the article, look for "Scars" and "Affair With A Green Monkey", which both discuss sex/gender issues in remarkable ways

Reading these stories circa 1979, as a proto-queer, was amazingly influential for me. Also, "The World Well Lost," about two aliens who come to earth, so in love that they enchant the whole world, and who turn out to be same-sex partners. It's a lovely story.
posted by Orlop at 6:08 PM on August 7, 2018

I read "The Golden Helix" as a tween and it was magnificent, heartbreaking: in the same volume was Silverberg's "Nightwings". I think I need to read more short SF again: it was my main thing for years growing up.
posted by michaelhoney at 11:31 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

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