:) What makes it so sweet isn't only Sturgeon's profound faith in humanity ("you dont, you just dont increase intelligence by a factor of five and fail to see that people must be kind to one another," says a character who looks like an angel, but is merely a man); it's also the bitter raging against the protagonist's awfulness and all the awful things he does to people--some of whom he really likes himself. ;) On the subject of sweet, here's a passage from "A Touch of Strange": She said faintly, Are youhave youI mean, if you dont mind my asking, you dont have to tell me What is it? In "Need," Theodore Sturgeon wrote: You hear a lot of glop, he said carefully, about infantile this and adult that, and acting like a grownup. Like how youve got to be adult about this or that arrangement with people or the world or your work or something. I dont mean the sex thing. Most people got the wrong idea about this adult business, this grownup thing they talk about but dont think about. What Im trying to say, if a thing is alive, it changes all the time. Like when youre little, you keep getting bigger all the time, you get promoted in school; you change; good. But then you get out, you find your spot, you got your house, your wife, your kind of work, then theres nothing around you any more says you have to change. You think you can stop now, not change any more. Your wife with some mannow, thats not nice, thats not even true, but its a living kind of thing, you see what I mean? I mean, things change around the house thenbut good; altogether; right now. Course, said Noat, sooner or later you have to get over it, face things as they really are. So the whole thing Im saying is, this adult relationship stuff they talk about, its not that at all. So then the two of them, theyre one thing nowand still its got to be like a living thing, its got to change and grow and be alive.
Such was my experience as I was working through an anthology of science fiction short stories and came across a little gem by Theodore Sturgeon. The story in question is the "title track" of this volume of Sturgeon's collected works, "The Man Who Lost the Sea", and is, perhaps, the finest example of the format which I can offer. Having not read any other Sturgeon, and on the strength of just this story, I decided to pick up the volume of his works in which it was contained, in the hope that his other work would even come close. As I've indicated above, being that the publishers are collecting Sturgeon's short fiction chronologically, not everything here falls in the science fiction genre. I will certainly be picking up a few others in the series, now that I have quite a high appreciation for the man and his work.
If I had been reading as they came out, year after year, I probably would have been impressed with Sturgeon's consistency but not overly bowled over as I would have only really been absorbing the latest collection with the stories from the year before existing only as a hazy hodgepodge in my mind of spaceships and aliens and aching sincerity, with the occasional cowboy tossed in just to throw me off. But reading them all in a row like this, one book after the other after the other, it becomes almost paralyzing how downright scary good at this he was, where his average level of quality was already better than most people could achieve and his dizzy heights were far beyond what most short story writers were even able to conceive. A collection like this, gathering together everything from a roughly three year period, on some level would act as someone else's "Best Of" where for Sturgeon this is just what he did all the time. During this period (probably the tail-end of his peak and most fertile writing years, as the next collection covers a much broader period of time in a lower page count) he was still genre hopping like a madman, dabbling in a couple of mystery stories and even another good ol' Western (not his first, but do people even seriously write Westerns anymore for the mass market .
My favorite story was "Need" a wonderful fantasy.
CONTENTS Foreward by Jonathan Lethem "A Crime for Llewellyn" Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, October, 1957 "It Opens the Sky" Venture Science Fiction, November, 1957 "A Touch of Strange" The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January, 1958 "The Comedian's Children" Venture Science Fiction, May, 1958 "The Graveyard Reader" The Graveyard Reader, anthology edited by Groff Conklin, 1958 "The Man Who Told Lies" (under the pseudonym Billy Watson, as part of a feature called "Quintet") The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September, 1959 "The Man Who Lost the Sea" The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October, 1959 "The Man Who Figured Everything" (written with Don Ward) Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January, 1960 "Like Young" The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March, 1960 "Night Ride" Keyhole Mystery Magazine, June, 1960 "Need" Beyond, collection of short stories by Sturgeon, July, 1960 "How to Kill Aunty" Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, March, 1961 "Tandy's Story" Galaxy Science Fiction, April, 1961 Story Notes by Paul Williams Five science fiction stories (I am calling "Like Young" science fiction, although it borders on fantasy), four fantasy stories, three mystery stories, and a hybrid Western mystery story. The authors named as having possibly written stories were Sturgeon, Jane Rice, Damon Knight, and Alfred Bester. (Two of the five entries really were by children; the others were by Sturgeon, Rice, and Bester.) Sturgeon's story was "The Man Who Told Lies," published under the pseudonym Billy Watson. The first sentence of the story is: Once there was a man who all the time told lies and everybody hated him and diden't trust him even when he said what time it is they woulden't believe him so one day the craziest thing hapened he was driving his car to work in the morning, and his car slipped on a banana peal only it was reely a whole bunch of banana peals where a garbage truck had a accident and spilled on the road so he cracked a lampost. I don't see anything in this story that makes me think of Sturgeon. (I need to add that most of the hospital clerks I knew were not at all like Llewellyn. "The Man Who Figured Everything" was originally published in the January, 1960 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, but it is not principally a mystery story but rather a Western. This was one of the stories Sturgeon wrote in collaboration with Don Ward. "The Man Who Figured Everything" is another story about people, rather than gimmicks. The other eight stories are all science fiction or fantasy. Also in 1957, Slippery Jim diGriz, a somewhat similar character in a vaguely similar situation, made his first appearance in the short story "The Stainless Steel Rat" by Harry Harrison (Analog Science Fiction, August, 1957.) The following is material about diGriz from Wikipedia: James Bolivar diGriz goes by many aliases, including "Slippery Jim" and "The Stainless Steel Rat". The resemblance is certainly not overwhelming, but I think that it is interesting that two authors as different as Sturgeon and Harrison each came up with even vaguely similar characters and situations at virtually the same time. (I would not be surprised if others have already noticed this.) "A Touch of Strange" is Sturgeon's well-known mer-people story. It has one of the very few phrases in a Sturgeon story that irritate me every time I read it: He wriggled a bare (i.e. mere) buttock-clutch on the short narrow shelf of rock... Now that I have finished bitching about an admittedly tiny flaw, let me add that "A Touch of Strange" is one of the kind of stories I have mentioned in earlier reviews of Sturgeon's work, stories that I once thought were incredible and now believe are only very fine. He asked Sturgeon for a story for an anthology to be titled The Graveyard Reader. Sturgeon wrote a story with the same name as the anthology. The two stories of his on that topic that mean the most to me are "Bright Segment" (1955) and the story in this book titled simply "Need." There is a man in this story who feels other people's needs, not just as an awareness but as something affecting him personally, like hunger or fear. That main character is Smith, a man who never feels needs, including his own. (An aside: the term "G-Note" is - or was - slang for a thousand dollar bill.) In the story notes at the back of this book, Paul Williams quotes something he had written elsewhere: " 'The Comedian's Children,' about a manipulative TV personality, was another impossible triumph - that story tore me into little pieces when I was twelve years old, and it remains one of the most powerful pieces of fiction I've ever read." I am not sure when I first read this story, but I believe that I was also around twelve. One thing that Sturgeon never mentions is the reason that the world is so willing to hate Horowitz. At the time "Tandy's Story" was written, Sturgeon had four children. The final story to discuss (and the third story in the book with a title beginning "The Man Who...") is "The Man Who Lost the Sea." When I previously wrote a review of this single story, I decided "to cheat and steal my review from the foreward to Slow Sculpture - Volume XII: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon." This was written by another excellent author, Connie Willis, about "The Man Who Lost the Sea": ...Circling, veering off at the last minute, taking off on talkative tangents, circling back, are the only way we can get to the secrets inside the story - and inside us. I said before that nobody who hasn't read "The Man Who Lost the Sea" can really understand science fiction. Yes, this is brilliant and unique and Sturgeon's best story. Some of Sturgeon's stories "stumble" - well, yes, but most of the ones in this particular volume don't, I think. "His imagination collapses into the Gothic in the non-SF tales." "Alternatively, consider how The Man Who Lost the Sea...relies on its rocket"; certainly not an extraordinary thing to rely on, in a story about inter-planetary travel. (I assume that Lethem was referring to the particular story rather than to the entire book, despite putting the title in italics rather than inside quotation marks.) I simply don't understand Lethem's comment, "His cheerleading's embarrassing." Paul Williams's notes are, as throughout this series, informative and irritating. After being annoyed by Jonathan Lethem's critical remarks in the foreward, I suppose it is unfair for me to wish that Williams expressed more opinions (especially in something that is supposed to be just notes on the stories). For example, it is mentioned in passing in the story note for "A Touch of Strange" that Sturgeon had become the book reviewer for Venture Science Fiction; I would like to have seen more about that.
Theodore Sturgeon (19181985) is considered one of the godfathers of contemporary science fiction and dark fantasy.