Visions of Paradise

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Selected Stories of Theodore Sturgeon

I don’t recall what were the first Theodore Sturgeon stories I read, but since I was a fairly immature 15 when I discovered science fiction, I did not appreciate Sturgeon as much as the likes of Clifford D. Simak or Damon Knight.

But as I grew older I grew more interested in the likes of Michael Bishop and Ursula K Le Guin, and Sturgeon became steadily more interesting to me. Unfortunately, he died relatively young at the age of 67, and his books went quietly out of print, so I was left with 3 collections and 2 novels on my bookshelf. Recently North Atlantic Books began publishing the Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, which I believe has reached nine volumes already. And no matter how appealing an author might be, nine volumes is a lot of reading to invest in a single author.

So I was pleased at the publication of the one-volume distillation Selected Stories by Theodore Sturgeon. It consists of 13 stories running the gamut from Golden Age science fiction to fantasy to pure horror. It also runs the gamut from slightly-dated old fashioned scenarios to thought-provoking stories which would not be out of place in a current issue of Asimov’s.

Most of the stories should be familiar to long-time lovers of science fiction and, in fact, I believe I have most, if not all, of these stories scattered somewhere through my bookshelf. But it’s nice to have them together in one volume. What’s most attractive about Sturgeon’s stories is that even in the midst of his corniest old sf plot–such as “Thunder and Roses,” or “Killdozer!”–he still fills the story with thought-provoking ideas and philosophical musings and character analysis which makes you realize that, yes, the plot might be important–and Sturgeon can plot with the best of the classic old-timers–but that is definitely not the real reason he’s writing the story. He’s trying to make you think, and if you approach the stories from that viewpoint it is almost impossible not to come away from them with some thoughts in your mind which were not in it previously.

Such as “Killdozer!” On the surface a simple story about an ancient malevolent entity which takes over a huge bulldozer with the intent of killing every worker in a building crew on a deserted island. The story builds slowly and deliberately, and the action sequences are nicely done, but what really occupies Sturgeon’s interest–and ultimately the reader’s interest as well–is the interaction of the people trapped together under the most trying circumstances, all fearing they are going to die and not particularly happy about either their expected fate or about each other’s company during their death throes.

“The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff” was my favorite story in the book, as well as the longest, toping 80 pages. It’s the story of the residents of a small boarding house, their interactions with each other and with the owners of the house who, besides apparently being alien beings involved in an experiment examining human life, serve as surrogate Sturgeons not only examining that life but using the Socratic method to improve it in some small way.

This is a highly-recommended book whether you’ve read the stories in it previously or not. And it might convince you to start buying the complete works as well.


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