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More Than Human
Theodore Sturgeon
Orion Millennium, 233 pages

Fred Gambino
More Than Human
Theodore Sturgeon
Born Edward Hamilton Waldo in 1918, he changed his name to Theodore Sturgeon in his early teens. He sold his first story, "Heavy Insurance," in 1938 for $5 to McClure's Syndicate for publication in newspapers. The sale of "The God in the Garden" to Unknown was his first published SF story. His novel, More Than Human, won the International Fantasy Award. His story, "Slow Sculpture," won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. He died on May 8, 1985, and he was posthumously awarded the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award.

Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: To Marry Medusa
Theodore Sturgeon is Alive and Well -- a Sturgeon Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

One of the key figures of science fiction's so-called Golden Age, Theodore Sturgeon stands out from his contemporaries both in the literary quality of his writing and his focus on creating strong, complex characters as well as fast-paced plots. He has been an influence on writers as diverse as Samuel Delany and Ray Bradbury, and serves as a continuing source of inspiration to SF's younger generation. His work fell out of print following his death in 1985, but recent years have seen complete reissues of his short story collections, and a number of reprintings of his novels -- including this one, from Millennium's SF Masterworks series.

Sturgeon is best-known as a short story writer, and More than Human is definitely a story writer's novel. It's constructed as three separate novelettes (the central one, "Baby is Three," was originally published in Galaxy) which together link up to tell a larger tale. This structure echoes the novel's theme: the creation and evolution of a Gestalt, a single being composed of disparate parts that are incomplete alone but together form a whole.

In the first section, "The Fabulous Idiot," the Gestalt is born, as its components come together for the first time: Lone, a mentally defective youth with a powerful telepathic gift; Janie, a stubborn child with telekinetic abilities; Bonnie and Beanie, twins who are incapable of speech and yet can teleport their bodies at will; and Baby, a profoundly retarded infant whose brain works like a computer. Each of these handicapped, misfit individuals is incapable of functioning on his or her own, but together they add up to a complete being: as Baby tells Janie, "the I is all of us."

In the second section, "Baby is Three," the Gestalt grows up, emerging into the outside world and facing the challenges of survival. Several years have passed; Lone, the "head" of the Gestalt body, is dead, and his place has been taken by Gerry, an abused street urchin consumed by anger and hatred. Handicapped before because of Lone's limited mental capacity, the Gestalt is handicapped now by Gerry's moral emptiness. Gerry's ruthlessness serves the Gestalt, though, for he is willing to do anything to preserve it against separation.

In the concluding section, "Morality," the Gestalt matures, completing its evolution into a fully-realized being. Again, many years have passed; this time the narrative proceeds from the viewpoint of Hip, a young man who has been the subject of a cruel experiment by Gerry, and whom Janie, rebelling, decides to rescue. Ultimately, Hip turns out to be the Gestalt's single missing element, without which it cannot take the next step in its development. The question is whether callous, conscienceless Gerry can accept the necessity of change.

The Gestalt is an idea that preoccupied Sturgeon, who examined it in various ways in a number of his stories. In More Than Human, its roots in psychiatry (in which Sturgeon was also very interested) are clear: the entire middle portion of the book is framed as a long psychiatric session, in which the Gestalt slowly, for the first time, achieves self-awareness. Sturgeon's humanism, and his belief in the transformative power of love, are also evident here. Many writers who address the "more than human" theme assume that such super-beings must be hostile toward those they've evolved beyond (Frank Robinson's classic The Power, which I reviewed here recently, springs to mind). But rather than a superceding of humanity, Sturgeon's Gestalt represents the greatest fulfillment of human potential. As such, Homo Gestalt has a moral duty to guide, inspire, and protect Homo Sapiens -- which is only logical, for ordinary human beings are the Gestalt's source material.

More Than Human is powerfully written, in a style both sinewy and poetic. The characters -- each of whom follows a path of personal evolution that echoes the evolution of the Gestalt -- are strongly and compassionately drawn: the story turns on them, on their weaknesses and their strengths, as much as it does on Sturgeon's tightly-conceived plot. The structure of the book, with its separate sections told in very different voices, might in other hands have seemed disjointed or confusing, but like Homo Gestalt, Sturgeon attains a transcendence of form: ultimately, the sections "blesh" -- Sturgeon's term for the Gestalt's awareness, a combination of blending and meshing -- into a single, integrated whole. (While it would be nice to theorize that this interplay of theme and structure was deliberate, it seems more likely that it came about by default, both because the book sprang from a story and because Sturgeon was a story-writer first and a novelist second. More Than Human achieves its transcendence not because of its structure, but in spite of it.)

Originally published nearly 50 years ago, More Than Human does not seem dated: the universality of its themes and the depth of its meditations on the nature and future of humanity are appropriate for any time. It's a must-read from one of the great masters of the genre.

Copyright © 2000 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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