by Theodore Sturgeon
Published by Vintage
439 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Not Lost Stories
Reviewed by Claude Lalumière
In the early 1990s, Vintage initiated a reissue program of the late Philip K. Dick's out-of-print novels. Vintage packaged them in attractive trade paperbacks that could appeal to both mainstream literary and genre audiences. It must have been a success, because the publisher eventually released the larger portion of Dick's prodigious output in these new uniform editions, then turned its attention to other classic authors whose ghettoization as science fiction writers had prevented their work from reaching a larger audience. Alfred Bester. Tom Disch. And, most recently, Theodore Sturgeon.
Sturgeon is a legendary figure in science fiction. Loved and admired by his peers (Robert Heinlein, Fred Pohl, Isaac Asimov) and literary descendants (Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Silverberg, Samuel Delany). Sturgeon is said to have been the inspiration for Vonnegut's famous creation, down-and-out science fiction writer Kilgore Trout. Sturgeon's own writing life was punctuated by debilitating bouts of writer's block. Nevertheless, before his death in 1985, he had written a half-dozen novels and enough short fiction to fill up ten large volumes. His most famous work is the mosaic novel More Than Human, but if Sturgeon is remembered fondly by science fiction cognoscenti it is more than anything for his rich legacy of short fiction.
Before putting together Selected Stories, Vintage released the bulk of Sturgeon's novels. However, a few years earlier, in 1994, North Atlantic Books began an ambitious 10-volume publishing project that would eventually put into print, in chronological order, all of Sturgeon's short fiction. The last page of Selected Stories gives thumbnail information about the seven volumes published so far, presumably for readers who, after tasting Sturgeon's short fiction for the first time, will need to know how and where to satisfy their newfound appetites.
All that said, Selected Stories is a strange object -- an orphaned book in some ways. It does not reprise the uniform dress of the previous (and recent) Sturgeon volumes from Vintage. It is a new selection, not a reprint of any particular collection, yet there is no mention of an editor or anthologist responsible for the selection, or even an indication of the criteria or method used for selecting these 13 tales out of Sturgeon's sizable catalog. Further -- and this is very frustrating for the bibliographically minded among us -- there is no mention of where or when these stories where originally published. Even casual readers might want to know, for example, which stories are early works, which from the author's prime, or which from his latter years -- or which stories had an important impact on the writer's career. Beyond a short author blurb, Selected Stories is disappointingly bare of contextual information.
But what about the stories themselves? They represent a solid collection that adequately showcases Sturgeon's particular talent: formally robust short fiction of tender fragility, heartbreaking and challenging. And yet, the book falls short of being a definitive collection -- which is what would be expected from a volume of selected stories published by Vintage, quite possibly the one collection to be marketed to a general readership. Most of the stories are culled from Sturgeon's golden era, the 1950s (although the book doesn't say so anywhere), and that's good. That decade was not only his most prolific but also his best. He was churning out masterpiece after masterpiece, each new story breaking new ground, shattering taboos, pushing the envelope that much further. For example, "The World Well Lost" (1953) is a moving tale of unrequited homosexual love in a sciencefictional context... which, mysteriously, isn't included here. Neither is another 1953 tale "A Saucer of Loneliness," perhaps his greatest story and widely regarded as a signature piece. Of course, different Sturgeon fans have their favorites which may or may not be included here, but these two truly scream their absence. They are both relatively short, shorter by far (even combined) than the 70-page "Killdozer!" (the story of a bulldozer gone amuck), popular when first released in 1944, but woefully out of place in a collection of Sturgeon's best where so many great stories have to compete for inclusion.
As a Sturgeon primer (but not a best of!), this is a fine selection, but not a fine book. Its lack of information about the stories and the author limits its ability to present Sturgeon to new and/or curious readers. However, I'm sure that anyone reading Selected Stories will feel compelled to investigate more deeply the delicate pleasures of Sturgeon's prose. For example, readers moved by this volume's "The Sex Opposite" and its intriguing notion of "syzygy" will have further wonders to discover in "It Wasn't Syzygy" (currently available in Thunder and Roses, volume four of The Complete Stories). And absentees "The World Well Lost" and "A Saucer of Loneliness" can be found in volume seven, appropriately titled A Saucer of Loneliness. | November 2000
Claude Lalumière is a January Magazine contributing editor and the comics columnist for Black Gate. He founded popular 1990s Montreal bookshops danger! and Nebula. His published criticism can be found on his Web site.