|Emsh cover for first ed. of|
Sturgeon in Orbit; I have to admit
I find it a little disturbing.
Let's finish up with Sturgeon in Orbit, which I have been reading this month, a 1964 collection of 1950s stories by Sturgeon, and see if these last two tales are of historical importance, or literary interest, or both.
"Make Room for Me" (1951)
In the intro to this one, Sturgeon praises editor Howard Browne, who bought "Make Room for Me" for Fantastic Adventures, as a writer of hardboiled detective stories. Sturgeon strongly recommends the three "Halo" novels, written by Browne under the John Evans pseudonym.
The Titans are an intelligent race of merciless, even malicious, parasites; despite the name Sturgeon chose for them, they are very tiny, and invade and control the bodies of larger beings. It seems they enjoy making their hosts hunt and kill other intelligent beings The Titans have a problem--the race they are currently exploiting is proving inadequate as hosts, unable to reproduce as fast as the Titans, so the Titans need to colonize a new race on a new planet. The new planet they target is Earth.
Because these three people carry within themselves different aspects of a single personality they become intimate, but endlessly squabbling and radically different, friends. One is an intellectual type, and becomes a novelist, one an artistic type--she becomes a poet-- while the third is a technical, practical sort, and becomes an engineer. It takes Eudiche a while to fully integrate himself into them, and then to unite them telepathically, but when he does he accomplishes his mission, but with a twist. Under Eudiche's control his three hosts build a sort of mortar and launch capsules that contain a mold Eudiche has developed into space back to Titan.
You see, Eudiche's disease was empathy. While most of his race are callously selfish, Eudiche feels for others. Embedded in three human bodies, he came to love the human race, and so was revolted by the idea of turning them into slaves that would be killed for sport. But he still wanted to complete his mission, so he developed a mold that would increase the longevity and fecundity of the Titans' current hosts. Tragically, Eudiche expires, and his people back on Titan don't even realize what he has done--they think that Eudiche failed, and the civilization-saving mold arrived serendipitously!
This story includes many elements we've been seeing in Sturgeon's work--the reclusive, psychologically odd genius scientist, nontraditional love relationships, the power of love, the alien invaders whose motives are rational and whom Sturgeon refuses to denounce as evil--but Sturgeon manages to pace the story well, present believable and interesting characters, and avoid boring scientific or irritating polemical lectures. Sturgeon's hobby horses are well integrated in the story, and it is a good story.
"The Heart" (1955)
and at times controversial) career as a writer and an editor.
"The Heart" is very short (four pages) but packs a punch, a successful "Twilight Zoney" fantasy/horror tale. A bookish, reclusive woman falls in love with a man with a diseased heart, another hermitish intellectual type. He refuses to marry because of his medical condition. The woman focuses an intense hate on the man's ailing heart, hoping to supernaturally expunge the disease. But nothing good can come from hate! Her hate misfires, destroying the entire heart and killing the man she loves, so she throws herself in front of a train!
I feel like I often emphasize the importance of economy and human feeling in fiction on this blog, and both "Make Room for Me" and "The Heart" have these qualities, and are my favorite stories from this collection. The other stories in Sturgeon in Orbit are convoluted, marred by characters who are unbelievable or uninteresting, or burdened by long-winded speeches and metaphors. Today's two stories are streamlined, get to the point, show instead of tell, and are about interesting, convincing characters. I'm happy I can put Sturgeon in Orbit back on the shelf after hitting this high note.