Friday, December 18, 2015

Finishing up Sturgeon In Orbit: "Make Room for Me" & "The Heart"

Emsh cover for first ed. of
Sturgeon in Orbit; I have to admit
I find it a little disturbing.
James Gunn, in his 1975 history of science fiction Alternate Worlds (I borrowed a copy of the Prentice Hall printing from a university library), calls Theodore Sturgeon on page 31 "one of the best of science fiction writers" but concedes on page 166 that "Some of Sturgeon's explorations in personal statement...may be unsatisfying or unsuccessful as stories, but they seem typical of the attempts of Sturgeon and the times to liberate themselves, and his pioneer work has indeed been liberating.  Because of Sturgeon other writers have been freer to write what they wanted to write...."  I suppose time will tell if Sturgeon's work continues to be read and enjoyed as literature, or if it will primarily be remembered as a stepping stone to our current cultural scene, in which topics people avoided in the 1950s are openly addressed in popular culture.

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.

For the difficult mission of scouting out and preparing Earth the Titan leadership selects Eudiche, a Titan considered expendable because he has a flaw, a disease, in his make up.  They split his psyche up into its three component parts and inscribe it on three crystals--a single crystal cannot accommodate all the information--and launch the crystals to Earth, where they take up residence in three different humans.

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.

Thumbs up!  

"The Heart" (1955)

Never reluctant to throw around the superlatives, in the intro to "The Heart" Sturgeon declares that Raymond Palmer, the editor of Other Worlds who purchased this story, "is one of the most courageous human beings who ever lived."  Presumably this is a reference to Palmer having overcome serious physical disabilities to build a successful (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!

Thumbs up!


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.    

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