By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
That which has never been done before is the subject of the Selected Storiesof the late Theodore Sturgeon, a sci-fi heavyweight. He is, like many established genre authors, a hack. This is also not an insult to Mr. Sturgeon. He is so caught up with what he’s thinking, he isn’t so precious about how he says it, almost as if he mastered the craft of writing hastily, just so he could let all that stuff out of his head quick enough to keep it from exploding. The stories kill you with their slapdash brilliance, because the style is the only thing that isn’t mind-boggling about them, and if he were to get cute with his style, it would only be an annoying distraction.
One reason a lot of people with literary tastes shy away from sci-fi is that it can get so caught up in gee-whiz innovations that it ends up emotionally stunted — cool concepts take the place of deeply satisfying, operatic movements of character. And when sci-fi authors do take on the human condition, it’s usually through ham-fisted metaphors for our modern-society-run-amok, with a Platonic ideal that often looks as hokey as the Robinson family on Lost in Space. Sturgeon, who is quite the innovator and a fair social critic, also has an emotional range that dwarfs that of most literary authors, producing stories that look at first glance like classic space-alien and intergalactic-war stories, but that leave you shaken and unbound and resonating like a tuning fork.
In the story “The Golden Helix,” a group of six men and women wake up from a cheesy sci-fi frozen-for-the-trip sleep to find themselves marooned on a strange planet. They make the best of it, colonizing and mating and coping with their environment, and through their interactions, we glean something of the world they came from, which is a human future that seems very pleasant and much like our own except for the fact that couples are infinitely devoted to each other and produce litters of six children at a time. On the new planet, the characters begin to devolve over generations, and Sturgeon plays this theme out as a way of getting at the root of how people love: as romantic individuals, as members of a family, as a species, and ultimately as just life itself. The story is dramatic and engrossing, and it ends in an epiphany. Not that many writers can write an epiphany and make it work. Graham Greene could, and for all his hackish genre-ism Sturgeon is more like Graham Greene than he is like Arthur C. Clarke, or William Gibson.
Greene also considered himself at times a genre writer, producing “serious” fiction and then what he called “entertainments” like the novel Our Man in Havana. In fact, the best genre-worthiness test might be: If you’ve never read Our Man in Havana, should you read this book first? With Block’s book of erotica, the answer is no, unless you’re in the tub with a glass of wine, in which case the answer is yes. With Stuckey-French’s “literary”-genre stories, sadly, for all their earnest goodness, no. With Alexander, yes. And with Sturgeon, you could read his stories instead of reading The Heart of the Matter and come out close to even.NYMPH | By FRANCESCA LIA BLOCK | Circlet Press | 128 pages | $17 hardcover
THE FIRST PAPER GIRL IN RED OAK IOWA | By ELIZABETH STUCKEY-FRENCH | Doubleday | 203 pages | $22 hardcover
THE FINAL AUDIT AND OTHER STORIES | By RONALD ALEXANDER | Hollyridge Press | 200 pages | $13 softcover
SELECTED STORIES | By THEODORE STURGEON | Vintage Books | 352 pages | $13 softcover