Theodore Sturgeon

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Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon.jpg
Born Edward Hamilton Waldo
(1918-02-26)February 26, 1918
Staten Island, New York, USA
Died May 8, 1985(1985-05-08) (aged 67)
Eugene, Oregon, USA
Pen name E. Waldo Hunter
Occupation Fiction writer, critic
Nationality American
Period 1938–1985
Genres Science fiction, horror, mystery, and western novels and short fiction
Subjects Science fiction (as critic)
Notable work(s)
Notable award(s) Hugo, Nebula[1]

Theodore Sturgeon (/ˈstɜrən/; born Edward Hamilton Waldo; February 26, 1918 – May 8, 1985) was an American science fiction and horror writer and critic. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database credits him with about 400 reviews and more than 200 stories.[2]

Sturgeon's most famous work may be the science fiction More Than Human (1953), an expansion of "Baby Is Three" (1952). More Than Human won the 1954 International Fantasy Award (for SF and fantasy) as the year's best novel and the Science Fiction Writers of America ranked "Baby is Three" number five among the "Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time" to 1964. (Ranked by votes for all of their pre-1965 novellas, Sturgeon was second among authors behind Robert Heinlein.)

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted Sturgeon in 2000, its fifth class of two deceased and two living writers.[3]

Biography[edit]

Sturgeon was born Edward Hamilton Waldo in Staten Island, New York in 1918. His name was legally changed to Theodore Sturgeon at age eleven after his mother's divorce and remarriage to William Dicky ("Argyll") Sturgeon.[4]

He sold his first story in 1938 to the McClure Syndicate, which bought much of his early work. His first genre story[citation needed] was "Ether Breather", published by John W. Campbell in the September 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.[2] At first he wrote mainly short stories, primarily for genre magazines such as Astounding and Unknown, but also for general-interest publications such as Argosy Magazine. He used the pen name "E. Waldo Hunter" when two of his stories ran in the same issue of Astounding. A few of his early stories were signed "Theodore H. Sturgeon."

Sturgeon ghost-wrote one Ellery Queen mystery novel, The Player on the Other Side (Random House, 1963). This novel gained critical praise from critic H. R. F. Keating, who "had almost finished writing Crime and Mystery: the 100 Best Books, in which I had included The Player on the Other Side ... placing the book squarely in the Queen canon"[5] when he learned that it had been written by Sturgeon. Similarly, "William DeAndrea, author and ... winner of Mystery Writers of America awards, selecting his ten favorite mystery novels for the magazine Armchair Detective, picked The Player on the Other Side as one of them. He said: "This book changed my life ... and made a raving mystery fan (and therefore ultimately a mystery writer) out of me. ... The book must be 'one of the most skilful pastiches in the history of literature. An amazing piece of work, whomever did it'."[5]

Sturgeon wrote the screenplays for the Star Trek episodes "Shore Leave" (1966) and "Amok Time" (1967, written up and published as a Bantam Books "Star Trek Fotonovel" in 1978).[2] The latter is known for its invention of pon farr, the Vulcan mating ritual; first use of the sentence "Live long and prosper";[6] and first use of the Vulcan hand symbol. Sturgeon is also sometimes credited as having deliberately put homosexual subtext in his work, like the back-rub scene in "Shore Leave", and the short story The World Well Lost. Sturgeon also wrote several episodes of Star Trek that were never produced. One of these was notable for having first introduced the Prime Directive. He also wrote an episode of the Saturday morning show Land of the Lost, "The Pylon Express", in 1975. Two of Sturgeon's stories were adapted for The New Twilight Zone. One, "A Saucer of Loneliness", was broadcast in 1986 and was dedicated to his memory. Another short story, "Yesterday was Monday", was the inspiration for the The New Twilight Zone episode "A Matter of Minutes". His 1944 novella "Killdozer!" was the inspiration for the 1970s made-for-TV movie, Marvel comic book, and alternative rock band of the same name.

Sturgeon is well-known among readers of classic science-fiction anthologies. At the height of his popularity in the 1950s he was the most anthologized English-language author alive[7][8] and much respected by critics. John Clute wrote in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: "His influence upon writers like Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany was seminal, and in his life and work he was a powerful and generally liberating influence in post-WWII US sf". He is not much known by the general public, however, and he won comparatively few awards. (One was the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement from the 1985 World Fantasy Convention.)[1] His best work was published before the establishment and consolidation of the leading genre awards, while his later production was scarcer and weaker.[citation needed] He was listed[according to whom?] as a primary influence on the much more famous Ray Bradbury.

Sturgeon lived for several years in Springfield, Oregon.[9] He died on May 8, 1985, of lung fibrosis, at Sacred Heart General Hospital in the neighboring city of Eugene.[9] He was a Christian.[10]

He was a member of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of Isaac Asimov's fictional group of mystery solvers the Black Widowers. Sturgeon was the inspiration for the recurrent character of Kilgore Trout in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.[11]

Sturgeon's Law[edit]

In 1951, Sturgeon coined what is now known as Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud." This was originally known as Sturgeon's Revelation; Sturgeon has said that "Sturgeon's Law" was originally "Nothing is always absolutely so." However, the former statement is now widely referred to as Sturgeon's Law. He is also known for his dedication to a credo of critical thinking that challenged all normative assumptions: "Ask the next question." He represented this credo by the symbol of a Q with an arrow through it, an example of which he wore around his neck and used as part of his signature in the last 15 years of his life.

Life and family[edit]

Sturgeon was a distant relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and through his Waldo, Hamilton Dicker and Dunn ancestors, a direct descendant of numerous influential Puritan, Presbyterian, and Anglican clergymen. Both Sturgeon and his brother Peter eventually became atheists,[citation needed] although Sturgeon continuously developed his own highly imaginative spiritual side. If Sturgeon was aware of much of his ancestry or stories associated with it, he never shared them with his friends or children, although the short "I Say—Ernest" (1972) does bring to life one wing of his ministerial family.

  • Sturgeon's sibling, Peter Sturgeon, wrote technical material for the pharmaceutical industry and eventually for the WHO, has been credited with bringing Mensa to the United States.
  • Peter and Theodore's birth father, Edward Waldo, was a color and dye manufacturer of middling success. With his second wife, Anne, he had one daughter, Joan.
  • Peter and Theodore's mother, Christine Hamilton Dicker (Waldo) Sturgeon, was a well-educated writer, watercolorist, and poet who published journalism, poetry, and fiction under the name Felix Sturgeon.
  • Their stepfather, William Dickie Sturgeon (sometimes known as Argyll), was a mathematics teacher at a prep school and then Romance Languages Professor at Drexel Institute [later Drexel Institute of Technology] in Philadelphia.

Sturgeon held a wide variety of jobs during his lifetime.

  • As an adolescent, he wanted to be a circus acrobat; an episode of rheumatic fever prevented him from pursuing this.
  • From 1935 (aged 17) to 1938, he was a sailor in the merchant marine, and elements of that experience found their way into several stories.
  • He sold refrigerators door to door.
  • He managed a hotel in Jamaica around 1940–1941, worked in several construction and infrastructure jobs (driving a bulldozer in Puerto Rico, operating a gas station and truck lubrication center, work at a drydock) for the US Army in the early war years, and by 1944 was an advertising copywriter.
  • In addition to freelance fiction and television writing, he also operated a literary agency (which was eventually transferred to Scott Meredith), worked for Fortune magazine and other Time Inc. properties on circulation, and edited various publications. Sturgeon had somewhat irregular output, frequently suffering from writer's block.

Theodore Sturgeon vividly recalled being in the same room with L. Ron Hubbard, when Hubbard became testy with someone there and retorted, "Y'know, we're all wasting our time writing this hack science fiction! You wanta make real money, you gotta start a religion!" Reportedly Sturgeon also told this story to others.

Sturgeon played guitar and wrote music which he sometimes performed at Science Fiction Conventions.

Sturgeon was married three times, had two long-term committed relationships outside of marriage, divorced once, and fathered a total of seven children.

  • His first wife was Dorothe Fillingame (married 1940, divorced 1945) with whom he had two daughters, Patricia and Cynthia.
  • He was married to singer Mary Mair from 1949 until an annulment in 1951.
  • In 1953, he wed Marion McGahan with whom he had a son, Robin (b. 1952); daughters Tandy (b. 1954) and Noël (b. 1956); and son Timothy (b. 1960).
  • In 1969, he began living with Wina Golden, a journalist, with whom he had a son, Andros.[12][13]
  • Finally, his last long-term committed relationship was with writer and educator Jayne Engelhart Tannehill, with whom he remained until the time of his death.

Sturgeon was a lifelong pipe smoker. His death from lung fibrosis may have been caused by exposure to asbestos during his Merchant Marine years.

Novels[edit]

Novelizations[edit]

Sturgeon, under his own name, was hired to write novelizations of the following movies based on their scripts (links go to articles about the movies):

Pseudonymous novels[edit]

  • I, Libertine (1956): Historical novel created as a for-hire hoax. Credited to "Frederick R. Ewing", written from a premise by Jean Shepherd.
  • The Player on The Other Side (1963): Mystery novel credited to Ellery Queen and ghost-written with Queen's assistance and supervision.

Short stories[edit]

Sturgeon published numerous short story collections during his lifetime, many drawing on his most prolific writing years of the 1940s and 1950s.

Note that some reprints of these titles (especially paperback editions) may cut one or two stories from the line-up. Statistics herein refer to the original editions only.

Collections published during Sturgeon's lifetime[edit]

The following table includes sixteen volumes (one of them collecting western stories). These are considered "original" collections of Sturgeon material, in that they compiled previously uncollected stories. However, some volumes did contain a few reprinted stories: this list includes books that collected only previously uncollected material, as well as those volumes that collected mostly new material, but also contained up to three stories (representing no more than half the book) that were previously published in a Sturgeon collection.

Title Year Number
of stories
previously
collected
Originally published
Earliest story Latest story
Without Sorcery 1948 13 1939 1947
E Pluribus Unicorn 1953 13 1947 1953
A Way Home 1955 11 1946 1955
Caviar 1955 7 1 1941 1955
A Touch of Strange 1958 11 1953 1958
Aliens 4 1959 4 1944 1958
Beyond 1960 6 1941 1960
Sturgeon In Orbit 1964 5 1951 1955
Starshine 1966 6 3 1940 1961
Sturgeon Is Alive and Well ... 1971 11 1954 1971
The Worlds of Theodore Sturgeon 1972 10 3 1941 1962
Sturgeon's West (westerns) 1973 7 1949 1973
Case and the Dreamer 1974 3 1962 1973
Visions and Venturers 1978 8 1 1942 1965
The Stars Are The Styx 1979 10 1 1951 1971
The Golden Helix 1979 10 3 1941 1973

The following six collections consisted entirely of reprints of previously collected material:

Title Year Stories Notes
Number Earliest Latest
Thunder and Roses 1957 8 1946 1955 selected from 11 in 1955's "A Way Home"
Not Without Sorcery 1961 8 1939 1941 selected from 13 in 1948's Without Sorcery
The Joyous Invasions 1965 3 1955 1958 selected from 4 in 1959's "Aliens 4"
To Here and the Easel 1973 6 1941 1958
Maturity 1979 3 1947 1958
Alien Cargo 1984 14 1940 1956

Complete short stories[edit]

North Atlantic Books has released the chronologically assembled The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, edited by Paul Williams, since 1994. The series runs to 13 volumes, the last appearing in September 2010. The volumes offer an excellent presentation of Sturgeon's best work—the short fiction. Introductions are provided by Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, Kurt Vonnegut, Gene Wolfe, Connie Willis, Jonathan Lethem, and many others. Extensive "Story Notes" are provided by Paul Williams and (in the last two volumes) Sturgeon's daughter Noel.

The volumes include:

  1. The Ultimate Egoist (1937 to 1940)
  2. Microcosmic God (1940 to 1941)
  3. Killdozer (1941 to 1946)
  4. Thunder and Roses (1946 to 1948)
  5. The Perfect Host (1948 to 1950)
  6. Baby is Three (1950 to 1952)
  7. A Saucer of Loneliness (1953)
  8. Bright Segment (1953 to 1955, as well as two "lost" stories from 1946)
  9. And Now the News ... (1955 to 1957)
  10. The Man Who Lost the Sea (1957 to 1960)
  11. The Nail and the Oracle (1961 to 1969)
  12. Slow Sculpture (1970 to 1972, plus one 1954 novella and one unpublished story)[14]
  13. Case and The Dreamer (1972 to 1983, plus one 1960 story and three unpublished stories)

Representative short stories[edit]

Sturgeon was best known for his short stories and novellas. The best-known include:

Autobiography[edit]

  • Argyll: A Memoir, (pamphlet, Sturgeon Project, 1993) an autobiographical sketch about Sturgeon's relationship with his stepfather. Introduction by his editor Paul Williams. Illustrated by Donna Nassar.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Sturgeon, Theodore". The Locus Index of SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  2. ^ a b c Theodore Sturgeon at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-18. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  3. ^ "Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame". Mid American Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions, Inc. Retrieved 2013-03-26. This was the official website of the hall of fame to 2004.
  4. ^ Williams, Paul (1976). "Theodore Sturgeon, Storyteller". First published 1997, online. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
    Quote: "Sturgeon because that was the stepfather's name—he was a professor of modern languages at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia—and Theodore because Edward was the boy's father's name and the mother was still bitter and anyway young Edward had always been known as Teddy."
    Quote: "To this day, libraries all over the world list 'Theodore Sturgeon' as a pseudonym for 'E. H. Waldo', which is incorrect."
  5. ^ a b Keating, H. R. F. (1989). The Bedside Companion to Crime. New York: Mysterious Press.
  6. ^ Nimoy (1995), p. 67.
  7. ^ Engel, Joel (June 1, 1994). Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek. Hyperion. p. 92. ISBN 0786860049. "Theodore Sturgeon, the most anthologized writer in the English language but one who'd never written for television before Star Trek, received several long letters and memos from Roddenberry." 
  8. ^ Meehan, Paul (November 1, 1998). Saucer Movies: A UFOlogical History of the Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 166. ISBN 0810835738. "Veteran science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, reportedly the most anthologized science fiction writer of all time, wrote the teleplay adaptation of his own short story for the ABC-TV movie Killdozer (1974)." 
  9. ^ a b Portal, Ann (May 10, 1985). "Famed author, award-winner, dies in Eugene". The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon). Retrieved 2011-06-20. 
  10. ^ http://www.adherents.com/adh_sf.html Retrieved December 8, 2013
  11. ^ Interview with Vonnegut "I think it's funny when someone is named after a fish"
  12. ^ Noel Sturgeon [daughter], "Story Notes Volume XII", Sturgeon (2009), pp. 289–92.
  13. ^ Sturgeon (1978), p. 12.
  14. ^ Solicitation from Amazon.com

Sources[edit]

  • Nimoy, Leonard (1995). I Am Spock. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-0-7868-6182-8. 
  • Sturgeon, Theodore (1978). Sturgeon is Alive and Well  ... New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-81415-X. 
  • Sturgeon, Theodore (2009). Slow Sculpture: Volume XII: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. Berkeley, CA. ISBN 978-1-55643-834-9. 

External links[edit]