"When I can't do something, this always impels me to study it." -- Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon (26 February 1918 ... 8 May 1985) was an American science fiction author.
He was known to use a technique known as "rhythmic prose", in which his prose text would drop into a standard poetic meter. This has the effect of creating a subtle shift in mood, usually without alerting the reader to its cause.
"Anybody can do anything he wants to if he wants to do it badly enough.""As far as hypnosis is concerned, I had a very serious problem when I was in my twenties. I encountered a man who later became the president of the American Society of Medical Hypnosis. He couldn't hypnotize me.""As far as I'm concerned, I didn't dream - ever.""Basically, fiction is people. You can't write fiction about ideas.""Create a world in which these things do or do not exist, or in which they are extended in some way. Test reality against this fiction. The reader will recognize the world that you're talking about, even though it may be another one altogether.""Fiction is very important to me. It's what I do, it's what I do with my life.""For years, I thought I simply didn't dream. I felt left out. Everybody else had a thing I didn't have.""Here's the point to be made - there are no synonyms. There are no two words that mean exactly the same thing.""I feel angry that I can't be hypnotized. I'm not putting it down, and I'm not saying that it doesn't exist. I have talked to a great many people who are very good at it, but so far nobody has ever been able to hypnotize me.""I find to my mixed astonishment that I do dream, but I didn't know it.""I have lived most of my life with the conviction that I don't dream, because I never could retrieve a dream.""I learned how to live on five and sometimes ten dollars a week.""I quit my job, and went ashore to become a writer.""I sent The World Well Lost to one editor who rejected it on sight, and then wrote a letter to every other editor in the field warning them against the story, and urging them to reject it on sight without reading it.""I teach writing courses and first of all, I teach my students what prosody is.""I write a story as if it were a letter to someone and essentially, that's what you do.""I wrote the very first stories in science fiction which dealt with homosexuality, The World Well Lost and Affair With a Green Monkey.""I've always written very tightly, and there's a good reason for that. There's no point in using words that you're not going to apply.""In science fiction, you can also test out your own realities.""Inner space is so much more interesting, because outer space is so empty.""It should consist of short, sharply focused sentences, each of which is a whole scene in itself.""My wife is beginning to instruct me on means to retrieve dreams, and bit by bit, it does seem to be working.""Ninety percent of everything is crap.""Once I had all the facts in, I found I didn't have the immoral courage to pull the caper. So I wrote it as a story. As a teenager, I didn't have any skills for writing as such, so it came out in 1500 words.""Science fiction, outside of poetry, is the only literary field which has no limits, no parameters whatsoever.""Some major writers have a huge impact, like Ayn Rand, who to my mind is a lousy fiction writer because her writing has no compassion and virtually no humor. She has a philosophical and economical message that she is passing off as fiction, but it really isn't fiction at all.""The first writing I did was short short stories for a newspaper syndicate for which I was paid five dollars a piece on publication.""The movers and shakers have always been obsessive nuts.""The story of my very first sale is the fact that I dreamed up a foolproof paper to cheat an insurance company out of several hundred thousand dollars.""There are a lot of people who write very intensely about things they do not and cannot do.""There are people who have tremendously important things to say, but they say it so poorly that nobody would ever want to read it.""There is no way of writing stories that I haven't done.""There was so much that you could do, instead of looking for things that you couldn't do.""When you combine something to say with the skill to say it properly, then you've got a good writer.""Writing is a communication.""You don't sit up in a cave and write the Great American Novel and know it is utterly superb, and then throw it page by page into the fire. You just don't do that. You send it out. You have to send it out.""You have to study your field and you have to find out how other people do it, and you have to keep working and learning and practicing and ultimately, you would be able to do it.""You must write to the people's expertise.""You write a story about loneliness, and you grab them all because everybody's an expert on that one."
Sturgeon was born Edward Hamilton Waldo in Staten Island, New York in 1918. His name was legally changed at age eleven after his mother's divorce and remarriage to William Dicky ("Argylle") Sturgeon. "Theodore Sturgeon" is occasionally misidentified as a pseudonym; it was in fact his legal name.
He sold his first story in 1938 to the McClure Syndicate, which bought much of his early (non-fantastic) work; his first genre appearance was "Ether Breather" in Astounding Science Fiction a year later. 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 an 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" 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'."
Sturgeon wrote the screenplays for the Star Trek episodes "Shore Leave" (1966) and "Amok Time" (1967, later published as a "Fotonovel" in 1978). The latter is known for his invention of the pon farr, the Vulcan mating ritual, the first use of the sentence "Live long and prosper" and the first use of the Vulcan hand symbol. 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.
Although 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 author alive) and much respected by critics (John Clute writes 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 among the general public and won comparatively few awards (though it must be noted that his best work was published before the establishment and consolidation of the leading genre awards, while his later production was scarcer and weaker). He was listed as a primary influence of the much more famous Ray Bradbury. Kurt Vonnegut based his character Kilgore Trout on Theodore Sturgeon.
Sturgeon died on May 8, 1985, of lung fibrosis, in Eugene, Oregon. Sturgeon lived for several years in the neighboring city of Springfield.
In 1951, Sturgeon coined what is now known as Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of SF [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.
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, 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 one 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.
Theodore and Peter's birth father, Edward Waldo, was a color and dye manufacturer of middling success.
Their 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 Dicky Sturgeon (sometimes known as Argyll), was a mathematics teacher at a prep school and then Romance Languages Professor at 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 the West Indies 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 Magazine 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.
Later in 1951, 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).
His fourth long-term committed relationship was with reporter and photographer W. Bonnie Golden, with whom he had a son, Andros (b.1970)
Wina Sturgeon says she was married to him, and uses the name professionally.
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. However, his death from lung fibrosis may have been caused by exposure to asbestos during his Merchant Marine years.
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
The following table includes sixteen volumes (one of them collecting western stories) where up to three stories (representing no more than half the book) were previously published in a Sturgeon collection.
The following 6 collections consisted entirely of reprints of previously collected material:
Complete short stories
North Atlantic Books has been releasing the chronologically assembled The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, edited by Paul Williams, since 1994. The series will run to 13 volumes, with the last appearing in 2010.
The currently available volumes include:
The Ultimate Egoist (1937 to 1940)
Microcosmic God (1940 to 1941)
Killdozer (1941 to 1946)
Thunder and Roses (1946 to 1948)
The Perfect Host (1948 to 1950)
Baby is Three (1950 to 1952)
A Saucer of Loneliness (1953)
Bright Segment (1953 to 1955, as well as two "lost" stories from 1946)
And Now the News... (1955 to 1957)
The Man Who Lost the Sea (1957 to 1960)
The Nail and the Oracle (1961 to 1969)
Slow Sculpture (1970 to 1972, plus one 1954 novella and one unpublished story)
Case and The Dreamer (1972 to 1983, plus one 1960 story and three unpublished stories) forthcoming September 2010
Representative short stories
Sturgeon was best known for his short stories and novellas. The best known include:
"Ether Breather" (September 1939, his first published science-fiction story)
"Derm Fool" (March 1940)
"It!" (August 1940)
"Shottle Bop" (February 1941)
"Microcosmic God" (April 1941)
"Yesterday Was Monday" (1941)
"Killdozer!" (November, 1944)
"Bianca's Hands" (May, 1947)
"Thunder and Roses" (November 1947)
"The Perfect Host" (November 1948)
"Minority Report" (June 1949, no connection to the 2002 movie, which was based on a later story by Philip K. Dick)
"One Foot and the Grave" (September 1949)
"A Saucer of Loneliness" (February 1953)
"The World Well Lost" (June 1953)
"Mr. Costello, Hero" (December 1953)
"The [Widget], The [Wadget], and Boff" (1955)
"The Skills of Xanadu" (July 1956)
"The Other Man" (September 1956)
"And Now The News" (December 1956)
"The Girl Had Guts" (January 1957)
"How to Forget Baseball" (Sports Illustrated, December 1964)
"The Nail and the Oracle" (Playboy, October 1964)
"Slow Sculpture" (Galaxy, February 1970) ... winner of a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award
"Occam's Scalpel" (August, 1971, with an introduction by Terry Carr)
"Vengeance Is" (1980, Dark Forces anthology edited by Kirby McCauley)
"If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" (1967, Dangerous Visions anthology edited by Harlan Ellison) ... Nebula Award 1967 Nominee Novella
"The Man Who Learned Loving" ... Nebula Award 1969 Nominee Short Story