Authors: Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon, back row far right, at twenty-three years old, with his maternal grandmother and grandfather Dicker, other members of the Dicker family, his first wife, Dorothé, and their first child, Patricia, in Jamaica, 1941
Copyright © 1995 the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust. Previously published materials copyright © 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, by Theodore Sturgeon and the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust. Foreword copyright © 1995 by Samuel R. Delany. All rights reserved. No portion of this book, except for brief review, may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the written permission of the publisher. For information contact North Atlantic Books.
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Microcosmic god : the complete stories of Theodore Sturgeon / edited by Paul Williams : foreword by Samuel R. Delany.
Contents: v. 2 1940–1941
I. Williams, Paul. II. Title
was born February 26, 1918, and died May 8, 1985. This is the second of a series of volumes that will collect his short fiction of all types and all lengths shorter than a novel. The volumes and the stories within the volumes are organized chronologically by order of composition (insofar as it can be determined). This second volume contains stories written between April 1940 and June 1941. Two are being published here for the first time; several others are appearing for the first time in book form.
For invaluable assistance in the preparation of this volume, the editor would like to thank Noël Sturgeon and the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust, Marion Sturgeon, Jayne Sturgeon, Ralph Vicinanza, Lindy Hough, Richard Grossinger, Debbie Notkin, Tom Whitmore, Samuel R. Delany, Dixon Chandler, Jeannie Trizzino, David G. Hartwell, Jonathan Lethem, Charles N. Brown, T. V. Reed, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Gordon Van Gelder, Sam Moskowitz, Robert Silverberg, Frank Robinson, and all of you who have expressed your interest and support.
OMETIME IN THE
early fifties when I was ten or eleven, in a fat anthology of science fiction tales I read my first Theodore Sturgeon story—“Thunder and Roses.”
Understand, I was a bright and profoundly unimaginative child: Much of what passes for intelligence in children is a stark deafness to metaphor coupled with a pigheaded literal-mindedness.
Roses didn’t have much to do with thunder, so it was kind of a silly title. The story was largely about a singer named Starr Anthim, who mostly wasn’t there and, when she was, sang a kind of anthem, which only made you think about the word itself, its sounds, and the way it kept fitting in with other words, instead of what was happening. And what
happening? Well, the tale was full of ordinary guys doing ordinary things like shaving and taking showers, all of which, for some reason, seemed disturbingly more vivid than I would have thought anyone could make such commonplace actions seem in a story, because it described the feel of warm water down the back of your neck between your shoulder blades and what it felt like, after the shower, when your clean foot landed on the bathroom tile half in and out of a puddle and a crinkled toothpaste tube lay on the glass shelf under the mirror. And the only other thing about it was that the world was coming to an end and everyone felt as powerless as a ten-year-old boy to stop it. And when I finished, I was crying …
It couldn’t have been very good, because that wasn’t what stories—especially science fiction stories—were supposed to do …
By the time I was twenty-one, Theodore Sturgeon was my favorite fiction writer of any genre, literary or paraliterary. And for all my lack of imagination at ten, Sturgeon’s tales had taught me, as much as or more than those of any other writer, the incredible range of effects words could whip up, sharp and electric, in the human psyche.
Twenty-three years later, I
Sturgeon—in 1975. One afternoon while I was signing books at the Science Fiction Shop (then on Hudson Street in New York City), someone at the front desk called back, “Hey, there’s a phone call for you, Chip,” and, when I got there and lifted the receiver to my ear, for the first time I heard that tenor voice with a quality like the middle register of an A-flat clarinet and a pacing I want to call a drawl—only “drawl” connotes region and class, while what I heard over the phone that afternoon was much more a considered and personal rhythm, overlaid on a speech with such geographical variety lingering under its L’s and R’s and over the length of its O’s and U’s, that its articulate U.S. ordinariness put to shame the whole notion of “Midwestern Standard.”
“Chip Delany … ? This is Ted Sturgeon …” He’d called to thank me for a passage I’d written in a novel, set some four thousand years in the future, in which a young poet speaks about a wonderful Twentieth Century writer.
The passage reads: “There was one ancient science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon, who would break me up every time I read him. He seemed to have seen every flash of light on a window, every leaf shadow on a screen door that I had ever seen; done everything I had ever done, from playing the guitar to laying over for a couple of weeks on a boat in Aransas Pass, Texas. And he was supposedly writing fiction, and that four thousand years ago. Then you learn that lots of other people find the same things in the same writer, who have done none of the things you’ve done and seen none of the things you’ve seen. That’s a rare sort of writer …” (
, p. 83).
Sturgeon’s comment to me about it? “That somebody might be reading something I’ve written forty—much less four thousand—years from now, that’s the sort of thing a writer like me is afraid even to let himself
about.” But he seemed very pleased that
had thought about it. And the fact is, if I had a single vote as to which SF
writer from the decades of Sturgeon’s finest productions would be read in the centuries to come, that vote would have to go to Sturgeon.
A few weeks after the signing, during a Lunacon SF convention, as I was walking through the hotel lobby, whose decor vacillated between scarlet and orange, Wina Sturgeon—Ted’s diminutive then-companion—took my arm and said, “Chip, Ted would like to actually meet you. Why don’t you come up for a few minutes? The kids are all there, of course. But if you don’t mind … ?” and gave me a room number and left.
Minutes later, I took the elevator up, turned down the hall, knocked on the wood beside the painted metal laundry bin that hung outside, and inside heard kids laughing.
Someone said, “Come in.” Then someone opened the lock.
Yes, the room was filled with Sturgeon children: Robin, Tandy, Noël, Timothy, Andros … and Wina and a couple of other friends.
Sturgeon sat on the bed, back against the headboard, wearing some handmade embroidered pants—maybe sandals, I don’t remember. A medium-height man and deeply tanned, he was on the upper side of middle-age, with gray hair grizzled on a thin chest. The only picture I’d ever seen of him was the portrait in the Ed Emsh fantasia that formed the cover for the special Sturgeon issue of
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
for September, 1962. What I saw, there in the hotel room, was that face, with its beard and fine bones—described in one or another article I’d read as “Puckish” or “pixie-ish.” But it was that face aged a decade. Sturgeon gave out a measured calm that glimmered through the confusion of the children’s questions and visitors’ comments, very natural and very winning. An impossible situation for conversation?
Not at all.
It was a pleasant and friendly evening, with lots of mutual good feeling; but all saying it makes me want to do is take the cliché “pleasant and friendly” and figure out some way to retrieve the meanings that have worn off the words from overuse: because what pleased that evening started like a warmth behind the knees and rose through the body till it reached the shoulders, letting loose—now at a bemused chuckle from Ted, now with someone’s conversation about some situation
two thousand miles way, now with a sterner word to a child and a hug to the same child a moment later—all the tensions that comprise what Freud called “unpleasure” (that includes those states where we do not feel good without actually being in pain), so that the expectation and nervousness and awe I’d brought with me could settle finally into the simpler and more intense feeling of friendliness. (Indeed, if, in vivid visual descriptions of the natural and social world, Sturgeon is surpassed—now and again just barely—by Nabokov or Gass—
other writer describes so accurately what it feels like to
a feeling—how feelings sit in or move through the body, tangling in its muscles, playing its nerves, wriggling under the skin or jarring its sensitive tissues.) A pleasant, friendly evening.
Sadly, it seemed a long time before I saw Ted again.