More Than Human –

You pick up the book, turn to the back cover and are confronted with the man So this was Kurt Vonnegut s model for Kilgore Trout Staring back at you is a gaunt image a scraggly, bearded man who but for the pipe and the contented look might offer the same aspect from a homeless person or from a Jethro Tull album jacket.Turn to the first page and read The idiot lived in a black and grey world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear His clothes were old and many windowed Here peeped a shinbone, sharp as a cold chisel, and there in the torn coat were ribs like the fingers of a fist He was tall and flat His eyes were calm and his face was dead Damn And you re hooked Sturgeon has lured you into his most renowned work and you are held by this quiet, out of the way brilliance that compelled you siren like from the bottom shelf of the used bookstore Bradburyian in its poetic beauty, akin to Philip K Dick in its unabashed inimitability, More Than Human evokes a standard whereby science fiction ceases to be a genre, defies label and containment, and becomes simply a very good story Lacking the epic quality of Arthur C Clarke or the brash, but approachable engineering sensibility of Robert A Heinlein, Sturgeon has crafted a story unique in its time and place and yet one that heralds a greater creation Sturgeon quietly, but confidently ushers in a new age of speculative fiction This is not altogether hard science fiction butwell rounded, introspective and psychologically challenging, the kind that Philip K Dick or Ursula K LeGuin would write this reminded me very much of Dick s Dr Bloodmoney and there are also elements of horror that would have made proud King, Matheson, or even Lovecraft First published in 1953 and winner of the International Fantasy Award and nominated for the 1954 Hugo, a nominee along with Arthur C Clarke s Childhood s End of which More Than Human bears a thematic resemblance , missing the mark only to Ray Bradbury s epochal Fahrenheit 451 More Than Human is just a very well written book and defies an easy categorization. Time to admit that I read this and it made very little impression on me It s obscure and hard to understand, for no particular reason all that fancy language covers up some pretty conventional emotions The story itself is fun humans with special powers form some sort of gestalt but I would ve liked itif he d just told it Gestalt is a fancy word for Voltron.There s an optimism at the bottom of this book the idea that humans are, by nature, resourceful and good There s no real world evidence for this. We re not a group of freaks We re Homo Gestalt, you understand We re a single entity, a new kind of human being We weren t invented We evolved We re the next step up We re alone there are nolike us We don t live in the kind of world you do, with systems of morals and codes of ethics to guide us We re living on a desert island with a herd of goatsMore Than Human is all about Homo Gestalt a group of humans with different psi abilities living together as one unit It is not about a hive mind like the creepy kids in The Midwich Cuckoo It is closer to the X Men with specialized individual abilities, but still not quite the same thing as the emphasis here is on their symbiosis not to mention the themes that Sturgeon explores throughout the book This is my third reading of More Than Human, a book I loved as a teenager, I read it again in 2011 and reviewed it briefly here, now six years later and having written hundreds of book reviews since, I believe I can beanalytical in my reviews, or perhaps simplyspectacularly longwinded More Than Human is divided into three parts, each part has its own conclusion and there is always a change in the narrative the point of view, and even prose style, in each part There is a feeling of a fresh start at the beginning of each part then the narrative gradually approaches and reconnects with the novel s main story arc and the central characters The book reads a little like a fix up novel, consisting of three interrelated novellas However, they do form a cohesive story by the end of the book.PART ONE The Fabulous Idiot The book begins with the story of Lone, the fabulous idiot who has no communication skills but manages to survive by somehow always getting whatever he needs from strangers just by looking at them One day he comes across a girl who immediately form a psychic link with him, things go badly with this girl thanks to her insane father Sometime later he meets a girl with telekinesis, a pair of twins with teleportation ability, and adopts a strange mongoloid baby and so the nucleus of the gestalt is formed This section of the book is mainly about being society s outcasts, loneliness and the natural imperative to find a family and a home, to belong.PART TWO Baby is Three The narrative point of view is shifted to Gerry Thompson, a young man with psi ability similar to Lone s He appears to be suffering from partial amnesia and he is consulting a psychiatrist to help dig out the buried memory His session with the shrink forms a frame story for a flashback narrative about how he is introduced to Lone and becomes integrated into the gestalt The ending of this section is unexpected and rather grim.The narrative of this section is in the first person and written in a colloquial prose style This section is a little like a sci fi horror story while exploring the themes of prejudice and misanthropy how nothing good ever stem out of them.PART THREE Morality The narrative is told in the third person again for this concluding section of the book The protagonist of this section is Hip Barrows, a young man who is a brilliant engineer, he was an up and coming lieutenant until he is mysteriously dismissed from the military Like Gerry in the previous part, he has lost his memory, though his case isextreme as he can barely remember who he is At the beginning of this section, Hip is in prison for attacking a man, and he has no memory of what made him do it Fortunately, he is rescued from prison by a mysterious girl who helps to nurse him physically and mentally back to health The girl is linked to the gestalt and Hip slowly learns his own backstory through a process called reverse abreaction The theme of moral and ethical responsibilities is the focus of this last section, with lots of cool psychic battles to keep the narrative lively.Every time I read this book years apart I find something new to appreciate This time I particularly like the mix of lyrical prose and the occasional whimsy, the prose style reminds me a lot of Bradbury Like Bradbury, Sturgeon goes in and out of the lyrical mode as the story requires However, sometimes I feel Sturgeon overdoes it, and at unsuitable points in the narrative, to the detriment of the narrative s pacing this is just a minor flaw, though By the end of the book, I realized what thematic idea Sturgeon is trying to convey in this book Power corrupts, and you know what they say about absolute power, but what if there is another step above absolute power Is ethos this next step In spite of its title, More Than Human is about humanity, it is a very humane and compassionate book.On the sci fi side, More Than Human is clearly soft sci fi, there is practically no real science behind all the psychic goings on There is an anti gravity device which plays a surprisingly significant part in the plotline While the narrative has a linear timeline it is oddly constructed, probably for some poetic effect The shift in narrative style in each part is a little disorienting, but Sturgeon always gets back on track before any real confusion sets in, the book is less than 200 pages long after all More Than Human is a classic sci fi book that has not been out of print since the 50s You may have heard of Sturgeon s law that reads ninety percent of everything is crap This book is definitely in the 10% non crap segment What amazes me is why Theodore Sturgeon is notpopular or well known today, most of his books are out of print A single paragraph from this book is worththan the entire Twilight saga put together Notes There are some violence and nastiness in the book One poor lad is afflicted with acne rosacea for crossing the wrong mutant There are also several murders which are referred to but not depicted Kurt Vonnegut fans may already know this, Kilgore Trout is based on Theodore Sturgeon, who was a good friend of his QuotesLike a stone in a peach, a yolk in an egg, he carried another thing It was passive, it was receptive, it was awake and alive If it was connected in any way to the animal integument, it ignored the connexions It drew its substance from the idiot and was otherwise unaware of him Softly, she sang It was strange to hear for she did not know music she did not read and had never been told of music But there were birds, there was the bassoon of wind in the eaves sometimes there were the calls and cooings of small creatures in that part of the wood which was hers and, distantly, from the part which was not Her singing was made of these things, with strange and effortless fluctuations in pitch from an instrument unbound by the diatonic scale, freely phrased The night he cried, he discovered consciously that if he wished, he could absorb a message, a meaning, from those about him It had happened before, but it happened as the wind happened to blow on him, as reflexively as a sneeze or a shiverAn audio book in vinyl format, read by Sturgeon. Were I to take an in depth Sci Fi course I would definitely want to explore the deeper meanings of this book, lots of layered psychological here I m already reserving it for a re read It is disturbing and fascinating, the story of anevolved group of creatures, the only way I can describe it Just try it, it s short but packed with wonderment. One I missed back in the early Eighties when I was going through the classics of science fiction like a hot knife through butter Maybe I d have liked it better if I d read it back then Probably not.It s an act of charity to call this SF at all It s supposed to be about the emergence of a new species, but from an evolutionary point of view the emergence described could not possibly take place the whole concept is ridiculously unscientific The story does contain one authentic science fictional device an antigravity generator but this has only peripheral relevance and the author doesn t even bother to make it credible In fact, his account of how the thing is made and used positively insults the reader s intelligence The real story here is about a group of subnormal or disturbed young people with parapsychological powers That s right, telepathy, telekinesis and so forth Such mumbo jumbo, good reader, makes up the scientific content of this science fiction classic justified by one lame paragraph in which the author asserts that credible evidence for such things exists It does Show me.Oh, all right then, never mind Let s shove the science fiction definition, then, and ask how this works as fantasy I think the answer is it probably works all right if you re a lonely, disturbed teenager who wants to believe your social ineptitude is a sign that you re different and special Readers over the mental age of sixteen, however, are likely to find it all a bit infantile and pathetic.The writing has moments of genuine quality, but Sturgeon tries too hard and is much too fond of the egregiously quirky metaphor or syntactical conceit to be able to write good prose consistently The general structure of the novel is messy and contains several confusing chronological shifts, which seem to exist only because the author couldn t find a better way of telling the story The consistent tone of juvenile anxiety is exhausting and, if you re a grown up, tedious to a degree As for the ending, it is irritatingly moralistic and even the genuine surprise at the end is spoiled by too much preaching.So why was this ever a classic I suspect the answer lies with those lonely, disturbed teenagers mentioned above It spoke to them It told them they were special that maybe, just maybe, they werethan human.But they weren t special, and neither is this book. I have no explanation for my deep love of this novel It s hokey and ridiculous and overwrought and leaves bushels of interesting themes all over the place, unassembled It s hopelessly dated I love it I connect with these very implausible characters I revere this author for writing with such careless abandon of form or plot and who still keeps me riveted This may have been my fourth or fifth reading of this particular novel It s one of my security blanket books. There S Lone, The Simpleton Who Can Hear Other People S Thoughts And Make A Man Blow His Brains Out Just By Looking At Him There S Janie, Who Moves Things Without Touching Them, And There Are The Teleporting Twins, Who Can Travel Ten Feet Or Ten Miles There S Baby, Who Invented An Antigravity Engine While Still In The Cradle, And Gerry, Who Has Everything It Takes To Run The World Except For A Conscience Separately, They Are Talented Freaks Together, They Compose A Single Organism That May Represent The Next Step In Evolution, And The Final Chapter In The History Of The Human RaceIn This Genre Bending Novel Among The First To Have Launched Scifi Into The Arena Of Literature One Of The Great Imaginers Of The Twentieth Century Tells A Story As Mind Blowing As Any Controlled Substance And As Affecting As A Glimpse Into A Stranger S Soul For As The Protagonists Of More Than Human Struggle To Find Who They Are And Whether They Are Meant To Help Humanity Or Destroy It Theodore Sturgeon Explores Questions Of Power And Morality, Individuality And Belonging, With Suspense, Pathos, And A Lyricism Rarely Seen In Science Fiction I think the only meaningful ratings on GR are and Those are pretty clear I disliked it , it was okay , and it was amazing and exist in that intermediate stage between meh and wowI liked it and I really liked it WTF How exactly do I differentiate between liking something and really liking it A lot of how we respond to stories is so personal to what we enjoy and what we ve read before One thing that I usually like in books is when it throws up an idea that I ve not come across before That s my little spark that can turn a like to a really like It can be a really small thing that makes that difference and is so intimately intertwined with my personal reading history that it s essentially meaningless for anyone else Whatever it is, however, this book had that little difference for me To talk about it would require me to talk about the ending, so before I get to that, a little bit about how I responded to the rest of the book This is how it starts The idiot lived in a black and gray world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear His clothes were old and many windowed Here peeped a shin bone, sharp as a cold chisel, and there in the torn coat were ribs like the fingers of fist He was tall and flat His eyes were calm and his face was dead.That first paragraph drew me in The images lightning, chisel, fist were strong and compelling We feel the harshness and violence of his world before we are even told about it The long, flowing, imagistic sentences at the beginning end in the flat and mimetic His eyes were calm and his face was dead That s good stuff We re pretty much in 2001 Many Coloured Land territory the so called next stage of human evolution This invariably seems to involve some step up to apowerful being, and that s actually pretty iffy science since evolution isn t directed and no one can tell what s better or worse The next step up for some reason always involves psychic powers less body,mind Sturgeon s spin on this and not the nifty idea that I liked is the notion of homo gestalt It sort of makes sense cells came together to formcomplex organisms, so why not those complex organisms themselves coming together in a similar fashion He says he is a figure outer brain and I am a body and the twins are arms and legs and you are the head He says the I is all of us Or explained in another way I m the central ganglion of a complex organism which is composed of Baby, a computer Bonnie and Beanie, teleports Janie, telekineticist and myself, telepath and central control.The novel itself is made up of three parts Parts two and three essentially involve a recounting of past events the conflict is supplied by a character struggling to understand himself through an uncovering and recounting of the past It s a relatively brisk and efficient technique that allows a great deal of exposition to be covered in a short amount of space, while still keeping a certain amount of forward dramatic tension going I m not sure the story could have withstood adetailed labouring over the details of the formation of the gestalt, so that was good too All of this was enough for it to get the I liked it tag, but Sturgeon does bring one additional idea to the table that lifted it for me above liked it view spoiler Because you see, those four parts listed above aren t the whole of the homo gestalt And perhaps it s pretty obvious what the missing part is heart or soul, secularised here as morals or conscience That s pretty neat since it s clear that for Sturgeon that is what makes a human a human, and not just an assemblage of parts This moved me, and that brought it out of liked it to really liked it , because appropriately enough, I guess, it s our personal emotional reactions, our affective response to something that makes us human hide spoiler OK what to even say about this masterpiece which it undoubtably is For all u fools out there who do not think science fiction can be literature of the highest degree, u obviously haven t read a book like More Than Human because if this book doesn t blow that dense, dull witted notion out of your mind, nothing will and u should be publicly shunned forever.Written in the 50 s and it still didn t seem dated at all That alone is an astounding feat Anyway, i don t even think i can begin to praise it like it deserves, so i won t I m gonna go find another Sturgeon book to read 4.0 stars Ground breaking science fiction novel that first explored the concept of the gestalt consciousness while dealing with emotional issues of identity and fitting in to society This is on my list to re read as it has been some time since I read this Nominee Hugo Retro Award for Best Science Fiction Novel