More Than Human: Introducing the “Homo Gestalt”

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMore Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon science fiction book reviewsMore Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, which won the International Fantasy Award in 1954 and was selected as one of David Pringle’s 100 Best SF novels, must have been quite an eye-opener back in 1953 in the Golden Age of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, when robots, rocket ships, future societies and aliens ruled the roost. For one thing, it hardly features any credible science at all, and in tone and atmosphere owes more to magic realism and adult fantasy. In fact, the writing reminds me most of Ray Bradbury, full of poetry and powerful images. Try reading just the opening paragraph for instance:

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 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.

The story involves the forming of a “homo gestalt” group organism assembled from various misfit and mistreated children, and the book is broken into three parts, “The Fabulous Idiot,” “Baby is Three,” and “Morality”. Apparently “Baby is Three” was written first as a novella, and I wonder if anyone has picked up on the idea that the book itself is a cobbled together construct that, in my mind at least, adds up to less than the sum of its parts. What would that make it, then? I don’t know the antonym of “gestalt” in German or English.

I found the first section, “The Fabulous Idiot,” to be the best-written and most involving, and while the next two sections became interesting midway through, they both involved the main characters spending dozens of pages lost in their own identities, painstakingly trying to piece together who they were. As a result, this reader at least felt equally disoriented. And there were many times when I had to reread a passage several times to tease out who was saying what. Although I imagine this was the effect that Sturgeon was going for, I found it a bit difficult to read at times.

I did like the ending of “Morality,” despite some heavy exposition about morality (at least it was concise), and overall the story does not read like something written in the fifties. So I give it props for pushing the envelope of the times with its heavy focus on psychology, ethics, and abuse of children, but it didn’t add up to a fully developed novel, which is so often the case for something expanded from a shorter novella.

Publisher: First published in 1953, this most celebrated of Sturgeon’s works won the International Fantasy Award. In this genre-bending novel, among the first to have launched science fiction into literature, a group of remarkable social outcasts band together for survival and discover that their combined powers render them superhuman. There’s Lone, the simpleton who can hear other people’s thoughts; Janie, who moves things without touching them; and 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 may represent the next step in evolution — or the final chapter in the history of the human race. As they struggle to find whether they are meant to help humanity or destroy it, Sturgeon explores questions of power and morality, individuality and belonging, with suspense, pathos, and a lyricism rarely seen in science fiction.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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2 comments

  1. This sounds like an interesting and thought-provoking novel, especially for the time period in which it was written.

  2. His prose often reminded me of Bradbury. I remember reading “Baby is Three” but I’m not sure I’ve read the entire book. Your image of it being “less than the sum of its parts” is intriguing.

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