The Dreaming Jewels: Unique, uncomfortable

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Dreaming Jewels by Theodore SturgeonThe Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon

Horty Bluett is only eight years old, but his short life has already been utterly miserable. One day, after suffering at the hands of his classmates and his adoptive parents, he runs off and joins the carnival. The only thing he carries is his sole possession — a jack-in-the-box doll named Junky. Junky has hard shiny eyes and Horty gets nervous and sick when Junky isn’t around.

At the carnival, Horty finally finds acceptance among some of society’s outcasts. For the first time in his life, he feels like he’s part of something — that he’s participating in life instead of watching it go by. As Horty gets older, he begins to realize that there’s something weird about the carnival. The man who runs it, who everyone calls Maneater, has some sort of genetic research going on and he may be a danger to Horty and to the world in general. And it all has something to do with Junky’s strange jeweled eyes.

The Dreaming Jewels, published in 1950, was Theodore Sturgeon’s first novel. It’s short (5 hours on audio), covers many years (Horty grows into a man during the novel), and the focus is on character development and human interaction rather than spaceships, aliens, and gadgetry. In many ways, it’s a coming-of-age story that deals with the horrors of bullying and child abuse — themes which are not common in old science fiction novels.

Most of the imagery in The Dreaming Jewels is creepy or ugly — the jack-in-the-box, various injuries and deformities, and the whole carnie culture. But as Horty grows up in this environment, he also experiences the beauty of art, music, and literature and learns how they contribute to the evolution and ethics of the human species. He also learns to love. This juxtaposition of ugliness and beauty is quite unsettling.

It’s hard not to care for Horty, an unloved orphan, but I had a hard time connecting with any of the other characters because they’re so sketchily drawn. Also vague is the explanation of the how the dreaming jewels work — the focus is definitely on the social rather than the scientific aspect of the story. The Dreaming Jewels is disturbing — it’s not a book to feel comfortable with, but I appreciate its uniqueness and admire how well it has aged.

The Dreaming Jewels was also published as The Synthetic Man. I listened to the audiobook version read by Paul Michael Garcia who did a nice job.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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