Title: More Than Human
Author: Theodore Sturgeon
Publisher: SF Masterworks/Gollancz/Orion
Original Publishing Date: 1953
Reviewed Edition: 2000
“The idiot lived in a black and gray world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear…”
Theodore Sturgeon was a seminal science fiction writer of the mid-20th century. Born in New York in 1918, Sturgeon made his bones–as many genre writers have done for over a century–by selling short works to magazines. His works were popular in the 1950s and although sometimes controversial he was heavily anthologised. In the sixties–among other things–he wrote for the original series of Star Trek. He is also famous for ‘Sturgeon’s Law’ which states “Ninety percent of everything is crud”. In later years he adopted the motto “ask the next question” for which he created a symbol that he used in his autograph. It is believed that he was an influence for Kurt Vonnegut’s reappearing character the author Kilgore Trout. Sturgeon continued to write until his death, but was not as prolific as he had been in his earlier career, however, his influence was widely felt by the likes of Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Samuel R. Delaney.
Originally published as the novella Baby is Three in Galaxy magazine the novel More Than Human was fleshed out and then published in 1953. In 1954 it won the International Fantasy Award (supposedly it always awarded a back-dated Hugo Award in 2004, but I cannot find evidence of this), cementing its place in history as an important and influential piece of literature. There can be no debate that this is ‘classic science fiction’. I do not mean classic in the sense that it is old, or even because the author is part of what is considered to be the ‘Golden Age’. It is classic because the ideas are still relevant to the reader today. It is as much a comment on the society and times in which it was written as it is on our modern world.
The premise of the story is a biography of the birth, life and ascendancy of a gestalt being created by the coming together of six people. There is Lone who has the power of telepathy and represents the will and the head. There is Janie who has the power of telekinesis and represents the strength and body. There are the twins Bonnie and Beanie who have the power of teleportation and represent the ability, and arms and legs. Then there is Baby. Baby has Down syndrome. Baby doesn’t have a physical or psychic power as the others do, but has a brain that can calculate and formulate like a computer and intelligence that far exceeds all expectation.
Together this haphazard little group discover a sense of belonging that none of them have had previously. They soon realise that their individual talents can be brought together under Lone’s direction. In this way they act and think as one. They are able to fend for themselves without money or the structure and rules of society.
Eventually the organism grows up and assumes adulthood, and like any growing child it has its struggles and trials. Eventually it becomes disjointed and fragmented by abuse of power and the over indulgence of personal desire until nearly destroyed it finds Hip Barrows. Hip has no abilities, but Hip has the one thing that the gestalt entity lacks, the one thing that throughout the story has kept it from attaining its full potential. Hip has honor, Hip has morals, Hip becomes the ‘homo gestalt’ conscious.
Sturgeon’s novel is a commentary not just on the possible future of the human species, but on modern society. Even nearly sixty years into the future his vision of the races mixing, those with disabilities being recognized as having more to offer mankind then was once thought, and general kindness and generosity to ones fellow human beings are all issues still requiring resolution in our society today.
Sturgeon saw beyond the limits of human existence, and the base needs for shelter and food. He was able to glimpse the future of the social consciousness. What his ‘homo gestalt’ represents is not an actual extrapolation. It is the idea of a more self-aware and yet widely connected person. If you look at social media today you could say that we are all contributing to one central consciousness, the ‘hive mind’. The evolved organism of Sturgeon’s novel is made real by every one of us.
This is sociopolitical speculative fiction at its best. Although it is filled with parapsychology, this is used as metaphor not as fact. The reliance on psychic powers is used to show the outer limits of Human possibility not to prove or disprove such things. Sturgeon’s prose are as enthralling as his ideas. You shall not be disappointed from the opening line “The idiot lived in a black and gray world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear…” to the final conflict and resolution as a new being takes its first steps into the future.
- 100 Science Fiction Novels Everyone Should Read (bookstove.com)
- Gollancz SF Masterworks: What I’ve Read (nethspace.blogspot.com)
- OK, where do I start with that? S. (tor.com)
- People have their own definitions of “beach reading” or “airplane reading” or… (sfgate.com)