I've been excited by the prospect of this book for quite some time. Imagine all the Sturgeon short stories collected in a series of volumes, and not just the ones that were published or previously collected, but ALL of them. Edited and with notes, to top it off, by that most meticulous of literary executors, Paul Williams (the man behind the Collected Philip K. Dick). Unfortunately, Sturgeon never attracted the same fanaticism that Dick did, and this project was on shaky ground for some time. The first book is finally out, and it definitely lives up to the expectations for it.
Selected stories here include:
* "Heavy Insurance" -- Sturgeon's first published and possibly first completed work. A clever short short revolving around the, then, unusual properties of dry ice. With short shorts I am always reminded of Jack Ritchie's LITTLE BOXES OF BEWILDERMENT, and this story, even as early in Sturgeon's career as it was, can stand among those tales.
* "Fluffy" -- A few awkward wording moments, but they don't detract from the joy of a clever little twist story. This would have been a page from Jonathan Carroll except Sturgeon has to have a "logical" explanation (well, OK, *an* explanation--Carroll wouldn't have felt the need for any) for the basic conceit. However, it's still just a twist story. Sturgeon quickly moved beyond it.
* "Alter Ego" -- Almost a study in what not to do in a story, this previously unpublished piece reeks of the new writer, for it is all tell and no show. It spans years, yet there is not time sense. There are some specifics, but no details. While the plot itself could become something, it's too pithy for this treatment and too pathetic for longer. It's not too surprising that this one didn't see print in its time.
* "Permit Me My Gesture" -- This is my kind of short short: neat set up, perfect background, and clever ending twist. The notes include a letter from Sturgeon to his wife; in it, he calls this kind of story a gadget plot, and "Golden Day" a gag.
* "One Sick Kid" -- A short based on Sturgeon's personal experience, kind of a "true life" op-ed piece. A bit formless, though, without a genuine payoff, i.e., life isn't as clever as fiction.
* "A God in a Garden" -- Here is the *raison d'etre* for this volume, for the admiration that writers and readers have for Sturgeon is based on stories like this one. The perfect twist tale--what some people would term a Twilight Zone story. A man with a character flaw (he lies to his wife), a conflict (his wife knows about the lying, and is upset), and the twist (he digs up a god in his garden that gives him the ability to always tell the truth--not the actual truth, but whatever he says *becomes* the truth). Sturgeon handles it all brilliantly. The notes seem to agree. This story--Sturgeon's first sale to John W. Campbell for Unknown--was like his coming out party. Finally he had found a market that didn't require formula (the string- tugging as described under "Some People Forget" above), yet welcomed cleverness.
* "Bianca's Hands" -- A disturbing little fantasy/horror piece, showing the depth of Sturgeon's mastery of character, mood, and language. Yes, there's a plot, but the plot is nothing besides the description. It is so well done--this description of Bianca's hands and Ran's love for them--that is is close to erotic. Of course, Sturgeon was no stranger to that genre, although his take on it would not be fully revealed until years later with the novels SOME OF YOUR BLOOD and GODBODY.
* "The Ultimate Egoist" -- The logical extreme of the philosophical question best answered by Rene Descartes when he wrote, "Cogito, ergo sum." Whatever Woody thinks is, and what he doubts isn't, and it doesn't take long for him to break under the strain.
* "It" -- Probably one of the most famous Sturgeon stories, spawning at least two comic creatures: DC's Swamp Thing and Marvel's Man-Thing. Actually what Sturgeon accomplishes here is the envy of every horror writer--he invents a new monster. Unfortunately he did it in a short story rather than a novel or a movie, so his creation has yet to join the full pantheon to which it belongs, taking its place beside Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
I hope that this project--to collect all of Sturgeon's short stories-- continues apace. Paul Williams' earlier effort in this vein was the incredible Collected Philip K. Dick, and while the Dick was interesting, PKD was a writer who excelled at novels, not really the short. Sturgeon, on the other hand, was the opposite. I learned a lot about writing from the Dick volumes, and I hope to learn even more from Sturgeon.