The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon: Baby is Three v.6: Baby Is Three Vol 6 Hardcover – 31 Dec 1999
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When any kind of reading gap like that occurs, you wonder if your changing perspectives as the years go on will alter how you feel about a certain author. I like a lot of the stuff now that I liked when I was twenty and perhaps even more these days (according to my wife, too much), but there's a whole host of things that don't interest me anymore from those years and a segment of authors or works that you have mixed feelings about, where the glow of nostalgia paints a rosy picture but you find that time has made your views on it more complex and not as easily reconciled with both the person you are now and the world as it was back then.
But enough about my feelings on "Knight Rider". As it turns out, Sturgeon is just as good to my eyes in this century as he was in the last.
This volume covers the years 1950 to 1953, a period where Sturgeon was pretty decently prolific (at least by his standards, since there's only eleven stories here, but a couple of them are longish . . . but this may have been around the time he was emerging from a period of writer's block) and definitely hitting his stride as a writer, putting together a mix of tales that used SF as a backdrop to explore issues of sexuality and gender in a way that made them really only work as SF tales but he doesn't let the aliens and the occasional spaceship get in the way of what he's trying to say. What really comes across here, and may be the one thing that wouldn't have been as obvious to me reading these books fifteen years ago, is the urgency of his need to convey to us a universe where even if love isn't always the answer, its definitely one of the better options and can't be tied down to any one specific form or kind.
In fact, the big theme around these stories seems to be the fluidity of gender and the idea of people coming together to create something greater, with different combinations being tried. Reading these in order, you can see him teasing out the idea of the gesalt that would arrive with "Baby is Three" (and later "More Than Human") and what's interesting is how they don't feel like rough drafts. Only in context with his entire work do they feel like him teasing the issue out at different angles, trying to figure out how to best to approach and conquer it. Stuff like "Rule of Three" is good, especially in how sincere it feels, even if the involvement of aliens makes it feel like he's holding back. "Make Room For Me" mines similar territory and again the aliens makes the story feel of its time (every time they mention Titan you're waiting for Kurt Vonnegut to show up). It's only when he gets to "The Sex Opposite" that the alien elements start to hit home, contrasting not only a completely alien sexuality with a frankly charming friendship between a coroner and a reporter but more importantly it depicts the sense of loss when a link is disrupted and can't be regained, when something is lost that can't be described in human terms, except the feeling of total absence. Like most of his stories, it comes across as breezy, until it strikes hard.
But even with all those examples, its quite possible nothing will really prepare you for reading "Baby is Three" for the first time, unless you've read "More Than Human" already (a slightly reworked version is a third of that novel). For me, its been long enough since I've read the novel form that I can almost see it new. And he hits a new peak here, the prose alone marks a focused intensity that the rest of the stories, good as they are, simply don't have, as a young boy describes to a psychiatrist what his life has become since he fell in with a strange group of people who seem to serve as different parts of the same organism and only find fulfillment in being together. Subtracting the space elements and using evolution as the medium pushes the story closer to something we can understand, and what still impresses is how he shows the possible next stage of humanity but doesn't go all "Midwich Cuckoos" with it, leaving aside fear and mistrust for one person attempting to help another work through a problem they have the tools to process but aren't quite sure how to use those tools yet. He breaks open the psychology of the characters and at the same time points the story at us as if to say, we could be like this too, if we worked at it, if we stopped getting in each other's way and started working together.
Masterpiece and its thematic affiliates aside, the rest turn out to be above average SF stories. With stuff like "The Stars Are the Styx" he proposes fictional futures that feel right emotionally in their mix of hope and peril, a future where wonder means we haven't learned everything there is to learn yet. Not all of them are amazing but all have some their moments. "Excalibur and the Atom" feels like a 50s version of what Matt Wagner's "Mage" would become. The line in "The Traveling Crag" about the potential of humanity and our terrible expression of it that seems to encapsulate his entire philosophy. The weird world of "The Incubi of Parallel X" before it heads into B-movie territory. Sturgeon used his stories to express love and he used his stories to make a living and he used his stories to make a mark on the world and when he found the right mix of those elements (and he did more often than not) it was only his voice you heard, and it stuck deeply in the mind.
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