And Now the News...: v.9: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon: Vol 9 Hardcover – 23 Jan 2004
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The other stories, for the most part, are a joy. Some, I hadn't read until this collection. The rest were like old friends you'd like to sit by a fire with and share a fine bourbon.
Theodore Sturgeon and his works are a treasure, not to be lightly regarded or forgotten easily.
Recommended to anyone who likes great stories as told by a master.
This time, though, the title story ranks so high over everything else that it really isn't fair. Most everything here is above average good but "And Now the News" was the only story that really hit me square in the gut and felt like a story that could have still been written today. Basically a gift from Robert Heinlein, apparently the tale goes that during a period where the writer's block was really having its way with him, he wrote to Heinlein asking for advice, to which the man responded by giving him a few pages of ideas, some merely sketches and some a bit more fleshed out. Two of those stories make it into this collection and apparently Heinlein's synopsis for this story was so detailed that he could have almost snagged a co-writer credit if he had done anything besides the general plotting. But its an amazing effort, probably the first time for me where it felt like one of Sturgeon's characters really pays the price for trying to live in this world and be a part of it. It focuses on a man named Maclyle, who follows the news so religiously that it becomes a bit of an obsession and eventually the grand parade of bad news starts to drain the life out of him until he finds himself unable to communicate properly anymore. Its a grim depiction of a media saturated culture and what a constant barrage of it might do to us that probably felt chilling when it was written in the fifties and comes across as eerily prescient nowadays where our increased ability to be connected to information instantly only seems to drive us further apart from each other. It proceeds like any other Sturgeon story but what sets it apart for me is the final reaction to all this and how strangely bitter it all feels, like its accepting that this is the only proper way to act in a world like ours and that the only options are to let this world gradually disintegrate you so you have no choice but to withdraw entirely, or stay a part of it but be driven to drastic measures. Its quietly shocking and like nothing else I've read from him so far.
That said, there are other stories in the book and if you've been following the series then you know we're still in his peak period as a writer and, well, he's still peaking. That means pretty much every story has something to offer, although the tried and true SF seems to be in the minority this time out. A number of them are actually straight mystery stories (some in collaboration) and only prove that he could have been a crackling mystery writer if he had decided to focus on that instead of all the stuff with aliens. "The Half Way Tree Murder" and "Dead Dames Don't Dial" have their moments, with the former reading like an attempt at a Graeme Greene story. Meanwhile, "The Waiting Thing Inside" is another off-kilter Western (not as good as the one in the last volume, I thought) and "The Deadly Innocent" is a strange tale told mostly through letters of another writer going out of her mind. That one is confusing but has a sense of wanting to tinker with form that I appreciated. Sometimes the most interesting Sturgeon moments can be found in these little side alleys where he tries a trick that doesn't work a hundred percent but lifts the story out of something that could have been more mundane.
In other places he uses SF as a backdrop for probing at relationships, either between two people ("The Claustrophile") or between a person and the truth "("Fear is a Business", one that would probably go down as the hardest hitting story in the collection if not for "And Now the News"), showcasing his knack for grounding even the most outlandish stuff in the sense that we're dealing with real people. Even the totally wacky stuff has its moments, like the truly bizarre "The Girl Had Guts" (which again, feels like something Cordwainer Smith would have gone somewhere unbearably dark with) or "The Other Celia". The latter is one of his most effective stories, dealing with a deeply strange incident between two people who never meet, where the strangeness is never really explained and the reaction to it says as much about the characters despite them never conversing.
We close out with two other straight SF tales. "Affair With a Green Monkey" seems to deal with both aliens with a sly hint at touching upon transgender issues, but mostly throws a spanner in a stable relationship between two people just to see what would happen and its that interplay that makes the story stand out, green monkey metaphor and everything. Its also another one that seems to end on a weird downbeat note, although here it seems right. The final story "The Pod in the Barrier" is another tale where it seems like Sturgeon is setting his characters on a stage and letting them improvise their roles, as he depicts attempts to get through a barrier with increasingly failed efforts. He leaves room for both science and misfits and wraps it up with one of his most compassionate endings. Its a nice way to end this collection and further proof that he was moving from strength to strength during this time period. Again, there's a wide variety here and people looking for only the good SF stuff are probably going to want to pick up the older non-complete collections but no matter the genre, each story feels like him, and that's as good as any writer can ask for.
But if you are a Sturgeon fan, run, don't walk, to Amazon and buy all 13? volumes of The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon.