from science fiction by
Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon

This page:
Need
The Martian and the Moron
Microcosmic God
Nightmare Island
Largo
Abreaction
Mr. Costello, Hero
Like Young

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I considered including the description of the “highly individual” lathe, but I’ll let you find this novella yourself and read that in context. It’s a gem.

Need

Copyright © 1960 by Theodore Sturgeon

Defiance of time, of change, of anything is, after all, only defiance, and does not in itself guarantee a victory.

Topic:

Defiance

Here you might find dried flowers under a glass dome, a hand-cranked coffee mill, a toy piano, a two-volume, leather-bound copy of Dibdin’s Journey, a pair of two-wheel roller skates or a one tube radio set—the tube is a UX-11 and is missing—which tunes with a vario-coupler. You might—you probably would—also find in such a place, a proprietor who could fix almost anything and has the tools to do it with, and who understands that conversation is important and the most important part of it is listening.

Independent means. Such independence means all Four Freedoms plus a good many more. Small prep schools—in small towns and with, comparatively, small fees—gray as Groton, followed by tiny, honored colleges on which the ivy, if not the patina, is quite as real as Harvard’s, make it possible to grow up in one of the most awesome independencies of all, the freedom from Life. In most cases it takes but six or so post-graduate weeks for trauma and tragedy to set in, and for the discoveries to be made that business is not necessarily conducted on the honor system, that the reward for dutifully reporting the errors of the erring gets you, not a mark toward your Good Citizen Button, but something more like a kick in the teeth, and finally, that the world is full of people who never heard of your family and wouldn’t give a damn if they had.

Not that he didn’t face the world, just as squarely and as valiantly as he had been taught to do. But it happened that, all unknowing, he gave the world nothing worth abraiding, and the world was therefore, as far as he could know, a smooth place to live with.

“You got to make allowances,” Noat said to the tape. “This old thing’s stretched, but you see I know just how much it’s stretched. 14 inches here is 14 and 17/32nds actual. That’s one way to make allowances. Then,” he went on, laying the tape against a piece of square stock that was chucked in a highly individual wood lathe, “if the tape says 14 on the chair, and I mark it the same 14 on the lumber, it comes out right and it makes no never mind what it is actual. People,” he said, rounding at last on Smith, who prepared himself for some profound truth, “fret too much.”

Smith lived for a moment with that feeling one has when mounting ten steps in the dark, then discovers there are only nine stairs. He grasped wildly at what he thought the man had been talking about. “People are all right. I mean, I like people.”

Noat considered this, or a turning chisel he had obviously made from an old screwdriver, carefully. Smith could not stand the contemplative silence, and ran on. “Why, I do everything for people. I join every club or lodge in town that does any good for people, and I work hard at it. I guess I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t like people.”

“You don’t do that for yourself.” It was, if a statement, agreement and a compliment; if a question, a searching, even embarrassing one, calling for more insight than Smith had or dared to have. It was voiced as a statement, but so nearly as a question that Smith could not be sure.

One seldom noticed the skill of such hands, but ingrained black was dirt and dirt was, vaguely, “them,” not “us.” The idea does cling, oh yes it does, ingrained, too. Yet for all his distress in this moment, Smith was able to notice how the great grainy leather-brown hand closed all around the stainless new wood, was intimate with it from end, to end, left not a mark. To Smith it was an illumination, to see such a hand live so with purity.

Topic:

Dirt

“I said I want her back.”

“I know. You didn’t say you need her.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“No, it ain’t.”

“It’s growing up that matters, not grownup. . . . Man can get along alone for quite a long time ‘grownup’—taking care of himself. But if he takes in anyone else, he’s . . . well, he’s got to have a piece missing that the other person supplies all the time. He’s got to need that, and he’s got to have something that’s missing in the other person that they need. So then the two of them, they’re one thing now . . . and still it’s got to be like a living thing, it’s got to change and grow and be alive. Nothing alive will stand for being stopped.”

Topic:

Marriage

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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The Martian and the Moron

Copyright 1948 by Weird Tales

“You’re still here,” I said incredulously.

“Did you think I’d go back inside?”

“I thought the wind, or the gods, or my alarm clock would take you away.”

My fuse blew with a snap and a bright light and, as it were, incapacitated my self-starter. She moved deftly then, and to my blurred vision, apparently changed herself into a closed door. I must have stood looking at that door for twenty minutes before I turned and walked dazedly home.

Topic:

Love

“Keep your beautiful dreams to yourself. If they don’t pan out you can always kick yourself effectively enough, without having every wall-eyed neighbor helping you.”
I remember wondering smokily whether anyone ever loves a person. People seem to love dreams instead, and for the lucky ones, the person is close to the dream. But it’s a dream all the same, a sticky dream. You unload the person, and the dream stays with you.

Topic:

Dreams

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Microcosmic God

Copyright © 1941 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.

He considered Gregor Mendel a bungling liar, Darwin an amusing philosopher, and Luther Burbank a sensationalist. He never opened his mouth without leaving his victim feeling breathless. If he was talking to someone who had knowledge, he went in there and got it, leaving his victim breathless. If he was talking to someone whose knowledge was already in his possession, he only asked repeatedly, “How do you know?” His most delectable pleasure was cutting a fanatical eugenicist into conversational ribbons. So people left him alone and never, never asked him to tea. He was polite, but not politic.
He did nothing by trial and error because he disapproved of the method as sloppy.
No man can rob successfully over a period of years without pleasing the people he robs. The technique for doing this is highly involved, but master it and you can start your own mint.

Topic:

Propaganda

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Nightmare Island

Copyright © 1941 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.
Copyright assigned 1960 to Theodore Sturgeon

A sailor’s unemployment is unlike any other kind, in that it is so little dependent on the man’s whereabouts. A silk-mill worker must starve around a silk mill before he can get his job, but a seaman can starve anywhere.
There was no one else in the place but a couple of rats and some flies. One of the rats had only two legs and wore a collar and tie even in that heat. The other rat had some self-respect and scuttled under the beer pulls to lap suds, being a true quadruped with inherited rat reflexes.

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Largo

Copyright © 1947 by Theodore Sturgeon

Note (Hal’s):
Rather a lot of quotations from a short story, but these character descriptions were just irresistible.

— end note

I heard a woman say “Thank you” to the doctor who cured her cancer, and then she cried, for the words said so little. I knew a man who was born lonely, and whose loneliness increased as he lived until it was a terrible thing. And then he met the girl he was to marry, and one night he said, “I love you.” Just words; but they filled the incredibly vast emptiness within him; filled it completely, so that there was enough left over to spill out in three syllables, eight letters . . .

Each note was more than polished—burnished. As music is defined as a succession of notes, so the Largo was a thing surpassing music; for its rests, its upbeats, its melodic pauses were silences blended in harmony, in discord. Only Drecksall’s genius could give tangible, recognizable tone to silence. The music created scales and keys and chords of silence, which played in exquisite counterpoint with the audible themes.

It was dedicated to Drecksall himself, because he was a true genius, which means that everything in the universe which was not a part of him existed for him.

Topic:

Genius

Pascal Wylie was shrewd and stocky, and came there to squander a small inheritance at a place where people would be impressed by it. He had himself convinced that when the paltry thousands were gone he could ease himself into a position where more could be gotten by someone else’s efforts. Unfortunately this was quite true. It is hardly just, but people like that can always find a moneymaker to whom their parasitism is indispensible.
Her rather full lips she held slightly parted, and one watched them to catch the brilliantly wise thought they were about to utter. They never did. She was always surrounded by quasi-sophisticates and pseudo-intellectuals whose conversation got farther and farther above her silly head until she retreated behind one slightly raised golden eyebrow, her whole manner indicating that the company was clever, but a bit below her. She was unbelievably dumb and an utterly fascinating person to know slightly.
The mountain sunset streamed through a window behind her, making her hair a halo and her profiled body the only thing in the universe fit to be framed by that glorious light. Drecksall was unprepared for the sight; he was blinded and enslaved. He didn’t believe her. She must be music. It was, for him, a perfectly rational conclusion, for she was past all understanding, and until now nothing not musical had struck him that way.

Music is a science as well as an art, and it is a shocking thing to those who think that musicians are by nature incompetent and impractical, to discover that more often than not a musician has a strong mechanical flair.

Topic:

Music

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Abreaction

Copyright © 1948 by Weird Tales

Have you ever been afraid to die, seeing Death looking right at you; closer than that; have you seen Death turn away from you because He knows you must follow Him? Have you seen that, and been afraid?

Well, this was worse.

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Mr. Costello, Hero

Copyright © 1953 by Galaxy Publishing Corporation

Note (Hal’s):
Given the subject, the date on this one is significant. I wonder how many readers at the time saw it as a commentary on McCarthyism. Also, I wonder if Sturgeon meant it as such.

— end note

‘They say it takes a hundred pairs of hands to build a house, ten thousand pairs to build a ship. They say a single pair is not only useless – it’s evil. All humanity is a thing made up of many parts. No part is good by itself. Any part that wants to go off by itself hurts the whole main thing – the thing that has become so great. So we’re seeing to it that no part ever gets separated. What good would your hand be if a finger suddenly decided to go off by itself?’
‘They go out and spend weeks alone by themselves, with their own evil thoughts. They are wandering cells, wild cells in the body of humanity. They must be destroyed.’

‘Do you know what I’ve been hanging onto? The idea that, for all its error, for all its stupidity, this One Humanity idea on Borinquen was a principle? I hated it, but because it was a principle, I could respect it. It’s Costello – Costello, who doesn’t gamble, but who uses fear to change the poker rules – Costello, who doesn’t eat your food, but makes you fear poison – Costello, who can see three hundred years of safe interstellar flight, but who through fear makes the watch officers doubt themselves without a witness – Costello, who runs things without being seen!

‘My God, Costello doesn’t care! It isn’t a principle at all. It’s just Costello spreading fear anywhere, everywhere, to make himself strong!’

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Like Young

Copyright © 1960 by Theodore Sturgeon

It was a high conceit indeed to assume that the Next One would have an intelligence like ours. Once we were ready to discard that cocky notion, it became clear that the otter, a tool-using animal far earlier in its evolution than we had been, and possessed of a much more durable sense of humor, was logically our successor.

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen