Sunday, January 19, 2014

Oh, the Humanity!

Sometimes, you come across a book that is so good, you stop and wonder why you hadn’t read it before. When it comes to Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, the simple answer is that I had never heard of the book before. I’m not very knowledgeable about science fiction, and the only reason I picked this book up was on the strength of a recommendation from someone whose opinions I trust. Happily, the book was every bit as good as I expected.

More Than Human tells the story of a group of extraordinary people who come to find each other. They all have strange powers of one sort or another, and they come to “blesh” together, each person becoming one part of a new type of organism. In effect, they become the next stage of human evolution, homo gestalt. That’s all you’re getting from me about the plot, which is really tricky to describe without spoilers. But as with the neatest detective stories, all the plot threads you follow throughout the book end up woven into a tapestry of incredibly beauty.

The novel is broken up into three parts, and is essentially an expansion of a novella entitled Baby is Three (which becomes part two of this book). Although a work of science fiction, part three is very much like a mystery story, as a character has lost his memory and must regain it, trying to determine the importance of several cryptic half-memories. And I must admit, the conclusion did catch me somewhat off-guard.

But as good as the story is, the most fascinating thing about More Than Human is all the questions it raises. One of the most important themes throughout the book is the theme of loneliness, as a group of misfits find each other and join forces. Yet together, they form an organism, the first of its kind, and so despite having multiple members in their group, they are just as alone as when they began.

But because they are different, does that make them superior to mere humans? Do the same codes of morality and ethics apply to them, or should they discard them altogether? And just how far are they willing to take things to ensure their survival? The book doesn’t just ask these questions, it takes time and effort to answer them as well. However, I dare not reveal the conclusions, as they are tied into many of the plot developments. One of the most admirable things about More Than Human is that it can advance the plot while asking all these deep questions. Many writers could learn a thing or two from reading this book.

As good as the plot and thematic elements are, though, they are helped along by a confident authorial hand. The writing is just so plain elegant, flowing smoothly from page to page. It makes for terrific, page-turning action even when nothing is really happening. Not only that, although the book is divided into three sections, it feels like one book instead of an expanded novella or a cannibalized story.

So overall, I can highly recommend More Than Human. More than that, I consider it a masterpiece. It’s considered a classic sci-fi novel for excellent reasons. Everything about it is terrific, be it plot, characters, writing, or thematic elements. Read it for yourself and find out just why it was nominated for a “Retro Hugo”.

3 comments:

  1. I am a huge Sturgeon fan - this is a great place to start Patrick, so glad you got so much out of it.

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  2. Sturgeon represents a big, gaping hole in my SF reading. I've read a few of his short stories and know more about him as the writer of two Star Trek episodes (one of which is in my top five--"Amok Time"). I need to add his novels to my TBR list.

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  3. Truly a great, moving, and beautifully-written novel.

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