Authors: Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon, in front of his 1964 VW bug with extra big wheels, at his Echo Park, Los Angeles home, 1976.
Copyright © 2009 by the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust; except for the afterword, copyright 1986 Spider Robinson, used by permission. Previously published materials © 1955, 1970, 1971, 1972 by Theodore Sturgeon, renewed by the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust. All rights reserved. No portion of this book, except for brief review, may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the written permission of the publisher. For information contact North Atlantic Books.
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Cover photo collage design by Paula Morrison
Slow Sculpture: Volume XII of The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon
is sponsored by the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, a nonprofit educational corporation whose goals are to develop an educational and cross-cultural perspective linking various scientific, social, and artistic fields; to nurture a holistic view of arts, sciences, humanities, and healing; and to publish and distribute literature on the relationship of mind, body, and nature.
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Slow sculpture / Theodore Sturgeon; edited by Noël Sturgeon; foreword by Connie Willis; afterword by Spider Robinson.
p. cm. — (The complete stories of Theodore Sturgeon; v. 12)
1. Science fiction, American. I. Title.
PS3569.T875 A6 1994 vol. 12
Theodore Hamilton Sturgeon was born February 26, 1918, and died May 8, 1985. This is the twelfth volume in a series that collects all of his short fiction. The last volume,
Why Dolphins Don’t Bite
, will be published in 2010. The stories are mostly arranged chronologically by order of composition. With two exceptions (“The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff,” 1955, and the previously unpublished “The Beholders,” 1964), this volume contains stories written between 1970 and 1972, including the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning story, “Slow Sculpture.”
My deepest thanks go to Paul Williams, editor of all the previous volumes. To have
of Sturgeon’s stories published was Paul’s personal vision, and his gentle persistence, hard work, and encyclopedic knowledge of Sturgeon made it happen. He started this project in 1991 and stayed with it until Alzheimer’s from a brain injury made it impossible for him to continue. Though he could not contribute to this volume, I would like to dedicate it to him. My attempt at replicating his excellent story notes is sure to fall short of his stellar example. Those who wish to give back to him for his lifetime of important work (for the science fiction community in particular) should visit
in order to help Paul and his family with his full-time care.
For their significant assistance in preparing this twelfth volume, I would like to thank Connie Willis, Spider Robinson, Debbie Notkin, Marion Sturgeon, Tandy Sturgeon, John Wolff, Tina Krauss, Elizabeth Kennedy, Philip Smith, Paula Morrison, Eric Weeks, William F. Seabrook, Hart Sturgeon-Reed, T.V. Reed, Chris Lotts of Ralph Vincinanza, Ltd., Vince Gerardis of CreatedBy, Lindy Hough, Richard Grossinger, Wina Sturgeon, Jayne Williams, and all of you who have expressed your support and interest.
Trustee, Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust
BOOKS BY THEODORE STURGEON
The Dreaming Jewels
The Synthetic Man
More Than Human
E Pluribus Unicorn
A Way Home
The King and Four Queens
A Touch of Strange
The Cosmic Rape
Venus Plus X
Some of Your Blood
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
The Player on the Other Side
Sturgeon in Orbit
The Rare Breed
Sturgeon Is Alive and Well …
The Worlds of Theodore
(with Don Ward) (1973)
Case and the Dreamer
Visions and Venturers
The Stars Are the Styx
The Golden Helix
A Touch of Sturgeon
The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff
Star Trek, The Joy Machine
(with James Gunn) (1996)
THE COMPLETE STORIES SERIES
The Ultimate Egoist
Thunder and Roses
The Perfect Host
Baby Is Three
A Saucer of Loneliness
And Now the News …
The Man Who Lost the Sea
The Nail and the Oracle
Case and the Dreamer
I read my first Theodore Sturgeon story when I was thirteen. It was “A Saucer of Loneliness,” and it was an extraordinary story. All Sturgeon stories are extraordinary, of course, but I didn’t know that then. I
know, however, that he was writing about different things than the other authors were in whatever anthology “Saucer” was in, about aliens who weren’t trying to invade and flying saucers that weren’t trying to attack, about longing and isolation and problems that can’t be solved.
That last was what impressed me most. So many of the science fiction stories I read firmly believed that any problem could be solved with ingenuity and determination. Sturgeon knew better.
He also knew that love is not the gooey, sentimental thing most people (and especially science fiction authors) think it is. He understood that love is problematic, dangerous, and even, at its most triumphant, ultimately tragic. And that it was just as legitimate a subject for serious consideration and scientific analysis as courage or gravity or death (and, in fact, held elements of all of those.)
And he wrote about these incredibly complicated things in a simple and eminently readable style, with no information dumps, no sermons, no indication of how difficult this was to do. Like Fred Astaire, Theodore Sturgeon made it look easy. So easy, in fact, that you weren’t really aware of just how good it was till long after, when you measured the story’s impact on you.
After that first encounter with Sturgeon, I began actively seeking out his stories. I found and read “Killdozer” and “The Hurkle is a Happy Beast” and “Memorial” and “The Comedian’s Children” and dozens of others. My favorite was “And Now the News,” a troubling story about the constant bombardment of information we have
to endure and its effect on us that I find more relevant now in our twittering-online-CNNed-hyperconnected-globalized world even than it was when I first read it.
But I also found “Slow Sculpture” and “The Other Man” and “The Nail and the Oracle.” And came to admire more and more Sturgeon’s skill and style and subtlety of thought with each story.
I was not the only one. Every science fiction writer I knew revered him as a consummate storyteller and someone whose stories had not only heart, but brains and depth. He was frequently discussed (I think only other writers, who know how hard all this stuff is to do and especially how difficult it is to make it look effortless, fully appreciate Sturgeon) and generally considered to be the best short story writer the field had ever produced.
It was during one of those discussions a few years ago that someone mentioned, “The Man Who Lost the Sea.” “I don’t think I’ve ever read that one,” I said innocently, and everyone in the group was horrified.
“Oh, my God, you’re kidding!” they said. “How can you have been in the field all this time and not have read it?”
It was as if I’d just confessed to being illiterate. And in a way, I had. Nobody who hasn’t read Sturgeon’s story can really understand what science fiction’s all about. And I’d never read it.
to read it!” they said. “It’s amazing!”
“What’s it about?” I asked, but they refused to tell me.
“Just read it,” they said.
So I read it. And they were right. It’s his best story. I still love “And Now the News” and “A Saucer of Loneliness,” and “Memorial,” but “The Man Who Lost the Sea” is in a class by itself.
It starts off unassumingly enough with: “Say you’re a kid, and one dark night you’re running along the cold sand with this helicopter in your hand, saying very fast witchy-witchy-witchy”—a casual, conversational line that could be the opener of Robert A. Heinlein’s
Have Space Suit, Will Travel