Theodore Sturgeon

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Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon.jpg
BornEdward Hamilton Waldo
(1918-02-26)February 26, 1918
Staten Island, New York, U.S.
DiedMay 8, 1985(1985-05-08) (aged 67)
Eugene, Oregon, U.S.
Pen nameE. Waldo Hunter
OccupationFiction writer, critic
Genre Science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, western, literary criticism
SubjectScience fiction (as critic)
Notable works
Notable awards Hugo, Nebula [1]
Sturgeon's "The Perfect Host" was the cover story in the November 1948 Weird Tales Weird Tales November 1948.jpg
Sturgeon's "The Perfect Host" was the cover story in the November 1948 Weird Tales
An early version of Sturgeon's first novel, "The Dreaming Jewels", was the cover story in the February 1950 issue of Fantastic Adventures Fantastic adventures 195002.jpg
An early version of Sturgeon's first novel, "The Dreaming Jewels", was the cover story in the February 1950 issue of Fantastic Adventures
Sturgeon's novella "The Incubi of Parallel X" was the cover story in the September 1951 Planet Stories Planet stories 195109.jpg
Sturgeon's novella "The Incubi of Parallel X" was the cover story in the September 1951 Planet Stories
Sturgeon's novella "Granny Won't Knit" took the cover of the March 1954 Galaxy Science Fiction, illustrated by Ed Emshwiller Galaxy 195405.jpg
Sturgeon's novella "Granny Won't Knit" took the cover of the March 1954 Galaxy Science Fiction , illustrated by Ed Emshwiller

Theodore Sturgeon ( /ˈstɜːrən/ ; born Edward Hamilton Waldo, February 26, 1918 – May 8, 1985) was an American fiction author of primarily fantasy, science fiction and horror, as well as a critic. He wrote approximately 400 reviews and more than 120 short stories, 11 novels and several Star Trek scripts. [2]


Sturgeon's science fiction novel More Than Human (1953) won the 1954 International Fantasy Award (for SF and fantasy) as the year's best novel and the Science Fiction Writers of America ranked "Baby Is Three" number five among the "Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time" to 1964. Ranked by votes for all of their pre-1965 novellas, Sturgeon was second among authors, behind Robert Heinlein.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted Sturgeon in 2000, its fifth class of two dead and two living writers. [3]


Sturgeon was born Edward Hamilton Waldo in Staten Island, New York in 1918. His name was legally changed to Theodore Sturgeon at age eleven after his mother's divorce and remarriage to William Dicky ("Argyll") Sturgeon. [4]

He sold his first story in 1938 to the McClure Syndicate, which bought much of his early work. At first he wrote mainly short stories, primarily for genre magazines such as Astounding and Unknown , but also for general-interest publications such as Argosy Magazine . He used the pen name "E. Waldo Hunter" when two of his stories ran in the same issue of Astounding. A few of his early stories were signed "Theodore H. Sturgeon."

Sturgeon ghost-wrote one Ellery Queen mystery novel, The Player on the Other Side (Random House, 1963). This novel gained critical praise from critic H. R. F. Keating: "[I] had almost finished writing Crime and Mystery: the 100 Best Books, in which I had included The Player on the Other Side ... placing the book squarely in the Queen canon" [5] when he learned that it had been written by Sturgeon. Similarly, William DeAndrea, author and winner of Mystery Writers of America awards, selecting his ten favorite mystery novels for the magazine Armchair Detective, picked The Player on the Other Side as one of them. He said: "This book changed my life ... and made a raving mystery fan (and therefore ultimately a mystery writer) out of me. ... The book must be 'one of the most skilful pastiches in the history of literature. An amazing piece of work, whomever did it'." [5]

Disliking arguments with Campbell over editorial decisions, after 1950 Sturgeon only published one story in Astounding. [6] Sturgeon wrote the screenplays for the Star Trek episodes "Shore Leave" (1966) and "Amok Time" (1967, written up and published as a Bantam Books "Star Trek Fotonovel" in 1978). [2] The latter featured the first appearance of pon farr, the Vulcan mating ritual, the sentence "Live long and prosper" [7] and the Vulcan hand symbol. Sturgeon published the "first stories in science fiction which dealt with homosexuality, 'The World Well Lost' [June 1953] and 'Affair With a Green Monkey' [May 1957]", [8] and sometimes put gay subtext in his work, such as the back-rub scene in "Shore Leave", [9] or in his Western story, "Scars". [10] Sturgeon also wrote several episodes of Star Trek that were never produced. One of these first introduced the Prime Directive. He also wrote an episode of the Saturday morning show Land of the Lost , "The Pylon Express", in 1975. Two of Sturgeon's stories were adapted for The New Twilight Zone . One, "A Saucer of Loneliness", was broadcast in 1986 and was dedicated to his memory. Another short story, "Yesterday was Monday", was the inspiration for The New Twilight Zone episode "A Matter of Minutes". His 1944 novella "Killdozer!" was the inspiration for the 1970s made-for-TV movie, Marvel comic book, and alternative rock band of the same name, as well as becoming the colloquial name for Marvin Heemeyer's 2004 bulldozer rage incident.

Sturgeon is well known among readers of classic science-fiction anthologies. At the height of his popularity in the 1950s he was the most anthologized English-language author alive. [11] [12] Describing "To Here and the Easel" as "a stunning portrait of personality disassociation as perceived from the inside", Carl Sagan said that many of Sturgeon's works were among the "rare few science‐fiction novels [that] combine a standard science‐fiction theme with a deep human sensitivity". [13] John Clute wrote in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction : "His influence upon writers like Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany was seminal, and in his life and work he was a powerful and generally liberating influence in post-WWII US sf". He is not much known by the general public, however, and he won comparatively few awards. (One was the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement from the 1985 World Fantasy Convention.) [1]

Sturgeon's original novels were all published between 1950 and 1961, and the bulk of his short story work dated from the 1940s and 1950s. Though he continued to write through 1983, his work rate dipped noticeably in the later years of his life; a 1971 story collection entitled Sturgeon Is Alive And Well... addressed Sturgeon's seeming withdrawal from the public eye in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Sturgeon lived for several years in Springfield, Oregon. [14] He died on May 8, 1985, of lung fibrosis, at Sacred Heart General Hospital in the neighboring city of Eugene. [14]

He was a member of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of Isaac Asimov's fictional group of mystery solvers the Black Widowers. Sturgeon was the inspiration for the recurrent character of Kilgore Trout in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. [15]

Sturgeon's Law

In 1951, Sturgeon coined what is now known as Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud." This was originally known as Sturgeon's Revelation; Sturgeon has said that "Sturgeon's Law" was originally "Nothing is always absolutely so." However, the former statement is now widely referred to as Sturgeon's Law. He is also known for his dedication to a credo of critical thinking that challenged all normative assumptions: "Ask the next question." He represented this credo by the symbol of a Q with an arrow through it, an example of which he wore around his neck and used as part of his signature in the last 15 years of his life.

Life and family

Theodore's birth father, Edward Waldo, was a color and dye manufacturer of middling success. With his second wife, Anne, he had one daughter, Joan. Theodore's mother, Christine Hamilton Dicker (Waldo) Sturgeon, was a well-educated writer, watercolorist, and poet who published journalism, poetry, and fiction under the name Felix Sturgeon. His stepfather, William Dickie Sturgeon (sometimes known as Argyll), was a mathematics teacher at a prep school and then Romance Languages Professor at Drexel Institute [later Drexel Institute of Technology] in Philadelphia. Sturgeon's account of his stepfather is included in a posthumous memoir. [16] Sturgeon's sibling, Peter Sturgeon, wrote technical material for the pharmaceutical industry and the WHO, and founded the American branch of Mensa.

Sturgeon held a wide variety of jobs during his lifetime. As an adolescent, he wanted to be a circus acrobat; an episode of rheumatic fever prevented him from pursuing this. From 1935 (aged 17) to 1938, he was a sailor in the merchant marine, and elements of that experience found their way into several stories. He sold refrigerators door to door. He managed a hotel in Jamaica around 1940–1941, worked in several construction and infrastructure jobs (driving a bulldozer in Puerto Rico, operating a gas station and truck lubrication center, work at a drydock) for the US Army in the early war years, and by 1944 was an advertising copywriter. In addition to freelance fiction and television writing, he also operated a literary agency (which was eventually transferred to Scott Meredith), worked for Fortune magazine and other Time Inc. properties on circulation, and edited various publications. Sturgeon had somewhat irregular output, frequently suffering from writer's block.

Theodore Sturgeon vividly recalled being in the same room with L. Ron Hubbard, when Hubbard became testy with someone there and retorted, "Y'know, we're all wasting our time writing this hack science fiction! You wanta make real money, you gotta start a religion!" Reportedly Sturgeon also told this story to others.[ citation needed ]

Sturgeon played guitar and wrote music which he sometimes performed at Science Fiction Conventions.

Sturgeon was married three times, had two long-term committed relationships outside of marriage, divorced once, and fathered a total of seven children.

Sturgeon was a lifelong pipe smoker. His death from lung fibrosis may have been caused by exposure to asbestos during his merchant marine years.



Sturgeon, under his own name, was hired to write novelizations of the following movies based on their scripts (links go to articles about the movies):

Pseudonymous novels

Short stories

Sturgeon published numerous short story collections during his lifetime, many drawing on his most prolific writing years of the 1940s and 1950s.

Note that some reprints of these titles (especially paperback editions) may cut one or two stories from the line-up. Statistics herein refer to the original editions only.

Collections published during Sturgeon's lifetime

The following table includes sixteen volumes (one of them collecting western stories). These are considered "original" collections of Sturgeon material, in that they compiled previously uncollected stories. However, some volumes did contain a few reprinted stories: this list includes books that collected only previously uncollected material, as well as those volumes that collected mostly new material, but also contained up to three stories (representing no more than half the book) that were previously published in a Sturgeon collection.

of stories
Originally published
Earliest storyLatest story
Without Sorcery 19481319391947
E Pluribus Unicorn 19531319471953
A Way Home19551119461955
A Touch of Strange19581119531958
Aliens 41959419441958
Sturgeon In Orbit1964519511955
Sturgeon Is Alive and Well ...19711119541971
The Worlds of Theodore Sturgeon197210319411962
Sturgeon's West (westerns)1973719491973
Case and the Dreamer1974319621973
Visions and Venturers19788119421965
The Stars Are The Styx197910119511971
The Golden Helix197910319411973

The following six collections consisted entirely of reprints of previously collected material:

Thunder and Roses1957819461955selected from 11 in 1955's "A Way Home"
Not Without Sorcery1961819391941selected from 13 in 1948's Without Sorcery
The Joyous Invasions1965319551958selected from 4 in 1959's "Aliens 4"
To Here and the Easel1973619411958
Alien Cargo19841419401956

Complete short stories

North Atlantic Books released the chronologically assembled The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, edited by Paul Williams. The series consisted of 13 volumes published between 1994 and 2010. Introductions were provided by Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, Kurt Vonnegut, Gene Wolfe, Connie Willis, Jonathan Lethem, and others. Extensive story notes were provided by Paul Williams and, in the last two volumes, Sturgeon's daughter Noël.

Representative short stories

Sturgeon was best known for his short stories and novellas. The best-known include:


See also

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<i>More Than Human</i> 1953 novel by Theodore Sturgeon

More Than Human is a 1953 science fiction novel by American writer Theodore Sturgeon. It is a revision and expansion of his previously published novella Baby is Three, which is bracketed by two additional parts written for the novel . It won the 1954 International Fantasy Award, which was also given to works in science fiction. It was additionally nominated in 2004 for a "Retro Hugo" award for the year 1954. Science fiction critic and editor David Pringle included it in his book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels.

Killdozer! (short story)

"Killdozer!" is a science fiction/horror novella by American writer Theodore Sturgeon, originally published in the magazine Astounding and revised for the 1959 collection Aliens 4.

Charles Coleman Finlay is an American science fiction and fantasy author and editor.

<i>The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two</i> Anthology edited by Ben Bova

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two is an English language science fiction two-volume anthology edited by Ben Bova and published in the U.S. by Doubleday in 1973, distinguished as volumes "Two A" and "Two B". In the U.K. they were published by Gollancz as Volume Two (1973) and Volume Three (1974). The original U.S. subtitle was The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time.

<i>Beyond Fantasy Fiction</i> US fantasy fiction magazine (1953–1955))

Beyond Fantasy Fiction was a US fantasy fiction magazine edited by H. L. Gold, with only ten issues published from 1953 to 1955. The last two issues carried the cover title of Beyond Fiction, but the publication's name for copyright purposes remained as before.

<i>The Dreaming Jewels</i>

The Dreaming Jewels, also known as The Synthetic Man, is a science fiction novel by American writer Theodore Sturgeon. It was his first published novel.

<i>Great Short Novels of Adult Fantasy Volume II</i>

Great Short Novels of Adult Fantasy Volume II is an anthology of fantasy novellas, edited by American writer Lin Carter. It was first published in paperback by Ballantine Books in March, 1973 as the fifty-sixth volume of its Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. It was the ninth such anthology assembled by Carter for the series.

<i>Worlds Unknown</i>

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  1. 1 2 "Sturgeon, Theodore" Archived 2012-10-16 at the Wayback Machine . The Locus Index of SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  2. 1 2 Theodore Sturgeon at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-18. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  3. "Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame". Mid American Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions, Inc. Retrieved 2013-03-26. This was the official website of the hall of fame to 2004.
  4. Williams, Paul (1976). "Theodore Sturgeon, Storyteller" Archived 2003-09-13 at the Wayback Machine . First published 1997, online. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
    Quote: "Sturgeon because that was the stepfather's name—he was a professor of modern languages at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia—and Theodore because Edward was the boy's father's name and the mother was still bitter and anyway young Edward had always been known as Teddy."
    Quote: "To this day, libraries all over the world list 'Theodore Sturgeon' as a pseudonym for 'E. H. Waldo', which is incorrect."
  5. 1 2 Keating, H. R. F. (1989). The Bedside Companion to Crime. New York: Mysterious Press.
  6. Latham, Rob (2009). "Fiction, 1950-1963". In Bould, Mark; Butler, Andrew M.; Roberts, Adam; Vint, Sherryl (eds.). The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction. Routledge. pp. 80–89. ISBN   9781135228361.
  7. Nimoy (1995), p. 67.
  8. Duncan, David D.(1979). "The Push from Within: The Extrapolative Ability of Theodore Sturgeon" Archived 2019-10-19 at the Wayback Machine . First published 1979, print. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
    Quote: "first stories in science fiction which dealt with homosexuality, 'The World Well Lost' and 'Affair With a Green Monkey'"
  9. Hageman, Andrew (2016). "A generic correspondence: Sturgeon–Roddenberry letters on sf, sex, sales and Star Trek". Science Fiction Film & Television. 9 (3): 473–478. doi: 10.3828/sfftv.2016.9.15 .
  10. Garber, Eric; Paleo, Lyn (1990). Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (2nd ed.). Boston: G K HallA. p.  203. ISBN   0-8161-1832-9.
  11. Engel, Joel (June 1, 1994). Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek. Hyperion. p.  92. ISBN   0786860049. Theodore Sturgeon, the most anthologized writer in the English language but one who'd never written for television before Star Trek, received several long letters and memos from Roddenberry.
  12. Meehan, Paul (November 1, 1998). Saucer Movies: A UFOlogical History of the Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 166. ISBN   0810835738. Veteran science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, reportedly the most anthologized science fiction writer of all time, wrote the teleplay adaptation of his own short story for the ABC-TV movie Killdozer (1974).
  13. Sagan, Carl (1978-05-28). "Growing up with Science Fiction". The New York Times. p. SM7. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  14. 1 2 Portal, Ann (May 10, 1985). "Famed author, award-winner, dies in Eugene". The Register-Guard . Eugene, Oregon. Retrieved 2011-06-20.
  15. "Interview with Vonnegut". Archived from the original on January 15, 1998. Retrieved 2013-04-04. "I think it's funny when someone is named after a fish"
  16. Sturgeon, Theodore (1993). Argyll; A Memoir, Entwhistle Books. ISBN   978-0934558167
  17. Sturgeon, Theodore (April 1961). "Tandy's Story". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 170–194.
  18. Noël Sturgeon [daughter], "Story Notes Volume XII", Sturgeon (2009), pp. 289–92.
  19. Sturgeon (1978), p. 12.