1967 - If All Men Were Brothers... by Theodore Sturgeon

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1967 - If All Men Were Brothers... by Theodore Sturgeon

Postby Jan » Wed Jun 27, 2007 2:29 pm

This is our Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) memorial thread.

We can talk about all things Sturgeon, in particular Harlan's new essay "Abiding with Sturgeon: Mistral in the Bijou" (2007) and Sturgeon's DANGEROUS VISIONS story (written at Harlan's behest) "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" (1967).

You can find the essay here: Interzone 210 (UK magazine)
Sturgeon's Collected Stories XII (I think - double check if it has the Ellison introduction)

A major Sturgeon website:
http://www.physics.emory.edu/~weeks/misc/sturgeon.html
It has everything. Everything.
Including a major biographical essay about Ted by (Complete Stories editor) Paul Williams, who knew him well:
http://www.physics.emory.edu/~weeks/stu ... liams.html
This can be read side-by-side with Ellison's text, as there is no overlap.
The David Duncan interview with Sturgeon (which I'm sure everyone has already read), is here:
http://www.physics.emory.edu/~weeks/misc/duncan.html
Last edited by Jan on Sun Jun 01, 2008 5:50 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Postby Jan » Wed Jun 27, 2007 3:19 pm

First off, I'm reprinting what I told Harlan in the Pavilion (I learned from the best). By the way, the essay is/will be printed in INTERZONE #210 (available from the publisher TTA Press for 6 or 7 pounds, depending on where you live, I paid by paypal) and in Volume XI of THE COMPLETE STORIES OF T.S ("in somewhat altered form").

Harlan: re the Sturgeon essay: When will you stop listing incidents you're not going to relate? :-) It's a sometimes irritating, too short, funny, profound piece (I have to think about it some more, let it sink in), and it helps me understand Sturgeon a little better. You also, obviously, made me curious about his final batch of stories, especially the ones you highlighted in the book review. (I take it that "The Girl Who Knew What They Meant" did not get picked up by Best American Short Stories that year.) But that's beside the point. What's important is that Ted was good for all of us who read him, and it's comforting to know that you were good for him because, having discovered him after his death, most of us can't even thank him by buying his books. I doubt he would have been as "alive and well" without you.

Don't know about you, but I find it affecting when difficult, unique people happen to become friends and are able to support each other, because, I'm sure, Harlan and Ted don't find friends everywhere.

I sure didn't know that Strugeon moved in with Harlan for a span of time, and how that led to his final collection of short stories. There had been no mention of that in the previous pieces Harlan had written about him, to wit, the original obituary and the introduction to Sturgeon's story in DANGEROUS VISIONS. I seem to remember a third one as well which mentioned THE DREAMING JEWELS in particular. (That may have been an interview, though.)

The essay contains a letter from Ted to Harlan (formerly printed in DANGEROUS VISIONS), two book reviews by Ellison, Sturgeon's introduction to one of Harlan's books, a book dedication, as well as the original, much shorter obituary which has been supplanted by this one. Let me stop here and express a slight annoyment at the inclusion of old material-- I had read those rather long pieces just a short while ago, and when Harlan said he'd written ten thousand words I somehow expected ten thousand new words. If I were Harlan, I would have shortened the old material as it seems unnecessary to reprint them in toto.

While I'm getting things out of the way, I was also at first irritated about how the essay at times came too close to being about Harlan-- a little editing would have done wonders. Harlan seems to be aware of this, but it takes a while until he decides what he is, in effect, writing. It's an essay about Harlan's friendship with Ted, not an obituary, a remembrance or an introduction per se, as I understand those things. It would have helped if Harlan had been clear about that before printing what Ted had written to or about him.

From Harlan's memories of Ted, most of which are from the 60s - we can wonder why -, emerges a human being, literally without any clothes on. As usual, Harlan differentiates between the man and the art, so that unlike most writers, he sees nothing wrong with showing the human side of his friends - it doesn't take anything away from them. Harlan goes far with this, not too far, but definitely far, though not as far as he could, as there are things he "cannot tell" us. In every way, then, this is uniquely Harlan.

Hey, I just remembered and looked it up - Harlan did talk about Ted walking around his house "in the buff" and staying with him "for a while" in his introduction to "Runesmith" from PARTNERS IN WONDER.

The book review on ALIVE AND WELL that Harlan did for the L.A. TIMES was quite superb and makes me wish Harlan had written more book reviews instead of movie reviews. On the other hand, maybe not, he coldn't allow himself to be completely honest about books, that would have backfired eventually.

I have to take a pause now - during the next few days and weeks I will read (for the first time) Sturgeon's DV story and the two stories Harlan highlighted in his book review. I'll report back with what I found. (We better do RUNESMITH in a thread of its own when we get to it because it's part of Harlan's oevre.)

Update July 8th: This post wasn't exactly clear and fair, so scroll down to read some necessary clarifications.
Last edited by Jan on Sun Jul 08, 2007 5:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Stugeon Favorites...and was not easy to decide!

Postby shagin » Wed Jun 27, 2007 5:39 pm

"If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" has to be my all time favorite Sturgeon story with "Vengeance Is" running a very tight second. If you haven't pondered the black crystal beauty that is "Vengeance Is", stop reading this and find it in the horror anthology DARK FORCES (I can't immediately recall if it saw publication elsewhere, and I don't have my resource library handy). I was introduced to Sturgeon's works through the good graces of Spider Robinson and what it was like to hug Brother Theodore. He also wrote a wonderful Buckleyesque piece entitled "Teddy The Fish" in MELANCHOLY ELEPHANTS that speaks as eloquently as any of HE's works on Sturgeon's capacity to love.

I appreciate the depth of "If All Men...". The opening paragraphs that inspire the sense of wonder as to what type of science fiction story Sturgeon is weaving were wonderfully done, and his take on multiple perspectives is perhaps the best use of that technique I've ever seen. The story inspired a theme for an alien culture as the basis of a Star Trek fan club (don't worry, I've flogged myself repeatedly for that one), I've shared it with anyone who shares my passion for short stories and is willing to sit long enough to read it, and it has sparked more than one serious debate in writers' groups and book circles.

shagin

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Postby Rick Ollerman » Thu Jun 28, 2007 6:16 am

I've never come across the Paul Williams statement (not for lack of searching the internet) but that's at least some kind of answer.

As for uncollected work, I saw Sturgeon and his wife, Jayne, at a Minicon convention in Minneapolis years ago. He did several readings, one of which was a very entertaining story about a toilet seat, of all things. It proved a sublime experience for all who indulged and at the time Sturgeon said it had never been collected. I wish I could recall if he said why or even why he had selected that story to read. It has in fact not appeared in any of my Sturgeon collections nor yet in any of the Collected Stories editions.

The convention actually published a limited, numbered hardcover book containing three stories and a bibliography they called "Maturity." It featured that story as well as "The Graveyard Reader" (one of my all time favorites) and the third I don't recall right now. At the time Sturgeon read the story "Maturity" he talked about how he had written several endings to the story and the one included in the convention book (the one he read aloud) was the one he liked the best. This may mean that multiple versions of that story may have been published.

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Postby Jan » Thu Jun 28, 2007 8:05 am

In his review of T.S. IS ALIVE AND WELL (a book I had put aside after wrestling for a bit with "To Here and the Easel"), Harlan refered us to two stories, and I've now read "The Girl Who Knew What They Meant", which is indeed one of Sturgeon's best - what a heartbreaking ending.

I started reading "If All Men..." (or at least one of the three German translations), which looks very promising, but unlike shagin I sure didn't care for the self-conscious opening. Whether Ted had an issue with other subgenres of SF or not, I'm not sure, but I don't want to try and figure that out while Ted is supposed to tell me a story.

Rick: I can't find the interview either, it was still there two months ago when I updated the German wiki, unless I'm imagining things. On PW's web page, on his CV, it says 16 volumes.

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Postby Tony Rabig » Fri Jun 29, 2007 8:33 am

The third story in that convention-published hardcover was "Bulkhead."

As for the number of volumes in that set, don't know if they'll go 15 or 16 -- don't much care, as long as they keep 'em coming until they run out of material. I wouldn't mind seeing them add a few more volumes to collect the novels as well.

I discovered Sturgeon in high school when I ran across a Ballantine reprint of E Pluribus Unicorn, which included "A Saucer of Loneliness." You've all probably read stories and novels that seemed to be written with you in mind -- I've found that with Sturgeon more frequently than almost any other writer. There are few who write so damned well about people, in genre or out, and the stories in Sturgeon Is Alive and Well always make me wish he'd done more mainstream work at novel length.

And for what it's worth, the mainstream novel that always struck me as having a Sturgeon feel to it (may not strike you the same way, but hey, to each his own) is Don Robertson's 1978 novel Mystical Union -- one of the great American novels of the 20th century and therefore naturally out-of-print.

Bests to all,

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Postby Jan » Mon Jul 02, 2007 9:56 am

I don't remember how I discovered Sturgeon, but if it wasn't through Harlan, at least the attraction was reinforced by Harlan who specifically recommended THE DREAMING JEWELS, which I liked (particularly the first half).

Anyway, I finished "If All Men Were Brothers" which is pretty straight-forward, although Sturgeon's intentions only become clear in the afterword. The story deals with the taboo of incest and made me recall many things Harlan said in his article about Sturgeon. I realized I had a much clearer concept of Sturgeon now, thanks to Harlan, which helps in some way.

At the center of the story lies a mystery, that of a sort of forbidden planet which we are led to want to now more about. What makes the planet so dangerous? The entire first half of the story is basically a lot of exposition that draws you in but seems overlong. The story only really begins when Charli meets Vorhidin and Tamba and they approach the planet. The best part of the story is his encouter with Tamba on the ship, his arrival on the planet and being a guest with Vorhidin's extended family.

The final act is rather philosophical and essayistic in nature - Sturgeon has trouble making complex arguments part of the story, so he has Vorhidin and Charli have a long conversation. That doesn't quite work, but on an intellectual level the last section still manages to engage. The implied diagnosis of our society is spot-on, even if Sturgeon was not covering new groud.

I still wish the story had remained where it was, for two reasons: One, I don't think the debate about incest is of much concern to anyone per se, nor can I see it do any good (consider some stupid father reading the story), and two, it sort of narrows down a story that was wonderfully open until that point. Don't get me wrong, the incest element was a vital part of the story, it just didn't have to end up being the main focus. There are a few underdeveloped aspects to the society Sturgeon describes, and I would have enjoyed learning a little bit more about other interesting or even "dangerous" aspects of it. There certainly wasn't sufficient reason for other people not to want to visit or trade with the planet.

In the afterword, Sturgeon told us about the idea behind the story and what he was trying to say about human intellectual laziness and its consequences. That certainly made sense.

Incidentally, the afterword was later reprinted in abbreviated form in Sturgeon's own book, so I guess even Sturgeon thought it was helpful.

Next: "Take Care of Joey", Harlan's other recommendation.

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Postby David Loftus » Mon Jul 02, 2007 12:05 pm

"Aaah, you craz' . . . sturgeon, he's a doctor, cut you open when you seeck." -- Chico Marx, "Horse Feathers"
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Jan » Tue Jul 03, 2007 1:32 pm

Back when I wrote about the essay, I neglected to get into what I found irritating, so I should mention the passage I was mainly referring to, apart from some slight, momentary problems I had with how Harlan depicted Sturgeon. The sentence in question is near the end, when Harlan specifies that he wrote the essay for Ted's ghost. What follows seems mainly a manifestation of arrogance: "Not for [...], nor for the publisher [...], and sure as hell not for admirers, fans, readers of Ted's work."

Nicely put. Shades of "Xenogenesis"? You tell me.

Anyway, the other story Harlan recommended, "Take Care of Joey" - it's really not an outstanding story at all, but it looks at the old question about human altruism. That does make it worth a look. I wish I had read this a few years ago before my sociology exams, when I didn't expect questions about altruism. We have experiments about altruism to this day because it remains a topic of much debate.

Dammit, the story shagin mentioned (and Adam-Troy Castro before him) is in none of Sturgeon's books!

By the way, the Sturgeon story I liked best, of the ones I've read so far, is "It", an exciting, unrelenting horror story (or novellette) with psychological underpinnings. Tony once brought it to my attention. I think it's from 1941 and it would have won any number of awards, had it been published after genre awards came into being. Those of you who know it, will probably agree.

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Postby Jan » Wed Jul 04, 2007 12:58 pm

Harlan made a comment in the Pavilion, which I hope I interpreted correcty, so here it is, and my reply.

Harlan wrote:I've been meaning to speak to you about this'n'that in your SPIDER FORUM discussion of the new Sturgeon essay. I was pleased, some few days ago, when you popped in and said you were starting that discussion; so I did what I almost never do--everyone will feel unfettered in their remarks, sanguine in the knowledge that I'm not looking over their shoulders--I went in and had a look. At that point, if I'm recalling precisely, there was only a two-part posting by you. And I ruminated for some while as to whether I should choose to address, well, what I sorta, er, um, sorta thought was a lumpnoggin complaint. Uh, not actually so much a "complaint" as a pecksniffian foof of displeasure...

I will speak to that foof with an emblematic, iconic, if not apocryphal, true story from my dear Susan:

One day a while back, Susan comes to me with pinwheels rotating in her brindle-colored eyes. She has in her hand a letter from a fan, sent to HERC. And she's waving it as she foams-at-the-id
with Brit-flavored imprecations. And here, approximately, as I recall it, was what this guy said:

(I'm paraphrasing.) I love Harlan Ellison's books. I think he's just wonderful, and I don't know why they don't carve his phizz up there on Mt. Rushmore. But I have a real complaint, and I think you should tell Mr. Ellison about this. I don't have much money, and I can't afford hardcover books, so I have to wait at least a year after a book comes out, to buy it off the web or from a second-hand bookshop, in paperback. I think Mr. Ellison shouldn't publish his books in hardcover, but only in paperback, which would make it easier for me."

There was no point answering the guy's letter. I meant him no harm, loyal friends and loyal fans (i.g. you) are hard to come by, and sweet mercy knows I put you people through enough shit as it is. And though he was a very slow pony encumbered by blinders, I knew if I got into it with him, I would insult him and likely lose a loyal reader. Not to mention that he would probably be bewildered that I'd found something so lumpnoggin'd in his decently, goodheartedly-intended communique.

This has been an Aesop Fable, Jan. True story; but now let's see if you can figure out how it applies to your first/second posts in re the Sturgeon essay ... on which I worked for five years. (If you ever see "Dreams With Sharp Teeth," you will see me, five years ago, sitting at my typewriter, carefully choosing the words--for the eighth, ninth, tenth time, whichever--that begin the most sedulously, exactly-as-I-wanted-to-write-it, hardest essay I've ever ventured.)

And knowing I won't go back to that SPIDER Forum to upbraid you or joust with you, you are free to ruminate on this reply from

Yr. Pal, Harlan


Jan wrote:Harlan, since when do you deem it necessary to talk to me by means of a fable? hehehe

So many long posts all of a sudden - I wish I knew how to be brief.

You're right.

Of course, SPIDER is not a platform for reviews but a discussion forum, so anything I contribute (speaking strictly for myself) is fragmentary. I sometimes have the time to write a review OF SORTS, but mostly it's just first impressions to be elaborated on later or left alone. Either way, when I say stupid crazy things, it's because I feel safe that when I say them (which I know I do, but I don't know how to spot them), SOMEONE ELSE WILL POINT THIS OUT, save me from burning in hell and offer another perspective, which is the whole idea of having a discussion and something I've tried to encourage. It's a safe environment to go out on a limb, and some of us did on occasion.

What you wrote in the essay is funny and profound. Told you so, meant it, and that was all I had to offer in terms of an overall evaluation, everything thereafter was just details that don't disturb the bigger picture. Going on record with specific impressions, at first I didn't even get around to say what I knew even more about a day or two later - the essay had enriched my impression of Sturgeon (who we know little about) and helped me understand his mindset and his writing better.

Anyway, my personal "pecksniffian foof of displeasure" with the essay was that I had read Sturgeon's introduction to your book for the second time just a few weeks earlier. What I failed to do, which I realized only now (*shudder*), is to specify that I was really only talking about the inclusion of Ted's essay about you. I did not mean to object AT ALL to the inclusion of previously available material in general (and little enough of it is available). I understand that for the sake of other readers (and instead of merely refering to it to sell extra copies of IHNM&IMS), even the Sturgeon text had every right to be there.

After telling you my overall opinion, I was noting down bits and pieces of my personal reading impressions and was not concerned anymore with doing the essay justice. (Who needs a review of an obituary?) At the point in the essay where Sturgeon's introduction appears, on the second page, it wasn't clear to me why anything Sturgeon had written about YOU would have to be in your essay about HIM, much less a laudation. That became clear later, and it's why I thought it would have been better to let the readers' expectations work for you, instead of against you, by marking the essay somewhere near the top as one about a friendship, a back-and-forth kind of thing that an obituary is usually not (though with writers it obviously can be). Anyway, just thoughts. I should have been much clearer, and a little more considerate.

I love the essay and am glad you cared enough to intervene.


What you guys let me get away with. *ts ts* I must be the only one here who read the essay at this point.

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Typos

Postby Rick Ollerman » Tue Jul 24, 2007 8:06 am

I followed your suggestion after querying Harlan in the Pavilion; I re-read and posted the actual typos this morning. So now that I've read most of the piece twice, I found it to be excellent. Like Harlan said towards the end, it was about the trails he and Ted cut together. It was not an objective piece, and I've never understood why so many people think that things like this should be, and I found it full of honest emotion. It's this rawness that I found touching and real. I didn't want the thing to end.

So that's my first blush, capsule opinion...

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Postby Jan » Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:30 pm

Didn't want it to end either. He has that nasty habit of making us curious about events he has no intention of relating. :-)
Considering how many drafts he wrote, it's interesting that the term 'raw' seems justified. I think Harlan is still all about getting it right the first time. He doesn't rewrite much, he prefers to start over. The original impetus remains inact, and you would destroy part of the emotional flow if you tinker with it too much. Most importantly here, he's not afraid of being personal, without "telling it all." He also knows that Sturgeon's legacy is secure, so he's free to cut out the laudation.

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Postby Rick Ollerman » Thu Jul 26, 2007 5:34 am

And I have to confess to a gutter curiosity as to the event that got Ted kicked out of Wonderland. I wonder if Sturgeon ever wrote about it.

The story about the guy reading one of Sturgeon's book at a bus stop is a good one. Years ago I met National Book Award winner Peter Matthiessen and he talked about how when he was first starting out, he made all sorts of plans as to what he'd say to the first person he came across reading one of his books in public. He said all these years later, it's never happened. The closest thing was when he saw a copy of one of his books on the seat of a car parked in a lot.

Matthiessen opened the door and left an autographed note in the book, then left. He thought that whomever was reading the book probably didn't even look at this scrap of paper but if they did they'd figure someone was just playing a joke on them.

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Intro to The Nail and the Oracle

Postby Tony Rabig » Wed Aug 01, 2007 8:19 pm

Finally got my copy of the book today and checked out Harlan's intro. Liked it a lot, about as much as you can like an extended eulogy.

I don't quite share Harlan's opinion of Sturgeon Is Alive and Well -- while the two stories Harlan singled out are good ones, I can't see the others as disappointments. I think "Suicide," "It's You," and "Slow Sculpture" are also winners, and as for the others -- well, even minor Sturgeon is better than many writers' best. A 12-story collection that's got 5 winners in it isn't a disappointment to me. Besides that, however, here was a book marketed as sf, and nearly half the stories in it were straight mainstream short stories. There's a reference in Harlan's intro to "Hurricane Trio" and "A Saucer of Loneliness" having been rewritten as sf. In SIAaW, we can see Sturgeon operating completely outside genre conventions -- and two of those five are cited by Harlan as packing the emotional punch we'd long since come to expect from Sturgeon. Sturgeon should have had the kind of mainstream career and success enjoyed by Vonnegut. In Sturgeon Is Alive and Well, we can catch a glimpse of what might have been.

The intro's a good piece -- worth buying the book for even if the book didn't have all those terrific stories. But a key line of it was, I think, in the brief eulogy that Harlan wrote just after Sturgeon died: "...no one who ever read The Dreaming Jewels or More Than Human or Without Sorcery ever got away clean because he could squeeze your heart till your life ached..."

Could he ever.


Bests to all,
--tr

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Postby Tony Rabig » Wed Aug 01, 2007 9:04 pm

Rick,

Sturgeon at the bus stop, Matthiessen in the parking lot...and Barry Malzberg at the restaurant:

I think this was in BNM's intro to Malzberg at Large -- if memory serves, he was in a hotel restaurant at a convention, and saw a fan reading one of his books, and told the fan that he was the author. The fan went off on him immediately: "I'm so tired of people snowing me, claiming to be writers. If you wrote this, what happens at the end of the section where etc. etc." Malzberg had delivered the book to the publisher a couple of years ago, and could no longer remember most of it. Think he said he hasn't run across anyone reading one of his books since, and hopes not to.

Ouch.


Bests,
--tr


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