Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Book Review: More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

This is the second book in the new American Science Fiction Collection, volume one, edited by Gary Wolfe.

Pros: parts 2 & 3 are brilliantly written with an interesting message, very diverse cast of characters 

Cons: part 1 has several purposely obscure but important pieces of information, 1950s racial situations/terminology

Normally I write my own synopsis for books I review, but this book's quite complex so I've decided to grab one from the Indigo website instead:

From one of the greatest practitioners of science fiction comes a genre-bending novel that is as affectingly humane as it is speculatively daring.
There's Lone, who can make a man blow his own brains out just by looking at him. There's Janie, who moves things without touching them, and the unique power of the teleporting twins. There's Baby, who invented an antigravity engine while still in the cradle, and Gerry, who has everything it takes to run the world -- except for a conscience. Separately, they are talented freaks. Together they compose a single organism that may represent the next step in evolution. As the protagonist of More Than Human struggle to find out whether they are meant to help humanity or destroy it, Theodore Sturgeon explores the questions of power and morality, individuality and belonging, with sophistication and lyricism rarely seen in science fiction.

This is the kind of book that makes me question my 'if I'm not enjoying it, stop reading it' policy.  The book is split into 3 parts, and I actively disliked part 1 while finding parts 2 and 3 brilliant.  Had this not been a review book, I would have stopped reading in part 1, which would have been a shame.  Part 1 introduces the decently large cast of very diverse characters including a mentally handicapped man, a baby that won't grow, two black girls, etc.  It does this by jumping from person to person, often giving descriptions via characters who see the world... differently.  Lone, for example, is mentally challenged and only towards the end of the section does he develop speech and anything close to a 'normal' understanding of events.  But his scenes are still written in an understandable way.  

The author, however, purposefully obscured certain events in this part of the book making the reader guess what's going on.  By the time you understand the situation, you have to go back and reevaluate what's happened.  For example, there's a father who has secluded himself and his two daughters on a piece of land.  It's easy to assume from things in the text that he's sexually abusing his oldest daughter.  Or maybe he's just beating her to drive out her sexual awakening.  Or maybe nothing abusive is happening at all besides the girls being locked up.  Even after finishing the book I'm not sure which it was, though later events make me assume it's the second scenario.

The first section is set-up for the rest of the book, and the characters the author spends so much time introducing aren't as active in the other two parts (they're mentioned and shown in flashbacks in part 2 and only one of them shows up for any length of time in part 3, with the others having bit parts). 

Modern readers will find a few scenes uncomfortable as 1950s racial prejudice is portrayed, including period terminology.

Parts 2 and 3 have a lot more suspense and drive behind them.  While I felt like putting part 1 down and not picking it back up, parts 2 and 3 had me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next.  The writing was clear, linear and the author tantilized you with bits of the answer at a time.

The ending was great and worth pushing through the first section to get to. 

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