Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Theodore Sturgeon "Ask The Next Question."

Before you read this, you really should read the wonderful post right before this one by Cindy Holby and maybe read my comment on that post. It's amazing how the posts on this blog interweave so well when we don't hold a "Green Room" discussion before hand to agree on the Month's topics!

Theodore Sturgeon was known for his powerful sex scenes but not at all for Romance or even Relationship.

He was the original author who invented Pon Farr for Star Trek and drafted the episode AMOK TIME where we learn Vulcan males go into heat (a reversal of the usual pattern on Earth). So in a way he's the father of SF-Romance as a genre!

Sturgeon's SF held many reversals and twists on Earth's version of sex and reproduction just like Amok Time's male heat. In other instances he explored the darkest side of pure nightmare. You may remember some of his exquisite titles (he was exceptional at titling and it's well worth studying how he did it!)

Works by Theodore Sturgeon Available on Amazon

Theodore Sturgeon's wife was an accomplished Tarot reader and he admired her for that. I'll never forget when she read for me at his request and then asked me to read for her!

He was master of the dimensions of reality beyond the material, and his in-person personality was very different from the impression I got from reading his work. Yet, I had studied his work carefully. I didn't want to write like him, but I wanted to write about what he was writing about, using the ingenious thinking methods that would eventually produce the concept of Pon Farr (and you all know how many billions of fanzine words have been written on that subject).

At the time he first impressed me with a book called THE DREAMING JEWELS, nobody in that world believed a serious SF show would make it to TV. SF on TV was only kiddie shows and clones of The Lone Ranger In Space (which I loved, but it's not SFR!)

I wanted to probe into areas he left totally blank (Relationship as a plot-driving mechanism), but apply some of his techniques in turning the story. I stole techniques and issues from more than a dozen writers, often using many of them in one story.

I have this ongoing project of writing about those people whose work influenced mine, and in 1997 I wrote the following about Theodore Sturgeon.

This little essay is posted on the List of those who have influenced me

If I were better at keeping notes, this list would double in size.


The first short story of Ted Sturgeon's that engraved his byline on my mind was titled "Bianca's Hands."

That short story contained a penetrating image that, for me, defined both the genre of horror and the reasons why people are so fascinated by this genre. The image was of detached hands chasing the protagonist around her house. It gave me nightmares.

It also defined for me why I don't like horror, but that's another story. Having taken notice of Theodore Sturgeon's writing, I studied it, because even then I wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. And so I came to understand how Ted handled various themes, most particularly alien reproduction.

In the course of this, I ran across some interview or article, I forget now, where Ted's concept of the Q with the arrow through it, which represents his own personal, primary philosophical stance on how to live the best possible life, was explained in some detail. In brief, it is simply, "Ask The Next Question". That's harder than it sounds, for it requires that you be able to penetrate the walls that your cultural conditioning builds inside your mind, compartmentalizing it.

Formulating the next question is very hard. It means you must never stop thinking, never take things at face value, never accept the illusion that you really understand everthing about a subject, never accept any theory as final.

The Q with the Arrow means "Life is Process" -- a dynamic, ongoing, neverending search over the rainbow, beyond morning, into the Unknown. It is an attitude which is almost exactly like Gene Roddenberry's "Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations" -- and Gene's idea that "When We Are Wise" we won't be xenophobic. Ted and Gene had a lot in common, not least of which was a deep, inner, gentleness of being.

Many many years after reading "Bianca's Hands," when I had become a devoted fan of the first Star Trek Series, I read in The Making of Star Trek that the upcoming season of the show would include a story about Spock's mating drive and that it had been written by Theodore Sturgeon. I spent the ensuing weeks imagining what that script would include. I had it in my mind, long before seeing it (or hearing rumors on the ST grapevine on what it would include) a sequence of scenes that had to be there, the basic premise of the Vulcan mating drive, and long sequences of dialogue. I knew that script word-for-word before I ever saw the show.

The most stunning thing about this was that, when I saw the show in first broadcast -- I was proved correct in every surmise. Knowing Ted's writing, I knew exactly what he'd do with the Trek premise.

For me, this validated my ambition to become a professional in this genre. I can do this kind of work. It was a very gratifying experience. "Amok Time" became my all-time favorite Trek episode.

But that's not all.

Years and years after that, at a Star Trek Convention in Great Gorge, New Jersey, I met Theodore Sturgeon for the first time.

I went into the room for my first panel, and he was the speaker on stage right before my panel. I sat in the audience, enthralled. And I asked a question which, today, I don't even recall. It started an audience discussion and I suppose brought me to his attention.

Later, I saw him sitting alone in the bar, and I went over to introduce myself. At that point, I was already well known as the primary author of the Bantam paperback, Star Trek Lives! I can't now recall if this was before or after I became the Chairman of the Science Fiction Writers of America Speaker's Bureau.

He taught me to drink Compari properly (no water, one ice cube) as he was famous for doing with all his acquaintances, and we talked for 3 hours or more, until one of us had another panel to do. During the course of this discussion, he personally explained the silver Q with an arrow through it that he always wore around his neck. I had forgotten all about it. I learned it the second time, in depth and detail during that weekend, and recognized in it one of the core elements in my own personal philosophy. (possibly I had absorbed this in my earliest reading years partly from his work)

Later that weekend, we were assigned to the same autographing table, and between customers, we sat and talked and talked -- and I finally got up nerve to tell him he was the author of the one story in all SF/F that I really HATED ("Bianca's Hands") and the one story in all televised SF that I thought was the best thing ever written in SF/F -- "Amok Time" -- and I told him how I had anticipated every element in it, scene for scene and word for word, based only on knowing he was the author and that it was television. As Trek aficionados know, the script Ted turned in is quite different from what was broadcast, and what I constructed in my mind at the time was the broadcast version.

At any rate, this started another marathon talkathon between us.

Years and years after that, at a World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco, I ran across Ted with his wife Jane, and they invited me out to dinner. We got to talking about the Occult, and one thing led to another, and I admitted I was running the Tarot Workshop at the Worldcon. so we talked Tarot. Turned out Ted's wife Jane reads cards too, and during this discussion, she read for me. Afterwards, she was rather surprised at herself for it was the first time she'd ever eaten an entire meal in trance. She could barely remember what she'd eaten. And the reading was exceptionally good.

When Ted, May He Rest In Peace, left this world, I grieved seriously.

Lately, I haven't seen anyone carrying on the Q/Arrow philosophy, and I think it's time to create this little memorial to a great man.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. "Formulating the next question is very hard. It means you must never stop thinking, never take things at face value, never accept the illusion that you really understand everthing about a subject, never accept any theory as final."

    I've always tried to do this. I won't claim that I've succeeded.

    It seems to me holding on to looking at the universe through a child's eyes helps a lot. A child knows knowledge is power. She also knows she doesn't know much and desperately wants to know everything and finds it all terrifying, but has no choice but to accept she still doesn't know much. Adults don't know much either, but the terror of not knowing has prompted them to believe that they do know everything. I call it 'Positive Self-Deception.' It's these adults who find children particularly annoying, in my observation. Probably because they subconsciously know the children can see right through them and the children remind them that, no, they still really do not know everything, or hardly anything at all.

  2. Thanks for the glimpses of Theodore Sturgeon, who was one of the first SF / fantasy / horror writers I read, one of my favorites in my teens (along with Blackwood, Machen, Lovecraft, and the early Bloch, Bradbury, and Matheson) -- one of the authors who taught me what spec fic should be.

    Since I came to the field from a fascination with horror, I enjoyed "Bianca's Hands." However --

    "The image was of detached hands chasing the protagonist around her house."

    Actually, no. The hands never become detached from the woman, who isn't the protagonist. The protagonist is a man who marries a homely, feebleminded woman because he's in love with her beautiful hands, which seem to have a life of their own. The story ends with the hands (still attached to the poor, oblivious girl's arms) strangling the man.

    In fact, it's a twisted love story. So is Sturgeon's inimitable classic "real vampire" novel, SOME OF YOUR BLOOD, in part. And of course Sturgeon explored unconventional sexual relationships in many of his works, e.g. the novel VENUS PLUS X and the short story about the "loverbirds," a pair of alien lovers who turn out to be same-sex.