People spend a lot of time talking about ‘the Golden age of science-fiction’. There is always a tone in the voice of people who do it to suggest that if you are not dipping your toes back into the well of last century’s sci-fi, you are truly missing out. I may have agreed with this idea at some other point in my life, but now I just feel like it might not be the case. Still, I often succumb to the peer-pressure of reading the classics. Sometimes it pays off.
Theodore Sturgeon was Harry Pottering a decade and change before J.K.Rowling was born. The book is about a strange cruelly treated child who runs away from his abusive adoptive parents to first join a circus and then ultimately learn that he is more than the humans he is surrounded by. But unlike Rowling, Sturgeon doesn’t do this in seven books and is the worse for it. Our protagonist, Horty, is changed seemingly all at once in a puff of magic smoke. It didn’t make for the best story arch.
The book’s apologia is simple. The book is wonderfully readable. Despite not really loving the story, I was never bored. Sturgeon kept a great pace and tension, which is a testimony to his style. The characters are memorable to the point that I didn’t mind spending time with them.
But I never truly cared. I felt as if I could really feel the 1950’s in the story, and something about that setting doesn’t scream ‘science-fiction’ to me. And really, the science-fiction of it really only appears at the end of the book, and is kind of weak at that.
But what really got me about this book was an eleventh-hour exposition dump to spell out everything that was going on in the story. It was all the kind of things that I feel a better book might have fleshed out in a different way. Perhaps gradually, over time. Is this the fault of the author? Maybe not. The conventions of a genre in its infancy are going to be much different than those of a genre that is now well and truly seasoned. I won’t get into the semiotics of why this is (though boy would I love to), but to give a simple analogy; writing within a genre is like a technology, and reading a book that is too old is like driving a modern car your whole life and suddenly getting into a model T. That’s how this book felt at that exposition dump; like I was reading something crafted for my ancestors. And in a respect that is absolutely correct. A model T wouldn’t feel like a car to you as much as it would feel like some kind of pointless tractor. Likewise, this book barely registered as sci-fi to me.