The next book for my Readings in the Genre: Science Fiction Classics for my Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University was More Than Human (Science Fiction 186 pages) by Theodore Sturgeon.
Science Fiction is one of those genres where a plot about aliens or humans with extra abilities can be used like a window into the social and cultural norms of the current society. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon accomplished this on a variety of levels, with one of the key themes used throughout the book being one of repression.
All of the main characters throughout this book are repressed in some way and don’t fit into the social norms established for that time. The first main character in this book, the Idiot who eventually becomes Lone, starts out as nothing more than an extra character in a world he doesn’t understand. It took me a really long time to figure out that he was a real human because this book is classified as Science Fiction, which means he could have been a robot or an alien or a zombie. One never really knows. But as it turns out, he was human. He was just a human that was probably classified as having some sort of mental disability, which meant that society as a whole didn’t treat him very well. Idiot/Lone was desperate for some sort of social interaction but he had no idea what that meant or that it was even something that he was missing. In this way, society discarded him and left him to his own devices. When Lone meets the Prodds and they take care of him and he starts to learn about communication and farming, he starts to realize that he really is someone who is different than the rest of the people, but different in an okay way. Some of the most powerful parts of this book are when Idiot is talking about friendship and he has Janie ask Baby about what friendship means and Janie tells him that “He says it’s somebody who goes on loving you whether he likes you or not.”
Lone didn’t learn to take care of himself or to love himself until he went and spent time with the Prodds and they taught him about what love and unity is like. They showed him patience and let him learn things on his own time. They cared for him, though it seemed to them at times that there was no hope for him. They stuck with him and just kept trying anyway, and eventually, he learned how to talk, then how to communicate, then how to help. He learned about love and friendship from them and had Baby define it for him. But Lone learned how to take care of and love himself because of the Prodds. And he was a better head for the gestalt than Gerry was because of his compassion, his ethos, which Gerry would never have and so the gestalt needed another person. And the greater whole grew and they became again a part of a greater whole.
I think Lone’s death was designed to prove that the characters are just as frail and human as everyone else, as much as it seems like it was a death out of the Stone Age and should have been something preventable, even at the time this book was written. Because before Lone’s death, I got the sense that the characters in the novel were more than human even in the sense of basic mortality. Look at how long Baby must have survived in the cradle at Prodd’s farm before being rescued by Lone and taken back to the cave with the rest of the gestalt. Or how many wounds Lone survived when he dealt with Evelyn’s father. I think Lone’s death was intended perhaps to humanize the parts of the gestalt and show them mortality, but it didn’t teach them fear. I don’t think that any of them actually feared physical injury or death, but just accepted it at face value, like Janie did when she was discussing how Lone got himself killed in such a stupid way.
The other main characters are all repressed as well, starting with Beanie and Bonnie, who are twins, but are African American. This is an issue of racial repression, as Gerry, Alicia, and Janie are all white. In the 1950s when this book was written, racial discrimination was a huge factor in the daily lives of just about everyone. When everyone moved into Alicia’s house, Miriam originally took Beanie and Bonnie away for the meals and it was as though they were all separated, even though they all lived in the same house. Back in the 1950s, it was a huge deal for white people and colored people to be seen being social together and this created a huge issue with repression.
All of the main characters dealt with repression based on their inability to get along with normal society because they had unique ways of looking at the world and unique ways of dealing with their environments. Individually, they were all broken, but together they became much greater than the sum of their parts.
Gerry asked Doctor Stern what the point of all the discrimination was and he was told that everyone likes to make themselves seem better than other people. I think that’s true in today’s society as well, but it’s not nearly to the extent as it was back in the 1950s, though it doesn’t feel like we’ve made that much progress sometimes.
Even the technology is repressed in this book. Lone cares about the Prodds, even though he understands that something went terribly wrong when we returns to return the axe that he borrowed from them. Whereas before, the house was clean, the animals cared for, and the farm work done, when Lone returns, the house is decrepit and Mrs. Prodd is nowhere to be seen. Lone knows what happened to Mrs. Prodd and he knows that Mr. Prodd can’t deal with the Baby. So he starts cleaning things and Mr. Prodd joins in with the cleaning and then Lone notices that the truck is stuck so when he returns to their living area, he encourages Janie to have Baby tell him what he needs to do in order to help Mr. Prodd to be able to farm more efficiently. In the end, he winds up creating some sort of anti-gravity engine that is very simple to attach to the truck. He wants it to be a surprise for Mr. Prodd so he installs it before the sun comes up only to find that Mr. Prodd is gone and won’t likely come back. The technology is something the world isn’t ready for and its very existence could cause great harm, so it is repressed.
All the different children were left to their own devices, and each of them grew up in individual parts of their world without love, companionship, or friendship until they started meeting each other. Even once they did meet each other, they were still alone and isolated from the world in which the rest of the people live. Even after meeting each other, they were still individually repressed until Barrow finally joins them. I got the impression that Janie’s mother was hosting gentlemen in a fashion that included much more than just drinking, which did not help Janie and her development.
I am glad that Sturgeon didn’t go into detail about what Gerry thought was fun was he decided to be a bully. Janie discusses it a little bit, about how he went to school because it amused him and how he continuously strove to be the best at everything he attempted, but how when he realized that there was no competition, things became boring. It’s almost the classic story of a kid who has been bullied for his whole life who suddenly gains great power and then abuses that power. Thankfully, all Gerry does is disguise himself in order to get rid of the anti-gravity tractor so the world isn’t destroyed. The book definitely encourages everyone to treat everyone else better and with more compassion and to be more than human.
None of the characters would have been able to function as a greater whole together if they had been accepted and supported earlier in their lives. I think their individual repression of themselves was a key component to them actually needing each other. If they hadn’t have needed each other and called out to each other, then they wouldn’t have come together to blesh and work towards being better together.
I think one of the reasons this novel actually works is because it shows that all of the parts of the gestalt started out as what most would consider to be less than human. Each one had to travel their own path in poor living conditions in order to come together as a whole, and even when they were all placed into what society deemed a positive living condition with Alicia Kew, that it nearly destroyed the gestalt due to complacency and playing by society’s rules, which weren’t effective rules for them.
Overall, I think I would rate this book as a two on my rating scale. It brought up a lot of really good points, but the style kind of threw me.