Read Slow Sculpture Online

Authors: Theodore Sturgeon

Slow Sculpture (41 page)

Aw, shove it up.… Now you got
me
doing it. I’m terribly sorry, ladies and gentleman. These interruptions are all coming from The Lower Half of My Brain. Unlike most people, I have a brain which is bisected
horizontally
, into upper and lower hemispheres. The upper half handles cognitive and verbal skills, motor activities, life-support—everything, really. That upper half, the ‘higher function’ if you will, is
me
, the one who addresses you now, and I do all the work around here. The Lower Half does nothing but make up puns and dirty jokes all day long.

— “coprophilia?” “Not really; I’ve room for dessert” —

Cut it out, I said! Excuse me, dear reader. I can usually manage to deny the Lower Half access to our vocal chords, suppressing nine out of ten puns that he produces, both from a sense of civic duty, and from an aversion to being punched. But Lower often seems to seize control of my typing fingers, and is particularly hard to discipline whenever Ted Sturgeon comes up—

—according to Lady Jayne, that was all the time—

Just ignore him. It doesn’t make him stop, but it builds character. As I was saying, the subject of Ted Sturgeon makes it very difficult to control my Lower Half. Ted, you see, had an overdeveloped Lower Half himself, and his and mine flirted shamelessly together.

—want to rephrase that, Upper?

Ted was a paronomasiac. A compulsive punster. I have, thanks to Lower, acquired some small ill repute in that regard myself. When Ted came to Halifax to be Toastmaster for Halcon, our annual science fiction convention, he came with the attitude and aspect of the Old Punslinger who has heard that there’s a fast new young punk in town, and plans to settle which is the faster. We met in front of the crosstime saloon with puns blazing (and fannish eyeballs glazing) and the punfire lasted all weekend long—

—talk about selling your birthright for a pot of message—

Nonetheless he redeemed himself at the eleventh hour. When the chips were down, Ted’s better self regained control; he met the test of manhood. The despairing con committee, besieged with complaints, had taken us to dinner at a curry restaurant, whose menu listed over a hundred different kinds of curry, by number. Naturally (if that is the word I want), Ted and I went down the list, punning on each name in rotation, volleying back and forth; Ted would imitate the unforgettable voice of Mr. Bacciagalupe from the Abbot and Costello show and say, “Bud’s cigars stink; open the Vindaloo,” so I’d do my Elvis impersonation on “Love me Tandoor,” then Ted would read, “Chicken Phal … but was not seriously injured,” and so on. Cries of protest from neighboring tables, the pleas of the con-com, all went unheeded. People began leaving—

—which did not curry favor with the management—

—dammit, Lower Half, cut that out!… and things looked grim.

Then we reached number 43.

It was Ted’s turn, he had started this. He wrestled with his conscience, opened and closed his mouth several times … and resigned. There was only one way to properly salute such decency. I wavered … and let Ted’s magnificent example guide me, let his courage show me the way. I too resigned, and the contest was declared a draw.

Number 43 was “Chick peas curry.”

So in spite of the story you are about to read, I insist that Ted Sturgeon was a man of
character
, a man of decency and principle, a man with higher—

—for Chrissake, Upper, he wrote a whole book about a guy who drinks menstrual blood; he wrote a story about a guy who saved the world while sitting on the toilet—

—he wrote warm, gentle, insightful stories which explored the nature of human love, which resonated with hope and wisdom, he delineated the tragicomic—

—he wrote a book full of hermaphrodites and a novel about motherfuckers and a story about a man who had a deep emotional and sexual relationship with a pair of hands dangling from an imbecile, for God’s sake

I mean, we’re talking here about a guy even more bent than Phil Farmer, even more disgusting than Jonathan Swift, with a finer grasp of the grotesque than even David Cronenberg—

—not only the most literate and lyrical writer science fiction ever had, but one of the nicest, most decent and genuinely lovable human beings that ever—

—and the story this reader is about to sample is, let us face it, a minor story, a story so twisted that even
National Lampoon
must have hesitated to print it, a truly gross little gem about The Ultimate Felch—so why don’t you just shut up and—

—this story makes many subtle and trenchant satiric points about the retentive personality and the societal ramifications of the organic lifestyle and—

—there’s no other kinds, once you’ve tasted hinds, that’s what the story has to say, Upper—

—dammit, Lower, I loved the man as much as I loved my mother, he wrote a story that kept me from killing myself once, okay?

—this may be the only story ever written after reading which you do not want to follow Ted’s lifelong advice and ‘Ask the next question,’ Upper—

—this is my bloody introduction, not yours, and I’m not going to let you screw it up, and if you don’t like it, you can kiss my—

—gotcha—

—aw, sh—

—gotcha again! —

Dear reader, you may or may not “enjoy” (whatever that means) the story that follows. It certainly is not even in the running for the best story that Ted ever wrote. But once you have read it, I defy you to forget it. I can’t.

And believe me, a couple of times I’ve tried.…

Story Notes Volume XII

Noël Sturgeon

The stories in this volume were written, for the most part, between 1970 and 1972. Before this, Sturgeon, separated from his third wife Marion and their four children in Woodstock, NY, was living in Los Angeles, initially with Harlan Ellison® (see Volume XI:
The Nail and the Oracle
) and then in a run-down motel in Sherman Oaks. He wrote few stories, but worked in television (for example the three
Star Trek
teleplays “Amok Time,” (aired 9/15/67) “Shore Leave,” (aired 12/29/66) and “The Joy Machine”), wrote introductions and book reviews, and tried without much success to become a screenwriter. He also tried to sell his own stories to movie producers, and was especially successful with his novel
More Than Human
. In fact, he spent two weeks working with Orson Welles in an attempt to produce a treatment for
More Than Human;
but this arrangement fell through. (
More Than Human
was optioned continually from this period until 2000, but a movie has never been made.)

In 1969 Sturgeon started a correspondence with a young American fan living in England, Wina Golden, who was a journalist and photographer. The correspondence blossomed into a romance, and Wina began living with Ted in Los Angeles in the spring of 1969, changing her last name to Sturgeon. They had a son, Andros, in 1970. From a much younger generation than Sturgeon, Wina’s journalistic experience with rock musicians; her do-it-yourself philosophy in terms of food, clothes, and health; as well as her determination to earn her own living, had a deep influence on Sturgeon. During this time, they began to socialize with rock musicians, such as Peter Tork of the Monkees; Mama Cass of the Mamas and Papas; Crosby, Stills and Nash; and Joni Mitchell, many of whom had read Sturgeon and were influenced by his ideas of gestalt, love, pacifism, and resistance to social conventions. Sturgeon claimed that Mama Cass was a special fan of his story “Saucer of Loneliness,” and when approached to film it, he recommended that she play the part of the female protagonist.
(It was finally made into a
Twilight Zone
episode in 1986, written by David Gerrold, with Shelley Duvall in the main role.) David Crosby hired Sturgeon to write a screenplay of his dystopian song, “Wooden Ships”; however, it never went past the point of a first few drafts. (See Crosby’s introduction to Volume VI.)

In 1971, a collection of Sturgeon stories entitled
Sturgeon is Alive and Well
(G.P. Putnam’s) was published. Given that Sturgeon had written only about two stories a year since 1960, it represented a significant comeback for him. This long period of writer’s block, though one of several in his career, was much more well-known because it occurred after he was very well established as one of the best writers in the field, and speculation was constant about why more stories did not appear—hence the title of the collection. One of the consequences of having one’s writer’s block be such a matter of public concern was that Sturgeon acquired a reputation as having written very few stories in his lifetime, though
The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon
belies this, comprising 221 stories. The fact that so many of them are very good, classics in the field, means that Sturgeon broke his own law in this regard; Sturgeon’s Law holds that 90% of
everything
is crap, an adage he crafted in response to the constant downgrading of science fiction as a literary genre.

Because of the influence of its muse,
Sturgeon is Alive and Well
is often called “the Wina Stories” by Sturgeon aficionados. In
The Complete Stories
, the stories from this anthology are split up between Volumes XI and XII, and are slightly out of chronological order. But Sturgeon meant them to be together, and put a lot of thought into the arrangement. In a 1979 letter to his agent, Kirby McCauley, he writes: “This collection is one of the very best balanced of all my titles, half sf and half mainstream and a fine showcase for what I do.” A 1954 story, “To Here and the Easel,” was the only story written outside of the 1969–1971 period, presumably included because it was a story about writer’s block (it appears in Volume VIII). “Jorry’s Gap,” “It Was Nothing, Really!,” and “Brownshoes,” all published in 1969, and “Take Care of Joey,” published in 1970, are in Volume XI. All of the other stories from
Sturgeon is Alive and Well
are in this volume.

Both Wina and Ted describe these stories as being written in an outpouring. For example, Wina recalls going down to the office at the La Fonda Motel (in Sherman Oaks where she first lived with Ted), and encountering a man who looked at her and said: “It’s a beautiful day,” and she
knew that he was actually saying it about her. She told Ted the story, and wished out loud that she was a girl who always knew what they meant. Ted immediately went to the typewriter sat down and wrote “The Girl Who Knew What They Meant” in about two hours. In another case, she recounted a former boyfriend breaking up with her by saying: “It’s not that. It’s you,” in response to which Ted wrote the story “It’s You!” According to Wina, the writing of “Slow Sculpture,” occurred shortly after a party at Gene Roddenberry’s home, where the
Star Trek
producer was given a bonsai tree. On the drive home, Wina wondered out loud if the wiring and pruning used to shape a tree could be metaphorically used to shape a human, calling bonsai a form of “slow sculpture.” (Personal correspondence, Wina Sturgeon) Many of the stories have a female character with Wina’s distinctive apricot-colored hair and eyes.

Throughout his career, Sturgeon often wrote stories in a one-off fashion, as evidenced by the manuscripts in his papers, which very rarely have any rewritten sections, multiple drafts or crossed-out words, but appear to have been produced in one sitting. A similar but longer run of stories occurred from 1951–1959, after Sturgeon moved to upstate New York with his third wife, Marion. But clearly, “the Wina Stories” were felt as a special case of this ability to produce story after story in a sudden outpouring. Sturgeon’s introduction to
Sturgeon is Alive and Well
recounts this process.

Yes, I am alive and well
.

Once to a perceptive friend I was bemoaning the fact that there was a gap in my bibliography for 1940 to 1946. (Actually some stories were published during the period, but only one had been written after 1940.) What wonders I might have produced had I not been clutched up, I wailed. And he said no, be of good cheer. He then turned on the whole body of my work a kind of searchlight I’d not been able to use, and pointed out to me that the early stuff was all very well, but the stories were essentially entertainment; with few exceptions they lack that Something to Say quality which marked the later output. In other words, the retreat, the period of silence, was in no way a cessation, a stopping. It was a silent working out of ideas, of conviction, a profound selection. The fact that the process went on unrecognized and beyond or beneath my control is quite beside the point. The work never stopped
.

I’ve held hard to that revelation in recent years, and no longer go into
transports of anguish when the typewriter stops. I do other things instead, in absolute confidence that when the silent subterranean work is done, it will surface. When it does so, it does with blinding speed—a short story, sometimes, in two hours. But to say I wrote it in two hours is to overlook that complex, steady, silent processing and reprocessing that has been going on for months and often years. Say then I typed it in two hours. I do not know how long it took to write. I could only type it when it was finished
.

I do not know if the package you hold in your hands will be regarded as remarkable in the bibliography. Biographically it represents a miracle, and engenders some tributes
.

I was living at the bottom of the mountain in Neverneverland, far under a rock. Looking back on that time, I now know that I was unaware of just how far I had crawled and just how immobile my crouch. Suddenly one day there exploded a great mass of red hair attached to a laughing face with a beauty spot right in the center of her forehead and a totally electric personality. Her name was Wina and she was a journalist and photographer and a dress designer and a dancer and she traveled 6,500 miles with her cat (inside of whom she smuggled four kittens) to marry me. She crawled way in under that rock and hauled me out. We acquired a squirrel and some tropical fish and a baby (whose name is Andros Theodore, which means “Man is the gift of God,” Lindsay Sturgeon) and set up housekeeping
.

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