Critic Punk

Sponsored Advertisement1

Sponsored By

More Than Human

Being More Than Human:
Theodore Sturgeon and the Allure of the Homo Gestalt

While wandering through a local booze and novel joint here in Portsmouth aptly named "Book & Bar," I stumbled across a text and an author I had never heard before: Theodore Sturgeon. After reading the first page of More Than Human I was instantly hooked: it was as if I was reading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked but the passages were more sinister and horrifically darker than Bradbury usually has the stomach to be. A brief search on Google yielded promising results. Apparently this author is a hidden gem. More Than Human won the International Fantasy Award for both fantasy and science fiction in 1954, the year after the novella was published. Writers of America named the text one of the top five "Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time" in 1964. Sturgeon even wrote two Star Trek screenplays for episodes "Shore Leave" (1966) and "Amok Time" (1967). More recently, he was inducted into The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2000. Ironically enough, and to give my instincts a modicum of credit, apparently it was Ray Bradbury who was influenced by him, not the other way around.

So how has this decorated science fiction and horror writer sailed quietly beneath my sci-fi nerd radar? Other writers who have published texts before I was born are publicly acknowledged canon staples: Frank Herbert (Dune series), Isaac Asimov (Foundation trilogy), and Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey) all immediately come to mind. Their posthumous popularity via film, television series, and so forth has no doubt solidified their place in any modern science fiction reader's consciousness. However, Sturgeon never quite eased into that space. Yet after reading More Than Human, I am positive that he should be there.

1. An Overview

More Than Human's genesis began with the novella Baby is Three, which was then rewritten to include an introductory section entitled The Fabulous Idiot, and then followed by an epiphany summary in Morality. The Fabulous Idiot begins with Lone, an "idiot" who has "exactly enough fear to keep his bones together and oiled" (1). It is impossible for him to anticipate or comprehend a single thing. He shifts as a skulking mass of instantaneously realized sensations; he is essentially the birth of the gestalt, which is an organized whole that is viewed as greater than the sum of its parts. I will dive into this concept later as it is the central theme of the text. Lone wanders through the woods and surrounding countryside aching to find some place of safety. He is subsequently attacked and left for dead, only to be discovered by a simple farmer and his wife who nurse him back to health until he leaves and builds his own dwelling back in the woods. During this time, Janie, a telekinetic child with an alcoholic mother, meets a set of twins named Bonnie and Beanie who cannot talk but possess the power to teleport. The three of them run away, discover Lone in the woods, and begin living together. Soon the group of four stumbles across Baby, a "mongoloid" child left behind by the farmer's dead wife who possesses the knowledge to understand everything. The five of them form the origin of the homo gestalt, and the rest of the novel explores the trials and tribulations that surround the group as they seek to "blesh" into one being.

2. "Bleshing" and the Homo Gestalt

Sometimes it is important to read book dedications. I say this because for the first sixty pages I did not have the slightest clue as to what tied all of the central characters together. At the beginning of More Than Human, Sturgeon dedicates the novel to a certain Nicholas Samstag, whom he refers to as "His Gestaltitude." Had I taken to time to research gestalt, I may have saved myself from having to read, and re-read several passages in the text. Gestalt psychology finds its origins in the Berlin School of thought in the 1920s. Gestalt psychology seeks to recognize meaning in chaos, or rather, it seeks to perceive the mind as a global whole with self-organizing compartments or tendencies. Therefore, each character in the book has a definitive role in the collective whole of the homo gestalt, or human collective organism. Janie, Bonnie and Beanie, and the Baby each have a specific role and gift that helps make a "super" organism. They "blesh," which is a combination of "blending" and "meshing" to act and think as one being.

3. The Issue with Lone

*** Potential Spoilers Below ***

However, the homo gestalt requires a fifth member, a "head," to act as its leader. Lone, who is in many ways a human sponge in the form of an idiot savant, does not suit their purposes. Baby, who can dictate his thoughts to Janie, relays the information to Lone as he realizes, for the first time, how the group operates as one. Lone "looked at them all, every one: arms to flex and reach, a body to care and repair, a brainless, but faultless computer" and shouts "[W]e'll grow, Baby. We just got born!" (60). But Baby and the rest know Lone is not the correct "fit." Janie reveals, "He says not on your life. He says not with a head like that" (60). The first section of the book then ends and the reader is abruptly introduced to Gerry, the "head" and final member of the homo gestalt in part two of the novel. Lone rescues Gerry, a telepathic sociopath void of a conscience on the brink of starvation, and brings him to meet the other four members.

Lone dies shortly thereafter. The ambiguous circumstances surrounding his death may call upon Sturgeon's fixation with the evolving being in this text, and an elimination of superfluous energies or parts. Lone's death serves to usher a greater homo gestalt into being, but the lack of sorrow is key here: the current homo gestalt does not have a conscience or an emotional stake in the world. All characters act in a chaotically neutral way that is devoid of any set of rules or morality. Nobody grieves Lone's death because none of the four characters possesses a means to grieve, which can quickly become a dangerous reality.

4. Gerry, Hip (Hippocrates) Barrows, and Morality

The introduction of Gerry, the "head" of the homo gestalt, has its own complications. Gerry is first shown being combative at a psychiatrist's office. Unbeknownst to the reader, this psychiatric meeting is, as far as the plot is concerned, at the end of the novel. Gerry's recollections to the psychiatrist help piece together a variety of odds and ends about what happens to the crew after Lone dies. Gerry is actively seeking to understand some sense of a moral code or ethics, which can only come if he is forced to realize it himself in these sessions. This process only became important to him after a series of events that actually occur in the third part of the novel. Confusing? Yes. Yes it is. Essentially, years ago, in an effort to prevent a certain Lieutenant "Hip" Barrows from discovering an anti-gravity machine both Baby and Lone were able to construct together, Gerry enters Hip's mind and seeks to break it. This renders the Lieutenant borderline insane for nearly seven years. Janie, who recognizes that the Lieutenant would become an essential part of the homo gestalt, nurses him mentally and physically back to health, just as Lone had nursed Gerry. Janie and Hip then confront Gerry, who is made to feel shame for the first time in his life. Hip then serves as Gerry's ethical and moral conscience, the final part of the homo gestalt. The final sentence of the novel shows Gerry, stretching his arms with tears streaming down his swirling iris eyes, understanding for the first time the deep power and purpose of human "self-respect" (186). He says, "Thank you… thank you, thank you" before he "humbly" joins the perfect telekinetic, telepathic, teleporting, all-knowing, all-feeling human gestalt.

*** Potential Spoilers Above ***

5. Final Thoughts

This is certainly a challenging text, and one that I personally had to read nearly twice to fully understand all of the working parts. If anything, it seems as if Sturgeon modeled his novel over the idea of the homo gestalt as textual gestalt: all of the small parts inevitably lead to one conclusion that was greater than all the ancillary details on their own. His writing style does not make allowances for unperceiving readers. Every sentence is crafted with purpose. For this reason, sometimes, reading the text could be an exhausting enterprise. I caught myself going back again and again to reanalyze paragraphs that had hidden clues of information. I even drew a flow chart to try and piece a timeline of how things had occurred in the plot. But for me, this is part of the fun of the novel. I was moved to carry out these extra examinations because the book itself inspired that kind of action; I simply wanted to know more. I would not recommend this text to anyone who prefers what I like to refer to as "candy" science fiction, or books that fall into more of the Harry Potter realm of reading. It's not that I don't care for Rowling, I just sometimes crave something darker and more complex. Conclusively, this is a fantastic text, and one that I find my mind keeps drifting to as I watch people working in pairs, running in groups, acting as one team, or rather "bleshing" as you will, as they figure out their place on this chaotic planet.

Review Scoring System: Grading A-F
Originality of ContentA-
Plot StructureB
Potential Achieved90.27%

Back to Top...
Sponsored Advertisement2

Sponsored By

Copyright©'' All rights reserved | SOCIAL CONTACT JOBS ABOUT
XHTML 1.0 Strict