“Schemes of Salvation”

Review: “Schemes of Salvation: The Literary Explorations of Theodore Sturgeon”, Brian Stableford, 1982, 1995.

Stableford regards the main theme of Sturgeon’s life and works as frustration and miraculous solutions to it. His frequent writer’s block was a manifestation of that frustration.

 Like most critics, he regards Sturgeon’s supreme strength as characterization. Sturgeon was allegedly good at seeing the cruelty behind civilization and the ways “conventional morality” (supposedly Sturgeon distinguished that from “fundamental ethical systems”) created anxieties and phobias hence some of his horror stories like “Bianca’s Hands”.

Stableford contends Sturgeon never was onboard with John W. Campbell’s enthusiasm for science and technology. He suggests that Sturgeon’s “Killdozer!”, with its bulldozer under the control of a hostile alien force, is a hostile metaphor for that enthusiasm. 

A prime theme was alienation. 

Stableford contends that Sturgeon and Campbell were interested in psi stories for different reasons. 

Campbell wanted such powers quantified, harnessed, and developed by scientists.  Sturgeon concentrated on the “lonely, the crippled, and the deprived” who had those powers. 

In his later years, Sturgeon became more pessimistic. Though he showed the “cost” of conventional “sexual politics”, he wasn’t convinced upturning them would help the human condition either. 

At heart, Sturgeon was more a fantastic than science fiction writer and often provided miraculous solutions to his character’s problems. Sturgeon’s writing advice was famously to “ask the next question” about a story’s premise. He didn’t like to repeat himself and that made it increasingly harder for him to produce work as the years went on.

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