Caviar by Theodore Sturgeon (1918 – 1985) was first published in 1955. Once again, I completed a 1950s book. This is a collection of 8 stories ranging from 1941 – 1955. The cover art for the copy that I read (1977 Ballantine) is by Darrell Sweet. Though Sturgeon did publish several novels, it is my understanding that he is famous for his short fiction.
Therefore, when I came to this collection I had really high hopes because this should be fairly representative of the author’s lauded style. I cannot say that my expectations were met, although I was not completely disappointed. The ratings I gave each story are all over the place. I am glad that I read the collection, but only one story in this collection is something that I think will stick with me. Of the eight stories, I would say one is definitely not science fiction whatsoever, one is definitely science fiction, and the other six are vaguely “speculative” fiction. None of this is a bad thing, but it does perhaps suggest a change in the reader’s pre-read expectations.
Sturgeon has a very glib and casual writing style. I am not completely thrilled by it. It works best when he utilizes a nifty narrator main character to do the work. The stories wherein Sturgeon has to do the talking are decent, but nothing about this style makes it truly incredible. In fact, for most of the stories, I felt they may have gone on for a page or two too long. I think casual writing does lend itself nicely to short fiction, but usually overlong short fiction can kill any storyline.
- Bright Segment – 2 stars – (1955)
- Microcosmic God – 4 stars – (1941)
- Ghost of a Chance – 2 stars – (1943)
- Prodigy – 3 stars – (1949)
- Medusa – 4 stars – (1942)
- Blabbermouth – 3 stars – (1945)
- Shadow, Shadow On the Wall – 2 stars – (1951)
- Twink – 1 star – (1955)
Interestingly, you can see that the stories run the gamut from 4 stars to 1 star. The stories that I rated the highest are the most “science fiction” of the stories. The lowest rated involve children somehow and were – to me – too vague and weird.
Bright Segment opens the collection and is definitely not speculative fiction or science fiction. It is actually quite a noir read, but not one that I really enjoyed. One of the things that Sturgeon does really well in this piece is to build up a lot of empathy and sympathy (concern) for both of the characters – and then he flips all of that emotive investment around. I appreciate this – but cannot say I liked the result. The voice of the main character was done well.
Microcosmic God is the most science-y of the collection. I do think it was a bit too long, because toward the end, some threads of the story kind of slipped slightly. Nevertheless, it is excellent SCIENCE fiction. I love the Neoterics and the whole ratio which brought the main character to the conclusion of developing the Neoterics is the “answer” to time/space/invention. I really am jealous of James Kidder – rich, brilliant, and lives unfettered by annoying humans on his own little island. Oh, how I would love to be Kidder. Now, the plot-device of the power plant and the devious banker didn’t thrill me, so that’s why this does not get five stars. Nevertheless, this is one I would recommend to other readers.
Ghost of a Chance was first published in 1943 and I do not see the need for it to have been republished. I gave it two stars and really feel like it just was not worth republishing, unless they needed some “filler.”
Prodigy is a good, solid read. I gave it 3 stars because I felt that it represented some good speculative fiction ideas. I really did like the twist at the very end of the story. However: I am not really sure that this twist is actually supported by the story itself. Seems forced, even if it is fun and can be appreciated. Overall, it is a relatively interesting read.
Medusa was my favorite read of the collection. I know why it was named “Medusa,” but I would have named it Xantippe. Xantippe is a really good horrifying planet-concept. And Medusa is a metaphor with a jellyfish, which I think is a strained and needless metaphor. But Xantippe and the Navy ship sent to deal with it is an awesome concept. All true fans of science fiction should read this one. It also includes some of the psychological horror and mystery that really gripping deep space stories should include. Easily four stars.
Blabbermouth gave us a decent, sharp narrator with an interesting concept to tell his (rather mundane) story. He falls in love with Maria, who has a predisposition to be possessed by poltergeists. Well, she brought this problem onto herself because of her occult “studies.” And now she affects people’s lives. She’s a “blabbermouth,” so to speak. I really dislike the genesis of Maria’s “skill,” and I feel that this story had so much potential wasted. As I read, I kept considering what it could have been – so much better than what this story is.
Shadow, Shadow On The Wall – The reader does feel a bit heartbroken for main character, Bobby – a small child who has a mean step-mother. The story itself plays upon all of our fears of the dark and our capacity for pretend-play as an escape. Still, the corner-shadow-country is unconvincing and I do not feel the story itself is on par with all of the emotional drawn the reader is presented.
Finally, Twink, which I hated. Just junk. I wish I had not read it. 1 star for being better than cleaning the litter box.
2.6 is the average for this collection. I do not use numbers like this, so I will round up to a 3. I am more or less okay with that, but I know that I recently reviewed C. M. Kornbluth’s The Explorers and that averaged out to a 3. That collection was a lot better than this one. So, let us call this a secret low 3 rating