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WesternSFA


More Than Human
by Theodore Sturgeon
Farrar, Straus & Young, 233pp
Copyright 1953

Probably the most interesting thing about this story is the date it was written.  It’s the sort of thing that one might immediately associate with the chaotic societal changes of the 1960s.  It’s a story about the next step in man’s evolution – certainly a trope that has been mined to death in the succeeding years. And here it is – in 1953.  Sturgeon wanted to explore the idea that together we are stronger; that individuals are isolated…and what if they were able to somehow form a gestalt?  By Websters definition, a gestalt is an organized whole that is more than the sum of its parts.  If a group of humans each had a function, or ability, and they used their abilities in cooperation with others – and that that cooperation was so much deeper than a simple communal group – what could they accomplish?

So Sturgeon gathers together people with unique abilities – and we’re talking about paranormal powers, not ordinary homo sapiens.  He has an idiot who can hear certain people, a young girl with telekinetic abilities, twin girls who teleport, a boy who can control minds….and Baby.  Baby is mongoloid but has either an impossible intellect or the ability to synthesize information, I’m not sure what Sturgeon had in mind.  The group fends for itself using everyone’s abilities and they live “off the grid” (obviously not a 1950s term) in a cave, keeping away from all others.  Conceivably, this would have worked until the children grew up except the one adult, Lone, who was the idiot that was the conduit for their gestalt, died.  Left without adult guidance and the cohesion to function together, they were forced to find refuge, which they did.  They found sanctuary, no questions asked, in the home of a woman who knew Lone and went through a terrible experience with him.  Unfortunately for the gestalt, her best intentions to civilize the children worked against their abilities.  After her attempt to place Baby in an institution, it became clear to the children that to retain their gestalt, something would have to be done.

The story wanders a bit with two different conflicts; Sturgeon couldn’t quite make them blend well.  The boy who can control minds, Gerry, engages a psychiatrist to help him understand the events that happened after the disastrous attempt to separate Baby from the other children.  The book spends a lot of time using the psychiatrist to extrapolate theories about the gestalt.  The point of this was to question whether the morals of normal human society could apply to such a group.

The third section of the book delves into the question of morality.  Janie, the telekinetic, is now a young woman and rescues a mentally ill man.  She spends an enormous amount of time and resources to help this man regain his memory and faculties.  To what end, the reader is not told, but it is sure to be associated with the gestalt.  When the pieces finally come together it ties back to an early event before Lone pulled his group together.  Gerry is now the central processing unit of the group and Janie has serious concerns about his lack of morality.  The problem is trying to define what morality would actually apply to a group of disparate individuals that acts as a single entity.  Sturgeon touches on the idea of immortality by simply replacing individuals as needed so the gestalt could continue indefinitely but doesn’t explore it sufficiently for me. Morality applies to a group of people who “agree” to abide by the rules.  The gestalt is not part of a group, there are no others; and they are not, strictly speaking, just human anymore. Sturgeon had a very elegant solution that gives a direction for the gestalt to evolve.  He does, however, pull a rabbit out of his hat at the very end which I didn’t appreciate.  It could have been a nice plot device if we’d been given some tantalizing clues. 

Over all, I still enjoyed this story; some 40 or 50 years after I read it the first time.  I remember being blown away by the concept of a gestalt which would mean no one would ever be alone again.  And while I still enjoyed thinking about it; I ended up poking at holes.  There was not, for me, a sufficient explanation of Baby’s abilities.  And that rabbit at the end really bothers me.  And I wonder if the mores of the time prevented Sturgeon from exploring the sexual ramifications.  This book would have had a different motivator if it’d been written ten years later, I’m sure.  ~~ Catherine Book

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