|Some of Your Blood
by Theodore Sturgeon
Essay by Ted Gioia
Some of Your Blood stands out in the oeuvre of
Theodore Sturgeon as a grand, unclassifiable novel.
Readers who associate this author with science
fiction will be surprised to
find none of the trademarks
of that genre here. The book
is sometimes presented as a
horror story or fantasy, but
no elements of the magical
or supernatural figure in
the tale. "I thought I was
buying a hardcore crime
novel," writer Steve Rasnic
Tem has noted, recalling his
first encounter with the book;
"but by the time I got home
and into my bedroom, I wasn't
sure what I had."
Sturgeon may have been ahead of his time, for this odd
book has all the trappings of a post-modern mystery.
The novel is presented in the form of a lengthy text,
and its deconstruction—an unraveling of the story that
points out the ominous gaps and ambiguous signifiers.
At some points, the “author” intrudes to provide meta-
fictional reflections on the narrative, and at the
conclusion even offers a range of alternative resolutions
to the story, inviting the reader to choose a favorite
ending from among the available options.
All the usual plot elements are reversed here. The
story starts with the criminal already in custody. But
it is not clear whether George Smith has broken any law.
He is being held in a military hospital for observation,
because a major was worried about his violent
tendencies. To all appearances, the charges are
overblown, and the supervising officer wants to
release Smith, and hush up the whole affair.
In other words, the mystery is over before it begins.
There is no crime, no criminal, no victim, no evidence,
and not even an accuser—the major who made the
original complaint is killed in a C-119 crash a short
while later, so no one can even explain the original
charges. Apparently Smith, while stationed overseas,
wrote a disturbing letter that alarmed a military censor
and set in motion the whole matter—but no copy of
the letter has been preserved. Smith, for his part, is
the least talkative individual in the US military, and
has nothing to say about his predicament.
In other words, the plot is dead on arrival, with
apparently nowhere to go from the starting block.
Yet a doctor who is charged with closing the case
and releasing the soldier is suspicious. He asks his
taciturn patient to write an account of the circumstances
that led to his confinement, and is surprised when
Smith delivers a novella-sized manuscript a few days
later. Smith has written the story of his life. This
document, which is both scrupulously true yet deeply
false, will serve as the departure point for a thought-
provoking hermeneutical exercise. Some of Your
Blood amplifies on the details related in Smith’s
memoir with letters, transcripts, case studies, and
other supplementary materials. Yet the more we learn,
the less satisfied we become with the answers at hand.
Long before Barthes' SZ and Lacan's Écrits, Sturgeon
is showing that the real story often starts with the
silences in the text.
Some of Your Blood gradually evolves into a dark,
twisted psychological study. Novels of this period
often reveal a fixation with headshrinkers and
psychoanalytic concepts—almost to the same degree
as stories by twenty-something writers these days are
dressed up with elements of Internet, email and text
messaging culture. Yet Sturgeon digs deeper than the
pop psychology trappings of his peers, and recreates
with vivid verisimilitude the real clinical atmosphere
of era. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Sándor Ferenczi
and other early theorists of the unconscious even
show up in supporting roles. Sturgeon has done
substantial research into the literature of aberrant
behavior, and this allows him to impart an aura of
plausibility to his tale, a sense of realism that remains
even after the plot begins to veer off into the bizarre
Like your standard mystery, this one ends up with
a solved crime, an apprehended criminal, and justice
upheld. Or does it? Our estimable genre writer
shows that he can dish out experimental techniques
with the best of them, and Sturgeon caps off his
strange book with an even stranger ending . Often
when a novelist opts for an ambiguous conclusion
to a complex plot, I am left unsatisfied. But in this
case, the multiplicity of possible outcomes offers the
perfect closure to a book that started breaking the
rules from the outset. The result is a gripping novel
that relies on pulp fiction conventions without ever
falling into the conventional.
Ted Gioia writes on music, literature and popular culture.
His latest book is Love Songs: The Hidden History, published
by Oxford University Press.
Essay published August 23, 2011
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Where’s Waldo? Well, in the case of the man
born as Edward Hamilton Waldo in 1918, you
will find him on the shelf under the name of
Theodore Sturgeon—which was not a
pseudonym, but his
legal name after 1929.
And this Waldo has
plenty of books to
hide inside—by one es-
timate, Sturgeon was
the most frequently an-
thologized short story
writer of his generation.
Along the way, this prolific author also made
his living as a sailor in the merchant marines,
drove a bulldozer in Puerto Rico, managed a
resort in the West Indies, sold refrigerators
door-to-door, and wrote screenplays for the
original Star Trek television show. He is also
known as the originator of "Sturgeon’s Law,"
which cynically (and perhaps astutely) asserts
that "ninety percent of everything is crud."
Yet Sturgeon is most famous for his
transformation of genre fiction into
something far above the crud level of the
pulp fiction periodicals in which he first made
his name. He may have operated in the gaudy,
concept-driven world of sci-fi, but Sturgeon’s
stories were pre-eminently about human
relationships. "Basically, fiction is people," he
once remarked. "You can't write fiction about
ideas." Certainly few of his peers had such
skill in constructing character-driven stories in
which the fanciful and fantastic co-existed with
the heartfelt and down-to-earth. And how was
he able to do this? "I write a story as if it
were a letter to someone," he explained, "and
essentially, that's what you do."
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