The Perfect Host — The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Volume 5
Volume five of ‘The Complete Stories’ series covers 1947-1949, before Sturgeon took a break from writing short stories to concentrate on his job at Time Inc. and work on television scripts.
In this volume we have:
A young girl, raised in isolation by her recluse father, is sent out into the world to test her self-reliance and character.
This previously unpublished and unfinished story is thought to be the start of an uncompleted novel. Some of the plot points and themes are reflected in Sturgeon’s later novel ‘More Than Human’.
A hospitalised musician watches a cat kill a rat and muses on his music whilst taking a smoking break. It is unclear if the man is a normal hospital patient, a dangerous mental patient, or possibly even a vampire — the ending is ambiguous.
A very short, unsold story aimed at the literary magazines. Later included in Sturgeon’s collection ‘E Pluribus Unicorn’.
Unite And Conquer
A cold war world on the brink of conflict must unite to fight a common enemy when three unknown spacecraft appear and threaten Earth. But does the scientist tasked with producing weapons to fight the threat know more of the enemy than he is letting on?
The Love of Heaven
A man meets a strange, ethereal alien in the woods. The alien explains that his race evolved on Earth before humans and left for another planet, but the plant life on the new planet is slowly poisoning them. They hope to return to Earth, but it appears that they are now poisonous to all Earth life.
Till Death Do Us Join
A woman falls in love with two brothers who look strangely alike, but have two utterly different personalities.
The Perfect Host
A tale of suicide, murder and disappearing bodies told from multiple viewpoints, including that of an incorporeal energy being and Sturgeon himself. Even the reader is addressed directly at the end of the story. First published in Weird Tales, this story illustrates how Sturgeon showed that more complex and interesting ways of storytelling were possible in the pulp magazines.
The Martian And The Moron
A radio ham tries to pick up signals from Mars. Years later, his son’s rather vacuous girlfriend has her mind hijacked by Martians, trying to make telepathic contact.
Die, Maestro, Die!
A member of a jazz band murders the bandleader, but he is tormented by the the idea that his victim still lives on through the band’s musical style. He becomes obsessed with finding out which other musician is giving the band the leader’s style and removing his influence forever.
The Dark Goddess
A dying woman tells why she never married her partner, despite everyone believing they were married, before revealing a secret held by a statuette of The Dark Goddess.
An unpublished story which Sturgeon submitted to a competition in Cosmopolitan magazine (he didn’t win).
A western story, in which a pair of taciturn cowboys discuss how one of them saved the life of a lone female homesteader, and why he didn’t take advantage of her loneliness, but remained a gentleman.
A man plots to murder his prospective father-in-law, by a convoluted method involving mercury vapour in a power station, when he learns that he is giving away his fortune to charity.
A narrator from a far future Earth, where humans have evolved into a peaceful, non-technological, enlightened society, tells the story of humanity’s first two interstellar journeys, and why they abandoned space travel thereafter.
Following the Fourth War, children are raised in state crèches, where any deviations from The Norm, due to mutations, are killed, unless the mutation is beneficial. One four-year-old’s mental effect on those around him becomes too much to bear for his mother and his carers.
Farewell To Eden
Following an apocalyptic war on Earth, a plan to reboot humanity on a new planet does not go well, when the new Adam and Eve emerge from their spaceship to find a horde of savage, mutant blue aliens with tails charging at them. The aliens look suspiciously like mutated versions of a blue, humanoid couple with tails that the humans observed just before they left Earth, stepping out of a metallic structure, only to be ripped to pieces by a horde of savage, mutant humans.
One Foot And The Grave
A young couple both find that one of their feet has been transformed into a cloven hoof. They search a wood for Forbidden Valley, where stories tell of a buried supernatural being who may be able to help them.
What Dead Men Tell
A cinema projectionist undergoes an initiation test to determine if he is fit to join a group who have discovered a treatment which confers immortality on its users.
The Hurkle Is A Happy Beast
A creature from another dimension falls through a portal into our universe and proceeds to cause chaos on Earth. In its own universe, the creature becomes invisible when frightened and emits a pleasurable feeling emanation when happy. Unfortunately, in our universe the opposite occurs — when it is happy, it is invisible and its emanation causes humans to itch uncontrollably. The creature proceeds to multiply by parthenogenesis and forces mankind to flee from Earth.
Volume five gives us another set of eminently readable stories. The standouts are ‘A Perfect Host’, with its unusual technique; ‘Quietly’, which does not read like an unfinished story and seems to me to be eminently saleable; ‘Prodigy’, with a neat, twist ending, and ‘One Foot And The Grave’, which improved as it went along, despite a tad too much “As you know, Bob…” exposition near the beginning. The rest of the stories are a mixture of typical pulp magazine tales, a quite decent western, an unsuccessful literary story and the humorous and much-anthologised Hurkle tale.
Not the best volume in the series so far, but still recommended as a decent Sturgeon collection.