The Ultimate Egoist — The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Volume 1
This is the first volume in a 13-part series which collects all Theodore Sturgeon’s fiction shorter than novel length, both published and unpublished. The stories are presented in chronological order of writing, and as such this volume contains Sturgeon’s earliest work, from his first published story ‘Heavy Insurance’ in 1938 to ‘Butyl and the Breather’ published in 1940.
The majority of the stories in this volume are very short, two or three page stories written for newspaper syndication. Most of them are instantly-forgettable, formulaic rubbish — a fact the author was well aware of — with the odd exception, such as ‘Heavy Insurance’ which has a neat, twist ending. The rest are mostly ‘boy meets girl’ stories, with quite a few set at sea, as Sturgeon was working as a merchant seaman at the time and was obviously following the advice to ‘write what you know’.
The six or seven longer stories in the volume, all but one sold to John W. Campbell for publication in either Astounding or Unknown magazines, are by far a step up in quality. They include the title story ‘The Ultimate Egoist’, in which a man with an enormous ego finds he can will objects out of existence; what is probably one of Sturgeon’s best and most well-known stories ‘It’, about a monster learning about life and death; and the creepy and unsettling ‘Bianca’s Hands’, which the author was sure would sell to Unknown, but was rejected and not published for another eight years until Sturgeon submitted it to a competition in the British Argosy magazine and it won.
If you have never read any Sturgeon and are looking for an introduction to his work, don’t start here or you will be severely disappointed. This is a collection for the completist only, for someone who intends to collect the entire series. All of the worthwhile stories in this volume can be found in other Sturgeon anthologies, which will give a better overview of the author’s talent.
There are story notes at the back of the book, where the editor Paul Williams gives the dates of writing and first publication of the stories, and comments on each one. He also includes extracts from Sturgeon’s correspondence relating to the stories. These notes would have been better placed at the end of each story, to prevent constant flipping backwards and forwards, especially considering how short most of the stories are — there was a lot of flipping!
Recommended for Sturgeon completists only.