Theodore Sturgeon

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Ask the next question.

Theodore Sturgeon (born Edward Hamilton Waldo, 26 February 19188 May 1985) was an American author of science fiction, essayist, and poet.


It's the Simple things that are really effective. Try to remember that.
  • Faith is a beautiful thing. So are forest fires, and the color of gangrene. I think faith—especially capital-F Faith—is more dangerous and more disgusting than either. It is a substitute for thought.
  • I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of it is crud.
    The Revelation: Ninety percent of everything is crud.
    Corollary 1: The existence of immense quantities of trash in science fiction is admitted and it is regrettable; but it is no more unnatural than the existence of trash anywhere.
    Corollary 2: The best science fiction is as good as the best fiction in any field.
    • Venture Science Fiction (March 1958) The original expression of this has often been declared to have been "Sure, ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That's because ninety percent of everything is crud." According to Philip Klass Sturgeon made the remark during a talk at New York University around 1951. It has also commonly appeared in variant forms such as "Ninety percent of everything is crap" and is often referred to as "Sturgeon's Law" — though he himself gave that title to another phrase:
Sturgeon's Law originally was "Nothing is always absolutely so." The other thing was known as "Sturgeon's Revelation".
  • Interview with David G. Hartwell, The New York Review of Science Fiction (March - April 1989)
  • A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content.
    • As quoted in The Issue at Hand: Studies in Contemporary Magazine Science Fiction (1964) by James Blish, p. 14
  • It means "Ask the next question." Ask the next question, and the one that follows that, and the one that follows that. It's the symbol of everything humanity has ever created, and is the reason it has been created. This guy is sitting in a cave and he says, "Why can't man fly?" Well, that's the question. The answer may not help him, but the question now has been asked.
    The next question is what? How? And so all through the ages, people have been trying to find out the answer to that question. We've found the answer, and we do fly. This is true of every accomplishment, whether it's technology or literature, poetry, political systems or anything else. That is it. Ask the next question. And the one after that.
  • Science fiction, outside of poetry, is the only literary field which has no limits, no parameters whatsoever. You can go not only into the future, but into that wonderful place called "other", which is simply another universe, another planet, another species.

Short fiction


Two Percent Inspiration (1941)

Originally published in the October 1941 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction
  • It's the simple things that are really effective. Try to remember that.
    • Spoken by Professor Thaddeus MacIlhainy Nudnick. Reprinted in Microcosmic God: Volume II: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (1995), edited by Paul Williams, ISBN 1556433018, p. 322
  • That Heel. That lousy wart on the nose of progress.
    • Spoken by Hughie McCauley, quoting fictional space-opera hero Captain Jaundess. Reprinted in Microcosmic God: Volume II: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (1995), edited by Paul Williams, ISBN 1556433018, p. 322
Originally published in the November 1944 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction
Page numbers from the mass market paperback edition of To Marry Medusa, published by Baen Books, ISBN 0-671-65370-9, first printing, December 1987
  • In its shelter they developed a weapon. What is was we shall never know, and our race will live—or we shall know, and our race will perish as theirs perished.
    • pp. 165-166
  • He had been released with alacrity from the office because of his propensity for small office politics. It was a game he still played, and completely aside from his boiled-looking red face and his slightly womanish walk, he was out of place in the field, for boot-licking and back-stabbing accomplish even less out on the field than they do in an office.
    • pp. 170-171

The Martian and the Moron (1949)

Originally published in the March 1949 issue of Weird Tales. Page numbers from the reprint in The Ghoul Keepers (1961) edited by Leo Margulies
  • “Oh well. Chacun à son goût, as they say, which means—”
    And she stopped me. “Please. Don’t translate. It couldn’t be phrased as well in English.”
    I had been about to say “—which means Jack’s son has the gout.”
    • p. 33
  • Half of humanity doesn’t know what it wants or how to find out. The other half knows what it wants, hasn’t got it, and is going crazy trying to convince itself that it already has it.
    • p. 37
  • I remember wondering smokily whether anyone ever loves a person. People seem to love dreams instead, and for the lucky ones, the person is close to the dream. But it’s a dream all the same, a sticky dream. You unload the person, and the dream stays with you.
    • p. 44
All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Vintage Books
  • The idiot heard the sounds, but they had no meaning for him. He lived inside somewhere, apart, and the little link between word and significance hung broken.
    • Chapter 1 “The Fabulous Idiot”, p. 1
  • There’s this about a farm: when the market’s good there’s money, and when it’s bad there’s food.
    • Chapter 1, p. 34
  • So it was that Lone came to know himself; and like the handful of people who have done so before him he found, at this pinnacle, the rugged foot of a mountain.
    • Chapter 1, p. 60
  • That’s fairly common. We don’t believe anything we don’t want to believe.
    • Chapter 2 “Baby is Three”, p. 94
  • Logic and truth are two very different things, but they often look the same to the mind that’s performing the logic.
    • Chapter 2, p. 97
  • Reality isn’t the most pleasant of atmospheres, Lieutenant. But we like to think we’re engineered for it. It’s a pretty fine piece of engineering, the kind an engineer can respect. Drag in an obsession and reality can’t tolerate it. Something has to give; if reality goes, your fine piece of engineering is left with nothing to operate on. So it operates badly. So kick the obsession out; start functioning the way you were designed to function.
    • Chapter 3 “Morality”, p. 146
  • Love’s a different sort of thing, hot enough to make you flow into something, interflow, cool and anneal and be a weld stronger than what you started with.
    • Chapter 3, p. 169
  • Morals: They’re nothing but a coded survival instinct!
    • Chapter 3, p. 175
  • Do you know what morals are? Morals are an obedience to rules that people laid down to help you live among them.
    • Chapter 3, p. 181
  • The most human thing about anyone is a thing he learns and … and earns. It’s a thing he can’t have when he’s very young; if he gets it at all, he gets it after a long search and a deep conviction. After that it’s truly part of him as long as he lives.
    • Chapter 3, p. 184
  • Here, too, was the guide, the beacon, for such times as humanity might be in danger; here was the Guardian of Whom all humans knew — not an exterior force, nor an awesome Watcher in the sky, but a laughing thing with a human heart and a reverence for its human origins, smelling of sweat and new-turned earth rather than suffused with the pale odor of sanctity.
    • Chapter 3, p. 186
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Baen Books, ISBN 0-671-65370-9, first printing, December 1987
  • I wouldn’t give you sand if I met you on the beach.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 3)
  • This country has music through its blood and bones like a disease, and a man cannot draw in a breath of air that isn’t a-thrum with it.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 24)
  • A man with talent eats, sweats, and cares for his children like any other. And if talent is a natural thing, remember that water is also, and fire, and wind; therefore flood and holocaust and hurricane are as natural as talent, and can consume and destroy you.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 27)
  • Love, Caroline, isn’t…that. Love is everything else that can be between a man and a woman, without that.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 40)
  • There are always many ways to accomplish anything, but only one of them is really best. Which of them is best—that is the source of all argument on the production of anything, the creator of factions among the designers, and the first enemy of speed and efficiency.
    • Chapter 26 (pp. 142-143)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Pyramid Books (T-2552)
The sections in the novel are not numbered. They are numbered here for ease of reference
Nominated for the 1961 Hugo award
  • There were a lot of people living in his time who never did latch on to the idea that the curve of technological progress was not a flat slanting line like a diving board, but a geometrical curve like a ski-jump. These wistful and mixed-up souls were always suffering from attacks of belated conservatism, clutching suddenly at this dying thing and that, trying to keep it or bring it back. It wasn’t real conservatism at all, of course, but an unthought longing for the dear old days when one could predict what would be there tomorrow, if not next week. Unable to get the big picture, they welcomed the conveniences, the miniaturization of this and the speed of that, and then were angrily confused when their support of these things changed their world.
    • Section 11 (p. 33)
  • You have questions—urgent questions—I know that. And what makes them urgent is that you have in your mind the answers you want to hear. You will be more and more angry if you do not get those answers, but some can’t be given as you would hear them, because they would not be true.
    • Section 13 (p. 40)
  • And Charlie asked questions! His unease had long since disappeared, and two of his most deep-dyed characteristics took over: one, the result of his omnivorous, undisciplined, indefatigable reading and picking of brains; second, the great gaping holes this had left in his considerable body of knowledge. Both appeared far more drastic than he had heretofore known; he knew ever so much more than he knew he knew, and he had between five and seven times as much misinformation and ignorance than he had ever dreamed.
    • Section 19 (p. 59)
  • As Adam said when his wife fell out of the tree—Eve’s dropping again.
    • Section 24 (p. 71)
  • “Now how can you like a man without wanting him?” she demands of herself aloud.
    There is no answer. It is an article of faith with her. If you like a man, it has to be because you want him. Whoever heard of it any other way?
    • Section 32 (p. 101)
  • Is it men’s disgust of women that makes so many of them treat women with such contempt? Is it that which makes it so easy to point out that the Don Juans and the Lotharios, for all their hunger for women, are often merely trying to see how many women they can punish?
    • Section 36 (p. 114)
  • Mankind has in it a crushing need to feel superior. This doesn’t have to bother the very small minority who actually are superior, but it sure troubles the controlling majority who are not. If you can’t be really good at anything, then the only way to be able to prove you are superior is to make someone else inferior. It is this rampaging need in humanity which has, since pre-history, driven a man to stand on the neck of his neighbor, a nation to enslave another, a race to tread on a race. But it is also what men have done to women.
    Did they actually find them inferior to begin with, and learn from that to try to feel superior to other things outside—other races, religions, nationalities, occupations?
    Or was it the other way around: did men make women inferior for the same reason they tried to dominate the outsider? Which is cause, which effect?
    • Section 36 (p. 115)
  • A pig among people is a pig, he tells himself, but a pig among pigs is people.
    • Section 38 (p. 118)
  • You cannot be objective about this because you have been indoctrinated, sermonized, drenched, imbued, inculcated and policed on the matter since first you wore blue booties. You come from a time and place in which the maleness of the male, and the femaleness of the female, and the importance of their difference, were matters of almost total preoccupation.
    • Section 41 (p. 123)
  • So it is easily seen that the sexual insignes are nothing in themselves, for any of them, in another time and place, might belong to both sexes, the other sex, or neither. In other words, a skirt does not make the social entity, woman. It takes a skirt plus a social attitude to do it.
    But all through history, in virtually every culture and country, there has indeed been a “woman’s province” and a “man’s province,” and in most cases the differences between them have been exploited to fantastic, sometimes sickening extremes.
    • Section 41 (p. 125)
  • There is in mankind a deep and desperate necessity to feel superior. In any group there are some who genuinely are superior...but it is easy to see that within the parameters of any group, be it culture, club, nation, profession, only a few are really superior; the mass, clearly, are not.
    But it is the will of the mass that dictates the mores, initiated though changes may be by individuals or minorities; the individuals or minorities, more often than not, are cut down for their trouble. And if a unit of the mass wants to feel superior, it will find a way. This terrible drive has found expression in many ways, through history—in slavery and genocide, xenophobia and snobbery, race prejudice and sex differentiation. Given a man who, among his fellows, has no real superiority, you are faced with a bedevilled madman who, if superiority is denied him, and he cannot learn one or earn one, will turn on something weaker than himself and make it inferior. The obvious, logical, handiest subject for this inexcusable indignity is his woman.
    He could not do this to anyone he loved.
    • Section 41 (p. 126)
  • There are only three ways of dealing with sex. It may be gratified; it may be repressed; or it may be sublimated. The latter is, through history, often an ideal and frequently a success, but it is always an instability.
    • Section 41 (p. 128)
  • Pleasure, the outer edge of ecstasy, was in the dour days of Protestantism, considered sinful in itself, wherever gained; Rome held specifically that any or all sexual pleasure was sinful. And for all this capped volcano produced in terms of bridges and houses, factories and bombs, it gouted from its riven sides a frightful harvest of neurosis. And even where a nation officially discarded the church, the same repressive techniques remained, the same preoccupation with doctrine, filtered through the same mesh of guilt. So sex and religion, the real meaning of human existence, ceased to be meaning and became means; the unbridgeable hostility between the final combatants was the proof of the identity of their aim—the total domination, for the ultimate satisfaction of the will to superiority, of all human minds.
    • Section 41 (p. 130)
  • Father-dominated people who form father-dominated cultures have father-religions: a male deity, an authoritative scripture, a strong central government, an intolerance for inquiry and research, a repressive sexual attitude, a deep conservatism (for one does not change what Father built), a rigid demarcation, in dress and conduct, between the sexes, and a profound horror of homosexuality.
    Mother-dominated people who form mother-dominated cultures have mother religions: a female deity served by priestesses, a liberal government—one which feeds the masses and succors the helpless—a great tolerance for experimental thought, a permissive attitude toward sex, a hazy boundary between the insignes of the sexes, and a dread of incest.
    • Section 43 (pp. 131-132)

Quotes about Theodore Sturgeon

  • I liked his work because he was such a good craftsman. Sometimes science fiction writers were more pulp writers than they had to be because they didn't bother to learn. I'm talking about the old-time science fiction writers now, the ones who were more concerned with the wonderful machine than with the people who were supposed to be having something to do with the machine. They didn't characterize very well. Their women characters in particular were stick people, puppets, and Sturgeon, even though he was easily old enough to be my father, didn't write that way, and a few others didn't write that way. I especially paid attention to their writings... By the way, I don't believe that Sturgeon ever graduated from high school. He made a comment when he was teaching the class, an extension course: he said probably America is the only country where a man who never graduated from high school can teach at college. He might have had a point.
  • Theodore Sturgeon was a well-known science fiction writer. He's dead now, but supposedly he was on a panel at a science fiction convention once when somebody complained to him, "Ted, 90 percent of science fiction is shit." Sturgeon said, "Ninety percent of everything is shit."
  • Theodore Sturgeon influenced me-he was a real craftsman. I probably liked The Synthetic Man, which was originally called The Dreaming Jewels, and More Than Human, the best. The writers who influenced me most tended to be those who were the most prolific.
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