More Than Human
Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human is a sci-fi classic. Written in 1953, it won 1954 International Fantasy Award and was, in 2004, nominated for a “Retro Hugo” award for the year 1954. Sci-fi critic, David Pringle, included it in his book, Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels.
The book centres on a group of misfits. Each possesses a psychic power (telekinesis, teleportation, telepathy…) and each possesses an impairment or disadvantage which makes it difficult for them to integrate into everyday society (intellectual disability, Down’s Syndrome, muteness or the inability to “fit in”).
Essentially, they are all outsiders.
But when they find one another, the characters form a gestalt organism: an organism formed of several smaller organisms.
For those of you who used to watch the cartoon Transformers when you were younger, you may recall groups of good/evil Transformers which could combine into a single huge robot. This too was a gestalt organism – albeit a slightly more metallic one.
The characters’ link is telepathic, rather than physical. However, as Homo Gestalt is an evolution of humanity, problems arise with ethics and morality, since the gestalt’s abilities far exceed those of run-of-the-mill Homo Sapiens.
Consider that one day you were granted almost limitless psychological & physiological capabilities. You could manipulate others into doing whatever you wanted; you could take whatever you wanted; you could kill whomever you wanted… in these circumstances, how would your morality change?
It is this idea that the novel aims to address; and it does so very well.
This is not a novel about vengeance, where the protagonists were wronged before their evolution and go about exacting revenge on their tormentors. Its intentions are loftier than this.
The tension is internal: between the components of the gestalt; between the central characters. You find yourself wanting this new stage of human evolution to find its sense of morality and learn to live harmoniously with itself and humanity. But will they…?
Younger readers may find the language and roles in More Than Human are out of touch with modern sensibilities. Two of the central characters, black twins, are referred to as “Negros” or “dark girls.” They are both mute and serve as the arms of the gestalt. However, although this raised my eyebrows a little (I am black myself), I appreciate it is simply of its time, and was never intended to cause offence.
I’ve read More Than Human four times now and become utterly absorbed in the plot each time.
Brian W. Aldiss and David Wingrove, both contemporary sci-fi novelists, stated that More Than Human “transcends its own terms and becomes Sturgeon’s greatest statement of one of his obsessive themes, loneliness and how to cure it.”
There are themes many outsiders will recognise: victimisation, playing down / hiding your abilities or the opposite; wanting to do something extraordinary, in order to be respected and fit in. More Than Human illustrates how such notions can backfire with disastrous consequences.
My gripe with More Than Human is that it’s easy to become confused in the second part of the book, which was originally written as a stand-alone short story (the other two parts were written later when it was decided to turn the story into a novel). Different characters recount events from their perspective to a psychologist. I’ve sometimes become confused about who was recounting what to whom!
Some may feel that More Than Human is a little glib towards the end. One or two resolutions are a little too “tidy”. But I’ve found this to be fairly common in fantasy fiction (and often far less tenable).
However, these minor faults in no way detract from the fact that it’s a solid, absorbing and original story about outsiders, for outsiders, which touches on themes that most will be able to relate to.