The book that changed my life
By Barbara Silkstone
It was 1984. I had just graduated magna cum chatterbox from kindergarten. Okay so maybe I’m off by a few years. J
Florida Atlantic University was hosting the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Begun in 1980, this celebration brought together some of most talented writers from Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy. Guests at this event ranged from Stephen King to Isaac Asimov, Fritz Leiber, and my all-time hero, Theodore Sturgeon.
One of the legendary figures of the “Golden Age” of science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon was a regarded as the primary influence on Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut among other science fiction luminaries. Sturgeon wrote over 200 novels and short stories. He won the Hugo, Nebula and International Fantasy Awards. His book More Than Human (1953) was a classroom classic.
Science fiction writer, Damon Knight said of Sturgeon, “He was a superb stylist, and that was unusual when he began writing in the field. He had his own individual viewpoint of human relationships. I think he had a Messianic streak. He wanted to find ways that people could live together better.” Or to paraphrase Star Trek… to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Sturgeon wrote some of the early screenplays for Star Trek. The Vulcan Hand Greeting, “Live well and prosper” AND pon farr, the Vulcan mating ritual were all introduced by Theodore Sturgeon. When I bumped into him I had no idea about his Vulcan background - now it just adds to his mystique.
I discovered More Than Human when I was a child. I carried the paperback version with me everywhere. It became the seminal book that instilled in me the passion to write. Sturgeon created a haunting, creditable last step in man’s evolution and I wanted to follow his lead.
With my battered but much loved copy of More Than Human, I approached Ted Sturgeon as he sat in the FAU auditorium. A slight, wizard-like man he beckoned me to sit with him while he signed my book. Under his signature he placed a symbol… a Q with an arrow through it. He was wearing a pendant with that strange symbol on it. His explanation: “Ask the next question. And the one that follows that, and the one that follows that. That’s how we realize our potential.”
He offered me the seat next to him. “Join us when he’s done,” he nodded to the author on the stage who was graciously signing books for hundreds of his adoring fans. It took Stephen King over an hour to sign all the books presented to him. Sturgeon beamed like a proud parent.
Steve then stepped from the platform and walked toward us. Sturgeon, frail, took my arm and we exited the auditorium - King walking on my right and Sturgeon on my left.
Theodore Sturgeon seemed to channel pure energy even as he needed to brace himself on me. He leaned over, nodded at Stephen King and said to me, “Barbara, someday the world will recognize this young man as our greatest living American author.”
Looking up at all seven-feet of Stephen King, I know he said something humble… but for the life of me I can’t recall it. I was doing an out-of-body somewhere on Mount Olympus between two creative gods. It was an awesome moment.
Sturgeon died the following year. I still have my copy of More Than Human. Each time I read it the book has a profound effect on me. I dream of creating a story that would so mark my readers… for life.
Barbara Silkstone is the best-selling author of The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three-Quarters ~ Wendy and the Lost Boys ~ London Broil ~ The Adventures of a Love Investigator, 527 Naked Men and One Woman. Visit her online at Barb's Wire.
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