You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Dear Mr. Sturgeon,

This letter is something of an apology. I confess I had never considered you a serious writer. It's not as though I had ever read one of your books, but to me you were just another writer with a dozen or more titles in the science fiction section. I could see that you had won both the Nebula and Hugo awards, and that other sf writers frequently blurbed your books using the word "genius," but let's face it. All you guys have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and you are always calling one another geniuses. Also, you are named after a big ugly fish.

But now I have read one of your books -- More Than Human, to be precise. I may hold off on the genius bit until I read a little more, but I confess I was impressed. The book has an interesting structure that makes for unusual, episodic plotting that comes together nicely in the end.

Congratulations all around.
You new BFF (Best FAN Forever)

I ended up not sending the above letter. I thought the end was a bit cute, and Theodore Sturgeon died in 1985. But I have found much to admire about the man. He does command an enormous amount of respect among fellow writers, and he is the author of Sturgeon's Law:

"Ninety percent of SF is crud, but then ninety percent of everything is crud."

More Than Human is one of those "next step in human evolution" novels, but rather than taking the grand, cosmological vision of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, Sturgeon's novel has a much darker tone. The representatives of Homo Gestalt, those possibly destined to replace us mere homo sapiens, are a motley crew. There is the telekinetic girl from an abusive background, two young African American girls who transport themselves naked wherever they want to go, a baby that appears to have Downs syndrome but is actually the brains behind the whole thing, and an exceptional young boy who kills the woman who I think may have been his mother. These five form a single being who, lacking any social contract with others of its kind, also lacks any sense of morality.

But enough about More Than Human. Theodore Sturgeon shot to the top of my admired author list when I learned he was the author of Killdozer, the 1944 short story that is the basis for the 1974 film of the same name.

Over twenty years ago, I turned on the television one Saturday afternoon and caught all but the first few minutes of the movie that I later learned was called Killdozer. This event had, over the years, taken on a dreamlike quality for me. When I told friends that I had watched a movie that involved a piece of heavy earth-moving equipment possessed by an alien intelligence, I found no one inclined to believe me. When they asked who supposedly starred in this film, things only got worse. Killdozer stars Clint Walker, Carl Betz, and Robert Urich. That's right, an actor most people thought disappeared when they cancelled Cheyenne in 1962, the man who played the father on The Donna Reed Show, and the most uninteresting actor in the world, if you exclude his performance in Invitation to Hell, a made-for-tv movie from 1984 where Urich and Joanne Cassidy move into a suburb and are asked to join a country club that has on its premises an actual doorway to hell. Whereas over the years I have found others who have seen Killdozer, Invitation to Hell appears to have been a movie for my eyes only.

When I saw Killdozer I didn't even know its title until I could find that day's newspaper. And even then I knew only its title. If I stumbled across it now, I would have searched it out on Internet Movie Database by one of its star's names and known all about it within minutes. I would have learned that Theodore Sturgeon not only wrote the short story but was a coauthor of the teleplay. (It was a made-for-tv movie, probably hoping to cash in on the short heyday of mechanized horror prompted by Steven Spielberg's made-for-tv movie Duel. Jerry London, the director of Killdozer did not have a career that followed the same path as Spielberg's. His filmography includes 90 projects, all done for television, including such highlights as eight episodes of The Rockford Files, twenty episodes of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and two episodes of JAG. )

Killdozer also has its own Wikipedia entry, has provided the name for a rock band, and was once mentioned by both Conan O'Brien and Bevis and Butthead. It is also the title story in volume three of The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon.

So the wonders of technology have once again unwoven the rainbow, and Killdozer is no longer my closely held secret. At least it is not available on video. Amazon lists two out-of-print versions, an American VHS tape and a import DVD titled Killdozer le viol cosmique.

So answer this question, true or false:

Alan Rudolph's first film was titled Barn of the Naked Dead.

You should have the correct answer in about 30 seconds.


  1. Ok, that's a true.

    Who knew Alan Rudolph started out in horror. Trouble in Mind has a great sound track and is a pretty interesting movie all the way around. Gangster Hilly Blue has a memorable end, Mary Ann Faithful singing You Gotta Break Your Own Chains at the end. Excellent. And I didn't google any of that.

    Gotta see Killdozer now. Surely I've read a Sturgeon novel, but looking at the list, I find I have not. I probably read a collection of his short stories.

    What's next.

  2. I've started the other Sturgeon novel, Venus Plus X. But I also just finished C by Tom McCarthy. Highly recommend.