Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Review of Starshine by Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon is one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. His name is not as well known today, as with a few other writers of his generation, which is a shame considering the quality of his work. But not all is quality. Every writer has stars which do not shine as brightly, and in 1966's unaptly named Starshine we have a collection of Sturgeon's short fiction which probably would have been better left as magazine fodder.

Things kick off with "Derm Fool", a story about a man and woman who slough their skin like snakes, regularly, and the situations this brings about. While possible to appreciate the dark humor, as well as potentially see some commentary on relationships between the lines, overall this is a cotton candy offering: tastes sweet, but quickly dissolves. In the second story, one finds a more standard spot of light horror. “The Haunt” tells of a man trying to impress a girl by taking her on a date to a friend's haunted house. Trouble is, who is more scared? And who is controlling the house? This story is vanilla flavored vanilla.

Going into outer space, “Artnan Process” tells of two 'clever' humans getting the drop on aliens. In the story, the galaxy is a developed place and Earthlings have been subtly enslaved by Martians. The two sides nevertheless fight for the secret process of a third race, the Artnans, for converting Uranium. Action taking place on an Artnan planet, mankind shows its deviousness in getting at the secret, for better and worse,. In “The World Well Lost” there are more extra-terrestrial hijinxs. This time, two humans have been tasked with transporting two aliens back to their homeworld. Little do they know, however, about the ethical decision that accompanies their mission.

In “The Pod and the Barrier” aliens continue. A strong energy barrier surrounds a planet full of benevolent aliens, and a group of disparate scientists, engineers, and technicians have been tasked with breaking through it. Strong-minded people, each believe their idea will succeed. Naturally, all are wrong, but not in the way they imagined. And the closing story is “How to Kill Aunty”. As the title suggests, it is the tale about murder. In this case, however, the victim seems to catch on to her nephew's intentions early in the game and decides to have a little fun with his stupidity. Pride comes before a fall, they say...

In the end, Starshine is a vapid collection. While occasionally showcasing Sturgeon's skills and talents as a wordsmith, actual content is a straight-forward, mundane half-dozen stories that are of their era but do not transcend it as many of Sturgeon's other books and stories do. “The Well Wide World” offers a mild challenge to social norms, but the rest seem mild commentary on existence, at best. If you are looking to get into Sturgeon, do not start here. I would look to The Dreaming Jewels, A Touch of Strange, Venus Plus X, Some of Your Blood, A Touch of Strange, E Pluribus Unicorn, and others. Otherwise, this is more StarUnderwhelm—the quality of my wordplay on par.

The following are the six stories collected in Starshine:

"Derm Fool"

The Haunt

Artnan Process

The World Well Lost

The Pod and the Barrier

How to Kill Aunty

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