Wednesday, 31 May 2017

More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

What is the next step in human evolution? Where will we go from here? How will we fundamentally change, as technology continues to emerge. It feels like this is an obsession of a particular time and place. While science fiction has continued to examine how a changing world will alter humans, at their core they seem to remain fundamentally human.

But I can think of several books from the 1970s and early 1980s that are seriously positing futures in which the very meaning of humanness has changed as the species evolves into something new. (I mean, in one way, this is the core of all the X-Men mutant worries, but in SF books, it’s meant something quite different.) I’m thinking of Alfred Bester, of Spider and Jeanne Robinson’s Stardancer books, and now of Sturgeon’s More Than Human. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, as I know Sturgeon is one of Spider’s most loved writers. I think that perhaps I’ve read one Sturgeon short story before, but really nothing more, which is strange given how large Spider Robinson looms in my own personal universe of authors I love.

I think the possibly hair-splitting distinction I’m trying to make is that more often these days, humans carry forward all the foibles of being human into technological advance.

More Than Human, though, is about a fundamental shift. It’s about a bunch of characters, each of whom has a certain psionic power. Far from being a super team, this is about the coalescence of five people into a single organism, not literally, but definitely with real and material effects. Five people, all of them outcasts in certain ways, come together and harness their powers to be, fundamentally, different.

These include a young girl who can move things with her mind, two younger Black girls who can teleport, a baby with Down’s syndrome who can’t talk but can solve almost any problem with his mind, instantaneously, and the two people who in turn serve as the “head” of this new gestalt - the first a man typed as an idiot by society, in the way that that word denotes a specific level of mental disability, and later, a young man who was an orphan before he was made part of this whole. I want to type before he became part of this family, but it doesn’t quite capture it.

Where this goes, and specifically, the eventual focus on what morality such a group creature could need or follow, is the heart of the book. It’s a thoughtful book, and while it’s not pulse-pounding or even mostly urgent, I quite enjoyed the journey I took through it.

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