Monday, June 18, 2012

Before They Were Famous: Thedore Sturgeon

Number three in an increasingly occasional series. This one is about Ether Breather by Theodore Sturgeon that was published in 1939 in Astounding Science Fiction. It appeared in the September edition if this page is to be believed.

I've not read much TS but what I have read I liked, in particular More than Human. I picked TS to look at because he's regularly mentioned, mainly by Sam Delany, as being one of the most innovative users of language in the business.

So, what of Ether Breather? It is a mystery story, sort of. It is about a writer who sees some of his work appear on TV but changed in many bad ways - swearing and crass advertising for the main part. Then similar disfgurement happens to other shows and no-one knows why. It falls to the writer and a perfume magnate to solve the problem - which is caused by strange beings that live in the ether and can change TV signals as they pass through their brains.

It is a neat idea and had currency given that the BBC started the first public TV service in 1936 and it received great publicity at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. It's also prescient as colour TV wasn't available until 1953.

As a story it works fairly well. It throws the reader right into the action and within a few hundred words the main character is choking a TV executive in his office for butchering his precious script. However, there is precious little character development and it suffers from the problem many of those golden era stories fell victim to, in that it's really about a smart guy with a lab. In this case the smarty pants turns out to be the perfume magnate. He just happens to have the perfect set up to discover the bizarre beings.

Are there hints of what Sturgeon would become? Maybe, the dialogue scampers along and there's plenty of slang and back and forth to keep the story going.

What's most interesting is what it says about Sturgeon as a writer. I may be reading too much in to it but it does reveal some of the fears of a begininng writer who is enjoying some success. The opening is about the difficulties a writer has in selling a story because it is too hackneyed or "pastel" as the story puts it. That's a common fear. Then it deals with what happens to works that escape the artists control and it frets about what happens to a work when the ad men get involved.

Fundamentally, though, its about the fear writers, artists, creators have of being misinterpreted. Lots of writers fear that people will not get the message behind what they are saying. A briting satire may be misread as a love story or a hackneyed drama a trenchant comment on kitchen sink cliches. There's no real moral to the story, except perhaps that sometimes all you can do is commit it to the airwaves and move on

No comments: