I was in Boston for Boskone this weekend and among a number of well-received panels I sat in on was one titled "Stories That Changed Everything" -- about stories and novels that altered the genre of science fiction forever. The other panelists were Fred Lerner, David Hartwell, Paul Di Filippo and and moderator James Patrick Kelly.
We of course did a bang-up job. There wasn't much disagreement about the merits of any particular story mentioned, though some of us of course ranked the importance of one story higher or lower than others. But for me, there was only one real surprise. That was Theodore Sturgeon's "Maturity."
"Maturity" is a great story. To encapsulate shamelessly: A young man is discovered to be extremely brilliant but unable to achieve much of anything because he is chronically immature. (This, incidentally, would have been a shot to the heart of its readership.) He is given an experimental drug which matures him and for several years astonishes the world with his accomplishments. Then -- silence. Finally, he reappears incognitu and sits in on a barroom discussion with an old friend who knew him when and several strangers, on the question of what exactly maturity is. It's a good conversation and a serious attempt to grapple with its topic. And finally an answer is given, which I will not provide here, because that would spoil the story for you. But it's a good one.
It was, David Hartwell said, also an important story. Because Sturgeon was unhappy with its original published form and so, when it was reprinted, he rewrote it.
This had never happened before in the nascent genre. News went through the field in a flash: He rewrote a published story? Why did he do that? What does such a thing look like? Is it even possible?
And so, in one simple act, literary ambition was introduced to science fiction.
You can read a longer account by Jason Sanford here.