Monday, February 18, 2013

"Maturity" and Science Fiction


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.



Neil_in_Chicago said...

When I hear hipsters preening about being "transgressive" I have to restrain myself from telling them, "Fifty years ago Theodore Sturgeon was more transgressive before lunch than the lot of you since you discovered puberty."

Lars said...

One of those stories which sticks in the mind because it's so gnomic (also because Sturgeon did not seem to be capable of writing a bad story). I read it many years ago and still remember the last line. Every now and again I ask myself if it's true.

David Stone said...

I hate myself because I read this story about 20 years ago as a very young man, and I remember lots of incidental details as well as really liking the story, but I can't remember how it ends. What is wrong with me? Was I not tuned in then, or am I losing my mind now?

On a similar subject, I do remember Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and his Dog" and the last line very clearly. I think this is what is meant when people describe fiction as "accessible". Not to demean the story of course... I don't have a strong grasp of historical context for this kind of thing, but I'd be surprised if it didn't rank up there with the stories you talked about on that panel.

Lars said...

@ David Stone:

"Enough is maturity."

As I recall.