Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Dreaming Jewels - Theodore Sturgeon

The Dreaming Jewels was another re-read by Jo Walton. I was intrigued by the first paragraph which she posted
They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high school stadium and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street. He was eight years old then. He’d been doing it for years.
which is a wonderful hook, but then once I found out what it was he'd been doing...well, gross sure, but disgusting? It was a bit of a let-down. I guess I'd been assuming that he was doing something that I would find disgusting. It wound up making me even more sympathetic towards Horty, which isn't a bad thing, but it made the world feel less familiar.

Theodore Sturgeon has been on my list of SF authors I should be at least remotely familiar with, which is the main reason I picked this up (also that first paragraph...I really really wanted to know what he'd been doing under the bleachers!). I've had trouble trying to read older SF before. Harlan Ellison is another one I keep trying to like and failing at. Ray Bradbury. I think there are a whole pile of things giving me trouble. First off there's the really gritty feel to a lot of these. The future they're writing about tends to be dystopic, overpopulated and dirty. The characters tend to be very lonely. Key bits of technology are missing, while fancy things that we don't have yet are commonplace. They wind up feeling unanchored in time - set simultaneously in the future and in the past. A large part of the story is set in the circus - which doesn't mean the same thing anymore thanks to Cirque du Soleil. I can cope with Enid Blyton characters running away to join the circus because they're set so solidly in the past, but here it just doesn't resonate for me at all. Then there's the blend of SF and horror that I think is becoming less common these days. I really don't enjoy horror, but I suspect that most SF fans do. I can handle evil characters, but I don't like creeping blackness and an overall atmosphere of depression. The stories tend to be shorter than what I'm used to - short stories have always been more difficult for me to read, maybe they just take more concentration, maybe I just need more practice, but a short story seems to leave less space for the people. Finally people's names in these old stories just seem wrong. Horty is a horrible nickname. It is short for Horton - who in my mind is an elephant sitting up in a tree hatching an egg. Zena is a warrior princess, not a midget in a circus. It makes the world feel even more thin and flimsy than it already did. I'm having to put so much effort into believing in the story that I don't have any energy left to care about the characters. Maybe I just need to take a deep breath and start reading these like SF set in some alternate past in order to cope with the cognitive dissonance these seem to generate.

All of this is a real shame, because the story is quite good. There's a lot of character development, a real examination of what makes someone human. The ending was great, and so was the love story running through it. Having Jo's write-ups and the comments to help guide me to the bits of the story that really matter are definitely helping me enjoy some of these stories more than I would manage on my own.

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