“They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high school stadium…”

This freakish first novel by Theodore Sturgeon first appeared in 1950. While it may not be his best work, it holds up, decades later.

Title: The Dreaming Jewels

Author: =Theodore Sturgeon

ISBN: 0-440-11803-4

Available from Amazon.com and
Amazon.ca

Premise:

An oddball child, bullied by his peers and abused by his foster father, runs away and joins the carnival. Among the sideshow “freaks” he finds acceptance, and the truth about his mysterious origins.

High Point:

The nature of The Dreaming Jewels‘ alien presence is bizarre and believable. Sturgeon creates an original other and uses it to serve his thematic ends.

Low Point:

This book inhabits a space between juvenile and adult SF, and its somewhat pat ending recalls too closely the former. We also receive too much direct exposition in order to explain the backstory.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6. In some respects, this book reads like nothing else, neither strictly a juvenile nor an adult novel, and it features an underlying premise which seems original. However, the story of the misunderstood outsider who becomes a hero hardly seems new, and (as other reviewers have noted), beneath Sturgeon’s excellent prose we have something very like a conventional superhero story.

Imagery: 6/6. This novel features memorable imagery. The saga of the “Maneater” and the trees stands as an especially strong example.

Unrelated to the score, but worthy of special mention, is the haunting Rowena Morrill cover the book inspired for its 1977 reprint.

Story: 4/6 Many aspects which will put off some readers– the one-dimensional nature of the story’s secondary villain, most of the remarkable coincidences in Horty’s life, and the not-quite believable response of Zeena when she meets Horty– all receive explanations.

Characterization: 5/6. The villains lean towards the cardboard though, in at least one case, the fact ultimately makes sense. Sturgeon treats the circus freaks as human beings, no small achievement more than half a century ago.

Emotional Response: 4/6 Sturgeon evokes feelings for the novel’s aliens, despite the fact that their differences make them essentially incomprehensible to human beings.

Editing: 6/6. Sturgeon packs perhaps ten years of Horty’s life and a complex backstory into two hundred pages.

Overall score: 5/6

In total, The Dreaming Jewels receives 34 out of 42

Sturgeon, famously, said that 90% of SF is crud, because 90% of everything is crud. In context, he was defending SF against attacks that it is somehow inherently substandard. I thought we were largely beyond dismissing entire genres. Apparently not. This morning, I read a review of Children of Men by Sun critic Liz Braun, who felt the need to defend the near-future movie with a scientifically-inspired premise against charges that it was, you know, science fiction. Apparently, it’s too good a movie for that.

Comments on The Dreaming Jewels?

Anyone planning to see Children of Men?