Name your poison. Who are the best writers in the history of horror and imagination? Stephen King? H.P. Lovecraft? Shirley Jackson? Ray Bradbury? Bloch, Matheson, Beaumont? Peter Straub? All good choices, but I'll tell you this: Theodore Sturgeon is the equal of any of them.

Those who know, know, but not enough readers are familiar with the work of Theodore Sturgeon. He didn't reach the heights of acclaim of others like Dick, Matheson, or Bradbury, because Sturgeon has not had as many media adaptations as those guys. His short story, "Killdozer", was made into a nifty little TV movie in the seventies. Sturgeon did an episode of the original Star Trek show. A few other tidbits, but not a lot else.

Also, Theodore Sturgeon is branded with the scarlet SF letters, making him a pariah to many horror readers. It's a real shame, as a lot of his work is decidedly horrific. "Killdozer", as I mentioned above. Other short stories like "Shottle Bop" and "Bright Segment". Sturgeon's novel, Some of Your Blood, is an offbeat take on the vampire trope.

Then there is The Dreaming Jewels, which easily makes the short list of best Science Fiction novels of all time. It's dark enough to qualify as a horror story, but The Dreaming Jewels is pure SF.

The novel opens with a searing episode of child abuse. It's pretty off-putting, but hang on, dear reader. Sturgeon knew what he was doing, and he was a humanist of the highest degree. The Dreaming Jewels is an uplifting experience. It's as beautiful as it is terrifying.

A boy, Jordy, is caught doing something disgusting in the opening sentence. It's not what you think it is. The shame and punishment cause him to run away and join a traveling circus. There he finds the family he never had, but there's more to Jordy than some odd habits. He might not even be human.

Many point to More Than Human as Sturgeon's finest hour, but I always preferred The Dreaming Jewels. You couldn't ask for more in a novel. There's enough awe-inspiring speculation to please any SF maven, but The Dreaming Jewels is breathtakingly human.

The Dreaming Jewels was originally published in 1950, but it could have been written today. Sure, there are some outmoded phrases and references, but the book feels timeless.

There are books everyone should read. Boy's Life, Ghost Story, Deathbird Stories, The Shining, I am Legend, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The Dreaming Jewels is another.

As I said, those who know Sturgeon's work revere it. Bring his name up and you'll see excitement in the eyes of those who have been graced by his words. Vonnegut obviously based his Kilgore Trout character on Theodore Sturgeon. King called him one of the greatest writers of SF and Fantasy who ever lived. Ellison claimed Sturgeon "could write any damned thing better than any of the rest of us could do".

Theodore Sturgeon might be best remembered for citing Sturgeon's Law. When someone remarked that 90% of science fiction is crap, Sturgeon agreed, but added that 90% of everything is crap. He said this in 1951. I think, in the decades since then, it's closer to 95%.

Written by Mark Sieber

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