“Does a superman have super-hunger, Gerry? Super-loneliness?”
Theodore Sturgeon (pen name of Edward Hamilton Waldo, 1918-1985) imagines superman in More Than Human without cape, nice haircut, and cartoon ethics. Rather superman is the whole of a gestalt human made from mutant freaks with paranormal powers. The “head” of this homo gestalt–the future of humanity–is Lone, and his formation of the gestalt is the focus of the first section of MTH, which is a collection of three interconnected novellas. At the beginning of the novel, Lone is pitiful. He’s an “idiot” without language or social skills who uses strong telepathic powers to find food and shelter. But his life changes drastically when he’s taken in by a grieving farm couple. They put him to work, teach him how to speak, and provide for his needs. Eventually, Lone moves on with his life. He builds a shelter in the woods and takes in three refugees: a telekinetic girl and twin teleports. Together, they find the rest of their oneness: a super-computational baby and a street urchin.
Section two takes place after Lone has died. The gestalt reforms with a new “head,” though a particularly inexperienced and ethically questionable one. They go to live in the moneyed home of someone from Lone’s past. However, this living experiment ends in murder.
The final section revolves around the “normal” human Hip Barrows. Hip’s mind has been blasted into fragments for an unknown reason. The gestalt’s telekinetic, Janie, helps him to piece it back together. Meanwhile, the gestalt as a whole searches for a conscience.
Sturgeon’s strong suit has always been considered the short story format, so perhaps it’s not a surprise that his best-known and best-loved novel is actually a collection of three novellas. MTH is filled with pathos–starting with the pathetic idiot Lone struggling with basic existence and ending with a new lifeform painfully piecing together an identity and the will to do right. The book can be awfully dramatic and overwrought with emotion at time because of it. In particular, the third section features a love story that I found sour to the taste. But I also marveled at Sturgeon’s daring for the time. For instance, his new species is multiracial. The gestalt’s twin teleports are black, though to the rest of the gestalt they are just other parts of the whole. Sturgeon also has two non-mutant characters named Alicia and Evelyn Kew who blatantly reflect the attempts of 20th-century man to control, manipulate, and destroy female sexuality. They live in a de facto prison with their father as warden. Father Kew keeps them ignorant of the outside world (they’ve never seen or heard of an automobile), ignorant of their bodies (they’re forced to dress and bath in absolute darkness), and completely sheltered from human contact. Chilling.