First published in 1953
More Than Human explores what it means to be human, a question made relevant by the evolution of an entity that Theodore Sturgeon calls Homo Gestalt, a group of individuals who reach completeness only by functioning together as a single being. The 1953 novel is written in three parts. The middle (and weakest) section first appeared as a novella in Galaxy magazine. Sturgeon, whose writing career focused on short stories, turned the novella into a novel by adding the first and third sections. Of the few novels he produced, More Than Human is by far the best.
The first section introduces most of the principle characters. Lone is feeble-minded but has the ability to control the minds of others. Jane can move objects with her mind. Mute twins named Bonnie and Beanie can teleport. While appearing to be developmentally disabled, Baby has the intellectual capacity of a supercomputer. The characters can barely survive as individuals; linked together they constitute a superior form of humanity.
In the first section, Sturgeon uses lush and riveting prose to remind the reader, primarily through the character of Lone, what it means to be human: to know the joy of anticipation and the pain of reality; to accept the necessity of loss as a condition of growth; to be loved and reviled; to lose friends and connect with strangers; to experience the awakening of compassion and empathy after years of comfortable numbness. There are deeper and more profound lessons in this novel than in any ten self-help books. One of my favorites has to do with the continuing struggle for self-realization: "So it was that Lone came to know himself; and like the handful of people who have done so before him he found, at this pinnacle, the rugged foot of a mountain."
The second section takes place several years later. It introduces Gerry Thompson, a disturbed sociopath with an impaired memory. Thompson, like Lone, has the ability to control minds, but it is not an ability that has served him (or humanity) well. He becomes involved with the Gestalt in a less than positive way, losing much of his identity in the process. This section begins and ends with Thompson in the office of a psychiatrist who is trying to help him recover his memory.
Section three takes place after the passage of another several years. It focuses on Hip Barrows, an Air Force engineer who (like Thompson) has lost his memory. Barrows is in jail and likely to be insitutionalized when he meets Jane. With Jane's assistance, Barrows begins to remember the events that led to his incarceration, and ultimately the event that triggered his memory loss -- an event that relates back to something Lone and the Gestalt did in part one. Barrows and Thompson come into conflict when Thompson decides that the Gestalt's behavior need not be governed by human standards.
The third section gives Sturgeon an opportunity to explore questions of ethics. He posits that traditional laws of morality cannot apply to a vastly superior entity, any more than human morals apply to ants, while new concepts of morality cannot arise to govern Homo Gestalt when only one such entity exists. Yet how can Homo Gestalt be complete without a conscience? Sturgeon steers the characters on a path toward self-awareness, much like a Brahmin might act as a spiritual guide to the ways of the universe. There is, in fact, something of a Buddhist or New Age philosophy at work in More Than Human, or at least one that is deeply humanistic (an ironic term, perhaps, to apply to an evolved entity that is more than human).
In many respects, More Than Human is nearly perfect: the dialog is particularly strong, the prose is some of the finest that science fiction has produced, and the message is inspiring. The supporting characters are drawn in finely detailed strokes: a farmer who endures despite losing everything that gave his life meaning; a innocent woman who has been sheltered from life by her deranged, ultra-religious father; a psychiatrist who exemplifies the caring empathy that should characterize his profession.
More Than Human reflects an optimism about the future of humanity that was a common trait of 1950s science fiction, before the genre succumbed to postmodern bleakness. Sturgeon envisioned a destiny for mankind that is not "guided by an awesome Watcher in the sky ... suffused with the pale odor of sanctity," but one that humanity achieves as the inevitable result of progress. Perhaps twenty-first century readers, awash in novels that envision the "posthuman" as a mechanical blend of brain and technology, are too jaded to consider humanity "sainted by the touch of its own great destiny." Jaded or not, the ideas that Sturgeon develops in More Than Human deserve a twenty-first century audience.