“Essay on Sturgeon” by Groff Conklin – Who is this guy and why on
earth did he write this introduction? It’s terrible. Complete with
gratuitous references to Sturgeon’s “lovely wife.” Thank goodness I’d
already read Sturgeon, or this intro might have turned me off…
“The Silken-Swift” – This is the story that justifies the cover art. I wouldn’t say that the cover is really very indicative of the overall content of the book; but this is, technically, a fairy-tale, with a unicorn. However, it’s more complex and disturbing than one might expect.
“The Professor’s Teddy-Bear” – an evil teddy bear gives a child waking dreams in which he kills people horribly. But are they dreams or visions of things to come?
“Bianca’s Hands” – a young man develops a disturbing obsession for a retarded woman. Things do not end up well.
“Saucer of Loneliness” – a UFO – or a message in a bottle? The only woman to have communicated with aliens refuses to tell what she has learned. Beautiful, powerful, and surprisingly positive…
“The World Well Lost” – Hard to talk about with spoilers… like so many short stories! Sad, revealing, and surprisingly sensitive.
“It Wasn’t Syzygy” – A man meets a woman who seems perfect for him – almost too perfect to be true. And, of course, there’s a reason.
“The Music” – A one-and-one-half-page long horror story. Creepy, for all its brevity!
“Scars” – A Western story… out on the range, one guy relates what it means to be called a ‘gentleman’ to another. Some good moments, but probably the weakest story of the collection.
“Fluffy” – May be the nastiest cat portrayed in fiction!
“The Sex Opposite” – A CSI-style tale of a medical examiner called in to investigate a brutal crime. Apparently, a pair of conjoined twins has been murdered, their bodies mutilated. But the events that unfold are even weirder that they initially appeared…
“Die, Maestro, Die!” – Jealousy and murder tear a jazz band apart…
“Cellmate” – You seriously, seriously do not want to be stuck in jail with this guy.
“A Way of Thinking” – A philosophical and nasty tale of a voodoo doll.
So – overall, I’d say this collection is mostly horror, with a bit of sci-fi & fantasy thrown in. However, it’s hard to convey in a brief summary how really good these stories are. Sturgeon was truly a master. It’s also remarkable how very non-dated most of them feel. Many of them could have been published this year: the characterization, the psychology, it all feels fresh and true. It’s hard to believe that these were published in the 40’s and 50’s.