Wednesday 9 February 2022

To Here and the Easel, by Theodore Sturgeon


The US author Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) was a significant fantasy, SF and horror writer and critic, most active in the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote 11 novels (including the award-winning More than Human), 120+ short stories, around 400 reviews and several Star Trek scripts. 

To Here and the Easel is a collection of several longer stories and was first published in 1973, although the individual stories were published earlier (the dates are shown with the titles below). 

The Skills of Xanadu (1956). A scout from a militaristic world arrives on the planet Xanadu in order to make covert preparations for an invasion. He is increasingly puzzled by the apparent contrast between its sophisticated culture and apparently simple technology, but sees nothing that might cause his armed forces any problems. Until, that is, he encounters a certain item with deceptive capabilities. 

There is no Defence (1948). A military SF story set in a future in which the Terrans had recently defeated the Jovians, only to find that both planets face a new threat, apparently from outside the Solar System. The alien ships prove to be untouchable but the Terrans have a secret weapon, too terrible to use except as a last resort.

The Perfect Host (1948). Alien possession is the theme of this detective story, with the interesting twist that essentially the same events are reported from the very different perspectives of several different characters - ultimately including the alien.

The Graveyard Reader (1958). A widower grieving for his wife meets a stranger at the cemetery - a stranger who can "read" graves, learning all about the lives of the occupants. He offers to teach the widower how to do it, so he can understand the mystery of his wife's death, but the outcome is unexpected.

Shottle Bop (1941). A wryly amusing ghost story, told by a rather unpleasant man jilted by his girlfriend, who stumbles across a small and strange shop dealing in bottles containing liquids with some very bizarre properties. One bottle enables the man to see and converse with the ghosts of the recently dead, opening up a profitable career as a medium; but there is a penalty if his new ability is misused.

To Here and the Easel (1954). This longer story (a novella of over sixty pages) is actually the first in the book, but I left it to the end of this review because of its strange and challenging nature. It is told by the main character, Giles, who is a painter. Except when he is Rogero, a knight. Both aspects are controlled by Atlantes, a magician who has a deadly hippogriff at his beck and call. There is also a staggeringly beautiful woman who keeps appearing in his life. The writing is almost stream-of-consciousness in places, and I find it virtually impossible to provide a coherent summary of the plot. Suffice to say that I was fascinated, and certainly want to read it again.

What is apparent from these very varied stories is that Sturgeon was a highly versatile and accomplished writer who is well worth reading.