conceptual fiction

Essay by Ted Gioia

Some of Your Blood stands out in the oeuvre of Theodore Sturgeon
as a grand, unclassifiable novel.  Readers who associate this author
with science fiction will be surprised to find none of the trademarks of
that genre here.  The book is sometimes presented as a horror story
or fantasy, but no elements of the magical or supernatural figure in
the tale.  “I thought I was buying a hardcore crime
novel,” writer Steve Rasnic Tem has noted,
recalling his first encounter with the book;
“but by the time I got home and into my
bedroom, I wasn't sure what I had.”

Sturgeon may have been ahead of his time,
for this odd book has all the trappings of a
post-modern mystery.  The novel is
presented in the form of a lengthy text,
and its deconstruction—an unraveling of
the story that points out the ominous gaps
and ambiguous signifiers.  At some points,
the “author” intrudes to provide meta-
fictional reflections on the narrative, and
at the conclusion even offers a range of
alternative resolutions to the story,
inviting the reader to choose a favorite
ending from among the available options.  

All the usual plot elements are reversed here.  The story starts with
the criminal already in custody.  But it is not clear whether George
Smith has broken any law.  He is being held in a military hospital for
observation, because a major was worried about his violent
tendencies.  To all appearances, the charges are overblown, and the
supervising officer wants to release Smith, and hush up the whole

In other words, the mystery is over before it begins.  There is no
crime, no criminal, no victim, no evidence, and not even an accuser—
the major who made the original complaint is killed in a C-119 crash a
short while later, so no one can even explain the original charges.  
Apparently Smith, while stationed overseas, wrote a disturbing letter
that alarmed a military censor and set in motion the whole matter—
but no copy of the letter has been preserved.  Smith, for his part, is
the least talkative individual in the US military, and has nothing to say
about his predicament.

In other words, the plot is dead on arrival, with apparently nowhere to
go from the starting block.  

Yet a doctor who is charged with closing the case and releasing the
soldier is suspicious.  He asks his taciturn patient to write an account
of the circumstances that led to his confinement, and is surprised
when Smith delivers a novella-sized manuscript a few days later.  
Smith has written the story of his life.   This document, which is both
scrupulously true yet deeply false, will serve as the departure point
for a thought-provoking hermeneutical exercise.
 Some of Your Blood  
amplifies on the details related in Smith’s memoir with letters,
transcripts, case studies, and other supplementary materials.  Yet the
more we learn, the less satisfied we become with the answers at
hand.   Long before Barthes'
SZ and Lacan's Écrits, Sturgeon is
showing that the real story often starts with the silences in the text.  

Some of Your Blood gradually evolves into a dark, twisted
psychological study.  Novels of this period often reveal a fixation with
headshrinkers and psychoanalytic concepts—almost to the same
degree as stories by twenty-something writers these days are
dressed up with elements of Internet, email and text messaging
culture.  Yet Sturgeon digs deeper than the pop psychology trappings
of his peers, and recreates with vivid verisimilitude the real clinical
atmosphere of era. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Sándor Ferenczi and
other early theorists of the unconscious even show up in supporting
roles.  Sturgeon has done substantial research into the literature of
aberrant behavior, and this allows him to impart an aura of plausibility
to his tale, a sense of realism that remains even after the plot begins
to veer off into the bizarre and unseemly.

Like your standard mystery, this one ends up with a solved crime, an
apprehended criminal, and justice upheld.  Or does it?  Our estimable
genre writer shows that he can dish out experimental techniques with
the best of them, and Sturgeon caps off his strange book with an
even stranger ending .  Often when a novelist opts for an ambiguous
conclusion to a complex plot, I am left unsatisfied.  But in this case,
the multiplicity of possible outcomes offers the perfect closure to a
book that started breaking the rules from the outset.  The result is a
gripping novel that relies on pulp fiction conventions without ever
falling into the conventional.  

Some of Your Blood

by Theodore Sturgeon
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Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites
The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter


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Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
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The Misread City
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True Science Fiction
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