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Conceptual Fiction: Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon

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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 fantastic or macabre figure in the tale. “I thought I was buying a hardcore crime novel,” writer Steve Rasnic Ten 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 that 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 affair.

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 — 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.

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 hermeneutic 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 the 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, 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.

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