To me, the sci-fi great Theodore Sturgeon has a writing style that is truly hit or miss. Either you love his stream-of-consciousness prose, with unexplained yet wholly personal metaphors, or you don’t. I happen to be one of the people who stands right in the middle of it. When it comes to his ‘Star Trek’ episodes, I hate watching “Shore Leave”, but I’ll rewatch “Amok Time” over and over. I cannot seem to finish his most famous work, ‘More Than Human’, yet I love his Hugo award-winning short story, ‘The Man Who Lost the Sea’.
And it’s because I like that short story so much that ‘The Man Who Lost the Sea’ will be the subject for today’s Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column dedicated to the great sci-fi of the past.
But first, a word of warning. If you can’t stand second person narratives with questionable time frames, this may not be your jam. But even if that’s not, it’s a very short read so you can probably muddle through. Despite its length, it packs quite a punch, so it’s well worth it.
The story starts with a little boy finding a sick man on the beach and insists on showing him a toy helicopter. But the sick man “doesn’t want to think about flying, about helicopters, or about [the little boy], and he most especially does not want explanations about anything by anybody. Not now. Now, he wants to think about the sea.”
It seems like a throwaway line, but the story begins to follow a disjointed narrative of moments in the sick man’s life that are interrupted by the little boy, who he just wants to go away. The sick man also has surprising insight into the boy’s life, able to know stories in his past without seeming to know him. The sick man continues to try and get away from the beach, and survive, all the while being chased by memories of the boy and his toys.
In the end, you realize the sick man is the little boy, and his thoughts and disgust with the boy that would become him are coming from his slow death after crash-landing on Mars.
Really, it’s an emotional piece that is more about transporting the reader to a feeling they may never have had and using a scifi trope to couch it. But it’s still good scifi (even if every fact about the Martian landscape is wrong), and I wish there was more scifi still written in this very human style where character and life experience trumps scientific possibilities.
All in all, it deserves it’s Hugo Award, and while I may be 50/50 on Sturgeon’s other works, this short story will always be a favorite.