The Synthetic Man (The Dreaming Jewels) by Theodore SturgeonMarch 26, 2011
The Book: The Synthetic Man (The Dreaming Jewels) by Theodore Sturgeon. Originally published in 1950, the edition read was published in 1957 by Pyramid Books.
The Setting: The United States, Earth, a mid-century present.
The Story: A young boy runs away from a cruel adoptive family with only the broken remains of his toy jack-in-the-box and ends up joining the circus where he hides from the mean circus-master by disguising himself as a female midget. He reads voraciously and is loved by Zena, a real female midget, for many years. Meanwhile, the circus master is conducting research on sentient crystals which produce life. His aim is to destroy mankind by forcing the crystals to create evil and poisonous things instead of, say, little boys *coughcough*. After a decade or so, the boy (now a young man who, as the product of the crystals is able to control his shape) and the circus master face off in a battle which may determine the future of mankind. Or not.
The Science: The crystals, or dreaming jewels of the original title, represent a truly alien form of life. The crystals can work singly or in pairs, and create life, copies of other life (not always very accurate or pretty). But creating life is merely a by product of whatever sort of thought life they lead. Horty, the boy in the book, is ultimately able to enter into that thought life and force his impressions on the crystals, but they’re not all that interested. Definitely an original life form for a novel, and one which we would not be able to recognize if we were to encounter one.
The Reaction: I liked this story. It’s original and readable. The evil characters are REALLY evil and the good ones are REALLY good, but it’s a sort of fairy tale that centers on the idea of what it really is to be human. And Horty, in the middle, has to decided what that means to him. Not a stellar book, but enjoyable.
The Cover: Cover art by Art Sussman. Crazy looking broken face, guy holding up red hand missing three fingers. Important plot elements and a cover that makes you go WTF? Seems to be out of the mystery novel school of covers. I’m not in love, but I’m not complaining.
Next Up: “Silence Please” by Arthur C. Clarke