“Baby Is Three”

Between traveling and a birthday, I’m a bit behind covering the weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

This week’s story is a famous piece of science fiction but not generally known as a piece of weird fiction. But the voting over at the Deep Ones discussion group occasionally selects these borderline cases, and I did vote for this one.

Baby Is Three

Review: “Baby Is Three”, Theodore Sturgeon, 1952.

This is an acclaimed novella, and, stylistically, it’s pretty clever.

It all takes place in a therapy session imposed by the 15-year old Gerard (with some tough guy talk) on psychotherapist Stern. It’s almost all dialogue except some therapeutic flashbacks which, of course, solve the central mystery: what Gerard is and why he killed one Miss Kew.

The answer is he didn’t, he just wanted to because he thought staying with her threatened a gestalt’s existence.

Said gestalt is Baby (perpetually a baby); Bonnie and Beanie who are black twin girls who can teleport; telekinetic Jane; Gerard, in his own words, is “the central ganglion” of Homo Gestalt as he dubs it.

The story opens with Gerry forcing his way into therapy and revealing his past which started out as an eight-year old runaway from a state institution for orphans. He’s found by Lone, a taciturn may who takes Gerard to, basically, a combo cave and cabin where the rest of the gestalt is. Lone dies, but he gives instructions to Gerard that, upon his death, the children are to go to the home of the wealthy Miss Kew.

After some adjustments – like being reproached for making Bonnie and Beanie separate from the others because their black and trying to send the “Mongoloid” Baby to a home, Kew provides a happy three years for the children under her tutelage.

We learn, in a flashback, that Lone once met the hidebound — the adjective “Victorian” is frequently assigned to her — engaging in her sole pleasure: dancing alone in the woods. He is a telepath and reads her mind for information, trying to figure out what he and the rest of the gestalt is.

He coerces her into reading all kinds of books that may answer his questions and gets the info out of her mind at future meetings in the woods. On their last meeting, it is heavily implied that he has sex with the virgin Kew, and this seems to bind her to his memory with gratitude.

The story ends with the narrator, Gerard, explaining to Stern the potential, when they are adults, of the gestalt. It is implied they will supplant regular humans. The gestalt is not a sole exception, argues Gerard. Its parts have existed in tales of psychics and poltergeists and telepaths. Before his death, Lone was the telepathic ganglion of the gestalt, and Gerard will be that when he matures.

The story ends with him making Stern forget with induced amnesia and Baby and Beanie working to erase the recording of the session. We already see that Gerard can manipulate people through a strong, intuitive sense. There is also some implication that Gerard, when Stern says he’s going home to make a spinster happy, that Gerard may start a sexual relationship with Kew given her encounter with Lone.

I’m not fond of this story despite its skillful presentation. I’m not fond of the vanity that many science fiction fans seem to have that, if they are awkward or social outcasts, they must have reserves of superior intelligence or special abilities. (Think of it as the Slan Syndrome.) That probably unintentional pandering probably accounts for this story’s reputation beyond its skillful telling. After all, it’s not even the first persecuted-children-destined-to-rule-the-world story.

In fairness, Sturgeon’s idea of a gestalt is something novel.

Another reason I suspect this story has a favored place in genre memory is its liberal and progressive themes. There’s the transforming power of sex with that hidebound librarian that just needs to get laid. Also, the social outcast – shunned because of looks, race, or lack of employment – gets a privileged place as, literally, superhuman.

Also I’m not that fond of stories where we are expected to sympathize with the mutant clade that will supplant homo sapiens.

So, as a hidebound reactionary myself, I’ve only found about half the Sturgeon I’ve read (and there is a lot I haven’t) interesting.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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