Eightyearold Horty Bluett is mocked by his classmates amp; abused by his adoptive parents until the day his father severs three of his fingers He runs away, taking only a gemeyed doll he calls Junky, amp; joins a carnival Finding acceptance at last, Horty never dreams that Junky is than a toy, nor does he realize that a threat far greater than his cruel father inhabits the carnival amp; has been searching for Horty longer than he has been aliveThis book was also published as The Synthetic Man


10 thoughts on “The Dreaming Jewels

  1. Char Char says:

    Having read Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood a few years back, I've been on the lookout for more affordable Sturgeon books. Earlier this year, this one was on sale, and adding the narration was only a couple of bucks more, so I jumped on it. Luckily, I was very pleased with my decision.

    This story was nothing at all like Some of Your Blood. But with an opening line of: They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high school stadium., how could anyone not continue with the tale?

    This book is difficult to categorize. An horrific, dark science fiction tale, with humor, humanity and social commentary-these words work well to describe this story. It also seemed timeless, never once did I feel that I was listening to something that was written in the 50s.

    I liked this book, I liked it a lot. If anyone out there has any other Sturgeon recommendations, please let me know, because I'm impressed with what I've read so far!


  2. Michael Jandrok Michael Jandrok says:

    I’ll admit right off that one of my reading weaknesses is classic science fiction. Oh, I like the modern stuff, too, don’t get me wrong. But it just seems like there was a certain extra gear of craftsmanship in the older novels and short stories. Bradbury, Aldiss, Carter, Asimov, Moorcock, Blish…..too many giants of the genre to mention wrote tales that staggered my young imagination. My room growing up was full of cheap paperbacks and sci-fi and fantasy magazines like “Analog” and “Galaxy.” My tastes have branched out over the years, but I always enjoy coming back to a good science-fiction or fantasy paperback, literary comfort food for my soul.

    I remember picking up a copy of this book sometime in the mid-'80s, in a little section of paperbacks at one of the pawn shops near where I grew up in Texarkana, Texas. That particular printing was under an alternate title, “The Synthetic Man,” and I have fond memories of reading that slim volume in a younger, simpler time for me. I went off to college and left that book behind. Somewhere along the way it got lost or sold or discarded but I have always kept an eye out for another copy so I could enjoy the story once again. As it turns out, there is a little independent used bookstore in Rockport, Texas* where we like to vacation, and this 1977 Dell reprint just happened to jump off of the shelf for me.

    Theodore Sturgeon was not a “hard” science-fiction writer. His forte was in creating complex and believable characters and working in a lot of humanistic elements into his stories. The book starts out as eight year-old Horty Bluett is caught doing something…..unusual. Nowadays it would get him quite a few votes on a YouTube channel, but back in the day that sort of thing was not looked upon with such wonder and amusement. Horty lives in a house with his adoptive parents, a scummy couple prone to abuse. When his “father” slams Horty’s hand with a closet door, causing massive damage, Horty runs away to literally join the circus, his only possessions being a few clothes and his mysterious jack-in-the-box toy, “Junky.” Horty is accepted into the sideshow life on the condition that he masquerade as a female dwarf, a deception that he is able to pull off seamlessly. What is the connection between Junky and Horty? What darkness does the carnival hide? What mischief will his adoptive father get up to as time passes? It’s a great start to the book, and the pages turn fast as the action ramps up.

    “The Dreaming Jewels” is one of Theodore Sturgeon’s best short novels. If it were released today it would probably be positioned off in the “Young Adult” section of the store, but it was originally released in 1950. Part of what makes this book so strong, though, is its timeless quality. It doesn’t seem dated despite the fact that it was released 67 years ago. There are themes of gender roles and feminism and a soft sexuality at the core of the story that are just as relevant today as they must have been shocking in 1950. I was also impressed with Sturgeon’s depiction of the ”dreaming jewels” themselves. I enjoy science-fiction where the aliens are TRULY “alien,” and that is certainly the case here. Rather than rely on standard tropes, the author gives the “other” species an original and satisfying backstory and makes them believable as a collective, while still leaving something to the reader’s imagination.

    Theodore Sturgeon is one of my favorite writers in any genre. His use of language is beautiful and spare, a true wordsmith. He’s not as poetic and flowery as Bradbury, nor is he as dry and succinct as Asimov. I’d like to finish out the review with a few lines from the book.

    He began to sing, and because the truck rumbled so, he had to sing out to be heard; and because he had to sing out, he leaned on the song, giving something of himself to it as a high-steel worker gives part of his weight to the wind.

    And now, at dawn, the carnival itself. The wide, dim street, paved with wood shavings, seemed faintly luminous between the rows of stands and bally-platforms. Here a dark neon tube made ghosts of random light rays from the growing dawn; there one of the rides stretched hungry arms upward in bony silhouette. There were sounds, sleepy, restless, alien sounds; and the place smelled of damp earth, popcorn, perspiration, and sweet, exotic manures.

    Implicit in this was humanity. With it, the base of Survival emerged, a magnificent ethic: the highest command is in terms of the species, the next is survival of group. The lowest of three is survival of self. All good and all evil, all morals, all progress, depend on this order of basic commands. To survive for the self at the price of the group is to jeopardize species. For a group to survive at the price of the species is manifest suicide. Here is the essence of good and of greed, and the wellspring of justice for all of mankind.

    That is good stuff, kids. I can’t recommend the classics enough, and you are not going to go wrong with Ted Sturgeon. The man was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame for a reason. Check out those paperback racks, don’t be afraid to get a bit of Scotch tape to keep the covers together. Read, and lose yourself for a bit in a good story………..

    * Upon editing this review, I felt compelled to mention that great bookstore in Rockport, Texas no longer exists, it being a victim of hurricane Harvey. There is naught left but a scraped over empty lot lot where to store once stood. It's a sad reminder that nothing in this world is permanent, that change and nature will always win out in the end.


  3. Liz Liz says:

    Last Christmas, I mentioned to my parents that I'd like to read more science fiction. Being the hella-nerds they are, mom and dad pooled their resources and, predictably, went overboard. Christmas morning, I unwrapped a giant cardboard box filled with sci-fi paperbacks. I was overwhelmed, but pleased with my new stockpile. I would reach in and grab a book every now and again by someone I had at least heard of: Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke, and other typical fair of the genre.
    But then I started looking at the ones I didn't recognize. The old out-of-print pulp paperbacks with ripped spines and slowly browning, musky pages.
    The Synthetic Man was easily the oldest looking by a long shot. It was short, and the back only had a two sentence description about eating ants. My interest was piqued, so I gave it a go.
    Nine times out of ten, picking up a book at random without any knowledge of it will, at best, leave you pleasantly entertained, and at worst, make you want to purge your brain of the 200 or so pages worth of foulness you've just fed it. [Of course, this wasn't completely at random. These were hand-selected by my brilliant, geeky parents. But nevertheless, the feeling applies.] Then, every now and again, you find a gem. A book that has everything, a book where everything falls into place perfectly. A book you start recommending to everyone, no matter how irritated they get with you.
    The Synthetic Man was that book for me. It was simply an absolute delight. Without giving too much away, I'll say this: there's a boy who eats ants, but he's not really a boy. There's a circus spreading plagues wherever it goes. And its freakshow? The freaks aren't your run of the mill sideshow attractions. Think Frankenstein meets The X-Men. Sort of.


  4. Kathryn Kathryn says:

    The book blurb states this was Sturgeon's first novel and it is an impressive beginning. The only other book of the author's I have read is More Than Human, which was slightly more ambitious but also less enjoyable. I sympathized with the characters in this book far more. The story was simple and sincere but captivating and beautiful as well. The setting reminded me of HBO's Carnivale, that perfect and doomed show I wish to this day had never been cancelled. I am having a difficult time deciding whether I liked the setting or the main character more.

    Horty was perfect and I loved him from the very beginning when he was caught doing that very bad thing at school. And by the end of what I think was the first chapter, before Horty sets off, I was shocked and disturbed and fascinated with Sturgeon for forcing me to care so strongly for a character as fast as I did for Horty.

    I liked the ending but the last chapter or 2 before the final page felt slightly rocky, which is the only reason why I am not rating 5 stars.

    I love how Sturgeon blends science fiction, fantasy, and social commentary. His books are accessible and inventive and so far, highly recommended.


  5. Nate D Nate D says:

    For the 1950 first novel of Vonnegut's model for Kilgore Trout, I was actually pleasantly surprised by this one. A very human coming-of-age balanced by some dips into bizarre scientific study of abstract life (a little more optimistic about mediating between these worlds than Stanislaw Lem, however). And for a while wholly unpredictable, culminating in a completely startling revenge sequence. Ultimately, the trajectory has to reconform a relatively normal set of guidepoints, though -- the second half becoming much more foreseeable at least in generalities. Still, entertaining and sympathetic, which is already more than I can say about a lot of 50s-era sci-fi. Sturgeon seems to have an empathy for the marginalized I find lacking in some of his contemporaries, and it goes a long way.


  6. J.M. Hushour J.M. Hushour says:

    Wacky science fiction at its best, but maybe not Sturgeon's best. I'm probably being unfair comparing his other works to the great More Than Human. Jewels stands out on its own. It's nothing phenomenal and it might seem a little less fresh than it appeared at the time it was written in 1950.
    The plot should be enough to ensnare you: an 8-year old boy with a jewel-eyed jack-in-the-box named Junky gets his fingers cut off by an evil foster father, so he runs off to a carnival where the midgets turn him into a transgender midget performer to hide him from Maneater, the evil ruler of the carnival. Turns out those jewels are actually fucking aliens!
    Good stuff, but not great. Good enough, I guess!


  7. Simon Simon says:

    Theodore Sturgeon only wrote SF because no other genre could possibly have contained the immensity of his ideas. But he wrote unconsciously of the genre and his work tends to be devoid of the usual trappings found in many other SF writers work. That this was originally published in 1951 only serves to intensify my admiration for this man's work, reminding me just how ahead of his time he was.

    Sturgeon is an ideas man so one might compare him to the likes of A.E. van Vogt and Philip K. Dick but he combines his powerful imagination with masterful literary skills, something the other two often struggled to do. He also conveys an authorative understanding and depth of knowledge of the subject matter in question. And this book is no exception.

    This is a gripping and traumatic story packed full of interesting characters. Once again a contemplation of what it is to be human is the central theme of this book. While not quite attaining the dizzying heights of More Than Human, this is a great story and deserves more recognition than it appears to have.

    I can't wait to read some more of this man's work, although I'm not sure where to go next...


  8. Stephen Stephen says:

    3.5 stars. This is another one that is right in the middle of 3 and 4 stars. This is another well written, emotionally charged story about an 8 year old boy who runs away from his abusive foster parents and joins up with a travelling carnival full of special people. From there it is a coming of age story as only Sturgeon can tell it full of unique aliens, misfits, mad doctors and dreams of worldwide destruction. Recommended!!


  9. Neil McCrea Neil McCrea says:

    They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high school stadium, and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street. He was eight years old then. He'd been doing it for years.

    That opening paragraph is quite the hooker, to use Stephen King's parlance, it draws you into the book and sets the pace for what's to come.

    The works of Theodore Sturgeon have been a major gap in my classic Science fiction library. I haven't managed to avoid him entirely, of course, but what I have read previous is no more than a smattering of short stories that I have to be reminded are Sturgeon's. I've taken my first step towards filling that gap with The Dreaming Jewels, his first novel, and I pretty much love it.

    Many have warned me that Sturgeon's novels are novels of ideas and that character and style are secondary for him. Based solely on the Dreaming Jewels, that sounds like nonsense to me. The characters are more archetypal than strictly realistic, but that serves the dreamy, fable like atmosphere of the novel. As to style, Sturgeon has plenty to spare.

    Zena, naked, came sliding out of the dim whiteness of her sheets like the dream of a seal in surf.

    Sturgeon writes Soft Sci-Fi so there are no careful explanations of the weird science, but the ideas explored are interesting. I was continuously surprised that a novel written in 1950 dealt with child abuse and gender politics in a way that occasionally felt contemporary, not to mention the fact that Sturgeon was able to incorporate these elements without sidetracking the grand adventure of it all.

    I certainly plan to read more Sturgeon in the future.

    (view spoiler)[I'd like to add that the resolution of the romantic storyline pleased me to no end. The fact that Horty ends up with the dwarf Zena rather than his childhood sweetheart may have some creepy Oedipal overtones, but it was such a refreshing change from the way these narratives generally develop that it had me grinning. (hide spoiler)]


  10. Erik Graff Erik Graff says:

    Theodore Sturgeon is unusual among mainstream male science fiction writers of the fifties and sixties in that he writes with sensitivity, focusing more on his characters than on technologies or extraordinary plots. He is favorably comparable to Ray Bradbury, though less given to the utterly fantastic. This, his first, novel is a sympathetic portrayal of an abused boy, a theme unusual to the period, and of how his alliance with other social rejects saves humanity.