This is a difficult novel to review, because it is short and not much can be said about it without spoilers. It’s also famous in horror circles, and written by an author with a huge reputation. So having said all that, I’m not going to mince words: I was disappointed.
I heard about this book in the late ‘80s, either at a bookstore or library. I got in a conversation with an older science fiction fan and somehow or other he mentioned Some of Your Blood in awed tones, how great it was supposed to be, and how scarce it was. According to this guy, there was at the time a huge waiting list at the famous SF bookstore A Change of Hobbit for copies of it, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Sturgeon passed on in 1985, and was getting the kind of posthumous recognition often awarded to writers who are talented, creative, published, but not really bestsellers. His unpolished final novel Godbody was published during this time, and I read a Norman Spinrad essay about Sturgeon, and among Spinrad’s typically blunt opinions was that Godbody was a promising novel that needed work, but hardly the masterpiece that some wanted to believe. (I’ve never read it.)
For years I had reading Some of Your Blood on my mental list of stuff to do, and the evocative title seemed perfect for what is – *SPOILER HERE* – sort of a vampire story. I’m glad that I read it, and it was worthwhile, but it is not nearly the disturbing and unsettling depiction of a humanized monster that many have made it out to be. In brief, it follows Dracula just slightly by being told in a series of letters, journal entries and so on (epistolary form), and concerns the psychiatric evaluation by an Army shrink of a disturbed soldier given the name “George Smith.” Smith’s troubled background is revealed and the doctor begins to piece together his secret that it not really much of a secret. There is also an infamous little twist reveal at the very end that no doubt once made readers feel dirty, sick, and weird as the book ended. (It’s not that huge of a shock now, but I well believe that it must have hit hard decades ago.)
So what did I not like? Sturgeon did a great job of revealing bits and pieces of Smith’s background in believable detail, his prose is always readable and moves quickly, and I especially liked how he deliberately made little things obscure so that they could be clarified later. But, there is just not that much sense of foreboding and dread at work here, partially because the doctor and his CO are always exchanging letters with joking introductions that get seriously irritating. (Smarmy, smug, breezy humor of that kind that seemed to begin somewhere in the 1950s and thankfully disappeared in a decade or so just drains the life out of any kind of writing.) It also turns out that Smith has done some terrible things and, despite the sympathy built up for him, is a genuinely disturbed person. Sturgeon doesn’t spend much time on the monstrous side of his monster, however, so concerned was he with getting readers to understand what made Smith into Smith.
And that leads to the real problem I had, running deeper than just my wish that the book had been scarier. Sturgeon seemed to have been one of those early 20th Century types who dumped religion but then embraced a secular faith in progress as the cure for all human unhappiness. And it shows, oh, does it show. There is such a Pollyannaish faith in psychology to cure problems that it makes the book less believable. I half-expected a twist in which the naïve, optimistic doctor is shown up at the end but it never came. In fact the doctor is right about everything and enjoys the flattery of his boss and then of a nurse who contributes quite a lot of research to the case, then gushes over how right he was in his guesses. At that point I wondered if the doctor character was a stand-in for the writer, and if it was wish-fulfillment. It’s definitely a weird little wrinkle on how ‘50s science fiction encouraged the idealization of scientists in the mold of cowboys and other heroes.
So I found the ending a little nauseating—not because of the infamous end reveal, but because of how it flattered a character who at one point tells his patient that only he can figure out his problems. I’m genuinely sorry to say that I found Some of Your Blood to be a little bloodless.