i Editor's Letter: Theodore Sturgeon had a point


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The Independent Online


Yesterday, the engaging BBC presenter Paul Ross introduced me to "Sturgeon's Law", with which I am now obsessed. The late American science-fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon, grew tired of defending sci-fi from critics who used the genre's worst examples to make their point. Asked why so much sci-fi writing was "crap" he replied that 90 per cent of everything was crap, and that sci-fi was no different to any other art form or, arguably, anything.

It is impossible to escape Sturgeon's Law, when trawling the shops for presents that are not "crap", yet remain affordable. As I write I've just spent a long hour in Waterstone's and the new HMV "pop-up" shop that opened locally for Christmas. In both, the shopping environment was friendly and the staff helpful to the point of poignancy in the face of competition from online retailers (HMV staff, in particular, face an uncertain post-Christmas future).

But who buys all that "stuff"? There's so much of it: the innumerable books and CDs we've never heard of, let alone the terrible ones you'd never buy – or banks of box-set TV shows that were never any good first time around; and that no one talks about today to ensure their coveted "long tail"?

It isn't confined to culture: the dreadful clothes, awful chocolate, repellent perfume and other tat passing for "fun" alternative gifts. Most of it, if ever sold, would be unwrapped and discarded in an instant, with perhaps a fake laugh, disguising the fact the recipient actually hates you. The sheer volume of vulgar rubbish is entirely overwhelming. That Theodore Sturgeon had a point. It's just a shame he wasn't much of a writer!