Today in SF History: Theodore Sturgeon rewrites an already published story

One of my favorite moments in SF history is Theodore Sturgeon's decision to rewrite his 1947 story "Maturity," which had already been published in Astounding Science Fiction.

As detailed in Microcosmic God: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Volume II, this doesn't mean SF authors before Sturgeon failed to rewrite their stories. Of course many of them did  – PRIOR to publication. However, once a story was published, there wasn't a financial or professional incentive for further rewrites. Due to the low pay and prestige of the pulp markets, authors often cranked out stories as fast as they could. Going back to rewrite a story which had already earned a paycheck was not something your average authors considered doing.

However, Sturgeon wasn't your average writer. Already known as one of the genre's "master wordsmiths," Sturgeon took extreme care with his stories and was extremely irritated when a story didn't work out as he'd intended – or worse, when an editor made random edits to fit a magazine's style. For example, Sturgeon quickly learned that editor H. L. Gold of Galaxy Science Fiction continually made bad edits to his stories. As a result, when he submitted to Gold he wrote the word STET – the editorial term for letting the copy stand as is – across the margins of each page of his submissions.

But before Sturgeon worked with Galaxy, he published stories like "Maturity" in Astounding. Sturgeon wasn't satisfied with the story and, when he learned it would be reprinted in an anthology, rewrote it. Nevermind that this didn't earn him much, if any, more money. He wanted the story to be the way he wanted it.

Word soon spread in the SF community that one of the genre's best writers had rewritten an already published story. SF fans began comparing the original story to the rewritten version, trying to understand what made Sturgeon rewrite it. His rewrite was debated in fanzines and by word of mouth, and the entire genre was the better for it.

To read more about this, go to Microcosmic Gods on Google Books. Be sure to also read the following page, which describes how many SF writers of the time promoted a false belief that they never rewrote their stories. Instead, they proudly proclaimed, "It all comes out first draft." Sturgeon's famous rewrite was one major step in changing this sense of false bravado in the SF genre.

For previous "Today in SF History" items, click here.