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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reader's Guide to "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon




Gene Wolfe wrote, "The first [sf] story I read was 'Microcosmic God' by Theodore Sturgeon. It has sometimes occurred to me that it has all been downhill from there."

Summary: Voted as one of SF's best stories of all time, "Microcosmic God" tells of James Kidder, jack-of-all-sciences, who invents dozens of things to improve the world.  He invents tiny creatures, Neoterics, which evolve at an incredibly fast rate.  Kidder wanted them to out-evolve humans due to his impatience to see further.  He tortures them, so that they had to become inventive to protect themselves against the elements he subjected them to.  As they grew intelligent, Kidder created laws that must be obeyed or he'd wipe half of them out.

Meanwhile, his banker, Conant, is power-hungry.  He ruthlessly climbs the corporate ladder, then worries about Kidder.  Afraid that Kidder might one day try to wield power, Conant puts Kidder on the job of creating a new power source (interesting to create the literal for what he figuratively wants).  Kidder overhears Conant's designs, but dismisses it since he was in no one's way.  When Kidder has the Neoterics come up with the model, he brushes off Conant.  But Conant, not to be put off, arrives on the island with a team of engineers, engineers who slowly realize they were well-paid prisoners of Conant's, but for what they didn't know:
"Conant liked that man [his engineer, Johansen].  He was, for a moment, a little sorry that Johansen would never reach the mainland alive."
However, Conant overreaches to take over the United States government and bomb Kidder's island, Kidder has to save the Neoterics.

Questions:

  1. In what ways may the word, Microcosmic, be intended?  Break the word into micro and cosm as well.
  2. Why is Kidder named kidder?  Who might he be kidding?
  3. Does Kidder like his fellow humans?  How does his misanthropy affect events?  Is he out to get humans?
  4. What aspect might the Neoterics represent that Kidder is more fascinated to the exclusion of all else?  What do the Neoterics provide?
  5. What aspect of society does Conant represent?  Do his machinations succeed or fail?  Why?  
  6. Who is the microcosmic god?  Kidder who is literally the god of the Neoterics?  Or Conant who wields Kidder's powers ruthlessly?  Or are the Neoterics, as a race, the actual god since their powers do the saving?
  7. Is Kidder any better a human than Conant?  Consider how he behaves toward his created beings?  Support your answer from the text.  If you think his behavior is okay, how do you justify his perpetual near-genocides?  If reprehensible, what do you make of what has become of the Neoterics compared to where we started?  If you find it difficult to pick sides, what might the authorial perspective be?

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