Theodore Sturgeon was among SF's greatest short story writers. The Dreaming Jewels (1950) is his first novel, updating the evergreen theme of a boy who escapes cruel step-parents to join a travelling carnival.
Villainous carnival owner "Maneater" Monetre's star attractions are his "Strange People"--in cruder days, the freaks. Without preaching, Sturgeon shows these as loveable and very human. Beautiful Zelda and her fellow midgets shelter the fleeing, maimed boy Horty and disguise him as one of themselves. Solum the Alligator-Skinned Man, "ugliest human in captivity", is a sensitive soul with exquisite handwriting. There are more.
The Maneater himself, a failed scientist who hates humanity, has learned that many Strange People owe their existence to sentient but unfathomable alien jewels fallen to Earth, whose dreams take solid form:
"They dream in flesh and sap, wood and bone and blood. And sometimes their dreams aren't finished, and so I have a cat with two legs, a hairless squirrel, and Gogol, who should be a man, but has no arms, no sweat glands, no brain."
What Monetre doesn't know, and Zelda desperately conceals, is that Horty is a special person born from the dreaming of not the usual single jewel but two. When Horty later uses his strange abilities to begin revenge on his stepfather--a sexual predator who's both loathsome and pitiable--this secret leaks out, bringing his childhood sweetheart under threat. High drama follows, and Sturgeon's ending gleefully smashes the unwritten rules of romance. An enjoyable, warm-hearted SF classic. --David Langford