Sturgeon was not a novelist, he really excelled with the single worked-out idea, although some ideas took longer than others to work through. This, his most famous novel and maybe his most famous story altogether (unless you want to count “Killdozer”), is really three novellas run together, an expansion of the story “Baby is Three”, which is the middle one of the set. Since its that middle one that forms the crux of the whole thing, the other two parts are quite purposefully tacked on, and the whole thing doesn’t completely hang together. In the first part, we meet “The Fabulous Idiot” named Lone, who seems to come from nowhere without knowing anything, but is eventually befriended and taken in by an old farm couple who have lost their own son, and through their tutelage he learns enough to take care of himself. Various other characters are introduced, most of them quite young and endowed with some special ability, either to control people’s thoughts, or teleportation, things that take the place of normal abilities such that they are naturally unable to interact much with the rest of society.
As a result they eventually all come together in the middle section of the book, where they are living under the watchful eye of Miss Kew, who can’t quite believe their special talents really exist but tries to raise them properly. This, the original story from which the novel is expanded, is the only part told after the fact in the first person by one of the older kids, Gerry, who now years later is telling this story to a psychiatrist. The upshot of it all is that what these individuals have together is a gestalt identity, offered up as the next phase of human evolution although it would seem to be an evolutionary dead end since they’re such social misfits. In the last part, “Morality”, the girl Janie is grown up and looking after an Air Force lieutenant named Hip who has forgotten everything about his past, and she gradually brings him out of it and gets him to understand what happened and what Gerry had to do with it. There’s a fair amount of debate in this section on ethics and morality and how these are different for those with special or heightened abilities.
You can’t help but feel Sturgeon read a psychology textbook and is regurgitating the interesting parts into these story ideas, but that should not diminish the seminal importance of this book as a primary example of taking the SF of the time into new directions, where the science is inside the mind and the future being proposed centers on the evolution of mankind. I think what holds it back a little is the obvious intercutting of different stories told in different ways, he might have been better served by either mixing them up more or more thoroughly rewriting and integrating the middle part with the others. Not my favorite Sturgeon, but still his usual poetic, thought-provoking self, and certainly a classic.