Sturgeon’s Law n.

a humorous aphorism which maintains that most of any body of published material, knowledge, etc., or (more generally) of everything is worthless: based on a statement by Theodore Sturgeon, usually later cited as ‘90 per cent of everything is crap’

Originally known as Sturgeon’s Revelation; see quotes. Cf. the earlier use of Sturgeon’s Law, referring to a different aphorism, in the July 1957 quot.

The aphorism (though not the expression itself) was apparently first formulated in 1951 or 1952 at a lecture at New York University, according to a letter to the O.E.D. from Fruma Klass, the wife of science fiction writer Phil Klass (‘William Tenn’) (5 Dec. 2001), and popularized at the 1953 WorldCon science fiction convention (see James E. Gunn Addendum: Sturgeon’s Law in N.Y. Review of Science Fiction # 85 (Sept. 1995) 20).

[after the name of Theodore Sturgeon]

SF Encyclopedia


SF Criticism

  • [1957 T. Sturgeon in Venture Science Fiction July 78 page image Theodore Sturgeon

    There’s Malcolm Jameson on ‘Space War Tactics’, a discussion on ‘Fuel for the Future’—the machine to be fueled happens to be human—by the articulate Jack Hatcher; a fine bit of tongue-in-cheek on the sad state of the copyright laws in the days of interstellar intercourse, by Donald F. Reines; and then there’s your reviewer’s personal favorite, as must needs be for one who has reduced the cosmos to Sturgeon’s Law: Nothing Is Always Absolutely So from a lifelong search for something you can really count on—it’s Frederik Pohl’s ‘How to Count on Your Fingers’. ]

  • [ 1957 T. Sturgeon On Hand: A Book in Venture Science Fiction Magazine Sept. 78 page image Theodore Sturgeon bibliography

    Sturgeon had a revelation. For twenty years he has been defending s f against its lay critics, especially those who buy on the open market anything which calls itself s f, sieve it with a warp and a woof, and dish up the cruddiest bits to the Saturday Review or the New Yorker with the smarmy comment that This Is Science Fiction. It isn’t as easy as one might think to argue with these people, primarily because they really do take their horrible examples out of the s f field, a field which is, they inform the world, ninety-percent crud. And on that hangs Sturgeon’s revelation. It came to him that s f is indeed ninety-percent crud, but that also—Eureka!—ninety-percent of everything is crud. All things—cars, books, cheeses, hairstyles, people and pins are, to the expert and discerning eye, crud, except for the acceptable tithe which we each happen to like. ]

  • [ 1958 T. Sturgeon in Venture Science Fiction Mar. 66/2 page image Theodore Sturgeon

    It is in this vein that I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against the attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of s f is crud. The Revelation: Ninety percent of everything is crud. Corollary 1: The existence of immense quantities of trash in science fiction is admitted and it is regrettable; but it is no more unnatural than the existence of trash anywhere. Corollary 2: The best science fiction is as good as the best fiction in any field. ]

  • 1960 P. Schuyler Miller in Astounding Science Fact & Fiction Dec. 162/2 P. Schuyler Miller

    F. M. Busby, who will probably chair the 1961 World Science [sic] Convention in Seattle, seconds this with the opinion that a new reader, going over the output of the ‘great’ days of 1946 and that of 1959, would consider more of the 1959 stories really good. Theodore Sturgeon once attacked it from the other side with what has become known as Sturgeon’s Law: ‘Ninety per cent of everything is crud.’ The remaining ten per cent is what we call ‘good’ and ten per cent of that—one story in a hundred—is ‘really good’.

  • 1963 ‘J. Merril’ Proceedings: Chicon III 35 Judith Merril

    I think it was probably the final statement which sort of eliminates this discussion but we will go ahead with it anyhow and that was the memorable Sturgeon Law that 90 per cent of everything is crud; including, we regret to say, science fiction.

  • 1963 T. R. Cogswell Proceedings: Chicon III 38

    Judy mentioned Sturgeon’s Law; she was kind enough not to bring the new revisions which is that 9/10ths of all science fiction is bad enough to be written by Ted Cogswell.

  • 1990 P. Anderson Beer Mutterings in Thrust Winter 16/2 Poul Anderson bibliography

    Be it simply agreed that most of what appears to popular taste ranges from bad to abysmal. Sturgeon’s Revelation, you know: Ninety percent of everything is crud. (This is usually quoted as Sturgeon’s Law, but that, according to the man himself, reads ‘Nothing is every [sic] absolutely so’.)

  • 1993 SFRA Review May 42

    But that is no reason for literary scholars to avoid studying or reading them (after all, Sturgeon’s Law states ‘90% of everything is crap’).

  • 1994 B. Bova Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells vi. 44 Ben Bova bibliography

    This is merely proof of Sturgeon’s Law, coined many years ago by one of the best science fiction writers, Theodore Sturgeon: ‘Ninety-five percent of science fiction is crud; but then, ninety-five percent of everything is crud.’

  • 1994 Science Fiction Age July 15/1

    Well, look at it this way: Sturgeon’s Law applies to the concept too.

  • 2015 D. Afsharirad Preface in Year’s Best Military SF & Space Opera 5 page image David Afsharirad bibliography

    Sadly, Sturgeon’s Law still applies in the science-fictional-sounding 21st century. I fear, like the cockroach, it shall always be with us.

Research requirements

antedating 1960

Earliest cite

P.S. Miller in Astounding

Research History
Fred Galvin submitted cites from Judith Merril and Theodore Cogswell from the 1963 "The Proceedings; CHICON III".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1957 cite for "Sturgeon's Revelation" in Venture Science Fiction.
Fred Galvin submitted a 1957 cite for the phrase "Sturgeon's Law" but with the meaning "Nothing is always absolutely so" in Venture Science Fiction.
Fred Galvin submitted a 1960 cite for the "90%" sense from P. Schuyler Miller in Analog.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 2015 cite from David Ashfarirad.

We are still interested in cites before 1960 for "Sturgeon's Law" with the "90% of everything" meaning, and cites before 1957 for variant names for the law.

Added to the OED3 in March 2003; updated in June 2004 with an earliest cite of 1963 for "Sturgeon's Law" and a bracketed cite of 1958 for "Sturgeon's Revelation"; updated at some point later with the 1960 Miller cite.

Last modified 2022-04-02 12:30:39
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.