Medusa Uploaded (2018), Volume One of Emily Devenport’s THE MEDUSA CYCLE, begins with two bodies being expelled through the far-future generation ship Olympia’s airlock — bodies formerly belonging to living members of the Executive class of the ship’s inhabitants, and who were deliberately killed for a host of reasons ultimately boiling down to pure, simple revenge. But why is this revenge necessary, and who is stalking the men and women of this elite upper crust, culling them with ruthless efficiency?
Meet Oichi Angelis, a woman who is almost literally a worm in comparison to her “betters,” whose life is spent traveling through service tunnels and access ways, only allowed brief glimpses of the biomes and lavish living quarters enjoyed by the Executives. As a Servant, her ability to hear, speak, or see in any given moment is controlled by the Executives, who are at complete liberty to do whatever they like with her, including chucking her out an airlock in an effort to quell an incipient rebellion. Luckily, she’s retrieved by a Medusa unit, a sentient AI with the capability to bond with Oichi’s cranial implants and is meant to be worn: rather like a tentacled pressure suit, as Oichi remarks.
Oichi is clever, resourceful, and driven to uncover the secrets that were meant to be hidden not only by her death but, as she gradually learns, the deaths and disappearances of countless others. With Medusa’s assistance, Oichi embarks upon a relentless campaign of assumed identities, subterfuge, insurgency, and assassination, with the ultimate goal of destroying the Executives’ control over Olympia and freeing its other inhabitants from endless servitude.
Devenport balances the sweetness of success against bitter setbacks and missteps, and turns Medusa Uploaded into a deliciously creepy, propulsive story that’s almost like if the Aliens franchise were told from the point of view of a facehugger-turned-xenomorph. There are enough twists and turns to keep readers on the edges of their seats, as Oichi and Medusa navigate the labyrinthine power structure the Executives cling to while simultaneously collecting friends and allies to their cause. Though chapters often begin during a key moment and recurve back to show how that point was reached, I never got the sense that success was guaranteed for any of Oichi’s endeavors, or that a long and happy life would be granted to anyone in the cast. Indeed, I never knew who Oichi was going to kill or befriend from one scene to the next, and thoroughly enjoyed that uncertainty.
Where I think readers’ mileage may vary is in Medusa Uploaded’s obvious and fully-acknowledged debt to classical music by composers like Pachelbel, Prokofiev, and Holst, as well as Japanese folklore and cinema, particularly films like Kwaidan and the body of Akira Kurosawa’s work. If one can suspend doubt about the longevity and continued impact of these particular cultural artifacts across centuries or millennia, and appreciate their influence on Devenport’s story-crafting and character work, then their contributions to the novel can be seen as the assets they are. At one point, Devenport includes a sly nod to the “lost in translation” aspect of another figure, showing that she’s aware of a culture’s tendency to judge history by its current standards, often to unintentionally humorous effect. Other references were less successful for me, but that’s only an issue of personal preference for the artifact in question, not Devenport’s writing.
Medusa Uploaded concludes with tantalizing hints at what may lie in store for Oichi, Medusa, and the remaining inhabitants of Olympia. There’s far more at stake than Oichi had initially realized, and a much larger universe of opportunities than she could have dreamed would be available. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next installment.