To Marry Medusa: A beautiful but frightening speculation

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTo Marry Medusa by Theodore SturgeonTo Marry Medusa by Theodore Sturgeon

Note: Here is Sandy’s review of the related The Cosmic Rape.

Dan Gurlick is a pathetic human being, which is undoubtedly why nobody likes him. He has no identifiable positive personality traits, his motivations and desires are base, and he lacks the skills and knowledge to appropriately acquire the things he wants. Life suddenly changes for Gurlick when he accidentally ingests the spore of an alien hivemind named Medusa. Medusa has been all over the universe enfolding the collective minds of the species it finds. When Medusa becomes conscious on Earth, in Gurlick’s mind, it’s surprised to find that human brains are not connected. Perhaps humans have sensed Medusa’s plan and have protected themselves by disorganizing. The hivemind plans to use Gurlick’s limited brain to figure out how to put human minds back together so it can engulf them. To get Gurlick’s cooperation, Medusa promises to give him whatever his nasty heart desires.

Theodore Sturgeon’s To Marry Medusa, originally published as the longer novel The Cosmic Rape in 1958, is a not just an exciting hivemind science fiction story, it’s also a beautiful but frightening speculation about what life would be like if humans shared a collective consciousness. At first the idea is naturally horrifying, but Sturgeon makes us reconsider by interspersing humanity’s response to Medusa with vignettes of several characters experiencing loneliness, loss, lust, jealousy, fear, or budding faith. A group mind could be a powerful thing, but if we all share the same mind, what is the value of one of us?

I listened to Blackstone Audio’s version of To Marry Medusa, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki who is the reason I chose to read this book in audio format. As always, he does a great job except that I think he said the word “unties” when he meant “unites” at one point, though perhaps it was a typo in the book. I wouldn’t usually pick on something so seemingly trivial, but those two words have opposite meanings and, in this context, it confused me for a moment.

For such an old SF hivemind story, To Marry Medusa is surprisingly fresh and deeply thought-provoking. I’m putting the rest of Theodore Sturgeon’s work on my TBR list.

Up until one minute ago, Gurlick was merely a specimen of homo sapiens, and a substandard specimen at that. But now this craven, seething, barely literate drunk has ingested a spore that traveled light-years before touching down on our planet, a spore that has in turn ingested Gurlick, turning him into a host for the Medusa, a hive mind so vast that it encompasses the life forms of a billion planets — a hive mind that is determined to ingest Earth as well. In this mind-wrenching classic of science fiction, visionary novelist Theodore Sturgeon places humanity on a collision course with an organism of unimaginable power and malevolence and reminds us how much we depend on each other — or even on a wretch like Gurlick. Crackling with suspense, overflowing with invention, and startling in its compassion, To Marry Medusa is a tour de force from one of the great imaginers of the golden age of speculative fiction.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Sturgeon was always a philosopher, and after your review, I’m thinking it’s time for me to re-read this one! Thanks, Kat.

  2. Marion, that’s what I loved most about this story. Sturgeon almost had me convinced that a hivemind would be good for humanity.

  3. Wow, I can’t remember if I ever read that one, and I thought I’d read just about all the Sturgeon that was out there. I’ll have to hunt this one up.

    I’ve been collecting the Collected Stories of Sturgeon for some years now — I THINK the series is now complete. One of these days I’m going to start reading them and just wallow.

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