“To Marry Medusa” takes us further into the ideas explored in Theodore Sturgeon’s landmark novel from 1953, “More Than Human.” I reviewed that recently and you can read that here. Five years later, in 1958, “To Marry Medusa” finds us with one unconventional character, Dan Gurlick, instead of an ensemble of damaged misfits. The main idea is that we all have worth. Even Gurlick who, as his very name suggests, is quite an unsavory figure. This is a completely different and separate story from “More Than Human” but carries on that same humanist spirit.
Gurlick is as far down the heap as you can go: a illiterate homeless alcoholic with the thinnest grasp on reality. But, as Sturgeon would be happy to point out, he is still a member of the human race. Yes, …but. He’s human but he behaves more like an animal and pushes to the limits anyone’s tolerance for him.
And when an extraterrestrial being emerges, in pursuit of a human host, it is Gurlick who it stumbles upon and places the fate of humanity in his hands. As far as this entity, “the Medusa,” is concerned, Gurlick is as good as any other human to achieve its goals. Without a second thought, Medusa simply needs to plug into Gurlick and use him to plug into the rest of the humans and take over Earth. It really should be as simple as that, once a few details are carried out.
Medusa is a hive mind and has always been able to conquer other beings, once converted into hive minds. Why would humans be any different? The first mistake Medusa makes is attaching itself to Gurlick. In turn, Medusa finds humans to be a most unpredictable species. They are smarter than given credit for. They are more resilient than first believed to be. And they are more capable of fighting back than ever expected.
In a beautiful fable-like story, Sturgeon evokes human activity across the globe with vignettes of various characters. We see them at a bit of distance, never get too close to them other than to get a sense of their dreams and struggles. For a good part of the novel, we alternate between a profile from somewhere on Earth, whether it’s within an African tribe, or an Italian village, to the latest phase in the odd pairing between Medusa and Gurlick.
Sturgeon has such a seemingly effortless style. Every description and dialogue follows what appears a seamless path. Highly readable, Sturgeon’s work grapples with incredibly complex notions. He clearly loves his characters and it’s Gurlick who he loves the most. The guy can barely form a thought. He’s so limited and primitive as to be more suitable to another place and time other than a contemporary American city. When he’s out attempting to do Medusa’s bidding, he sounds insane, more so than usual. Medusa and Gurlick, no doubt, make for a delicious coupling of high an low.
We are given every indication that humanity will survive. However, it may not be as planned. For one thing, the hive mind perspective proves to be enlightening beyond measure. In fact, humans find that they can accomplish far more as a group than they ever could as individuals. Does that sound familiar? Well, sure, it’s us today on the Web, isn’t it? As Gurlick demonstrates, maybe we’ll always only be as strong as our weakest link. And Sturgeon never even once mentions a computer.
You can find “To Marry Medusa” over at Amazon right here.
10 responses to “Book Review: ‘To Marry Medusa’ by Theodore Sturgeon”
Sounds like an interesting read. Never heard of it before….Thanks for the share!!!
I’ll be doing more reviews on awesome books that may have fallen a bit out of the spotlight by no fault of their own.
Although you say Sturgeon doesn’t mention computers, it sounds like there are parallels with the A.I. theme that is so in vogue at the moment – in that it looks at the human mind and what separates it from other types of consciousness and from the physiological brain.
I was really taken with the fact that Sturgeon suggests the hive mind isn’t necessarily a sinister thing – as portrayed by the Borg in the Star Trek stories – or by less fanciful but actual movements in human history. It doesn’t necessarily imply brain-washing or mind control.
It sounds like a redemptive tale – redemptive for Gurlick, humanity and maybe even Medusa.
The theme of people with a united purpose for the common good seems particularly relevant/essential at this point in human history.
Another excellent post, Henry. Your readers don’t have to be fans of comic books to enjoy your blog.
Sturgeon definitely comes around to finding more in favor, than against, the hive mind. In his view, it’s inevitable and beneficial.
This is one by Sturgeon that I’ve not read. I’m fascinated by his use of the classical Medusa image and the gendering of this hive mind (for example, how would the story be different if he had used “Hydra” for the alien?) Thanks for the fascinating review!
I think Medusa is best as it feels ambiguous and even alluring. So, I take it that you loved More Than Human. Yes, To Marry Medusa will be a treat for you.
Yes, it is stunning to think MTH was published in 1953. It feels like it should have been written twenty years later.
Sounds fascinating. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. The more I hear about him the more intrigued I become.
Thanks, Lee. Try out “More Than Human” first and see what you think. It should prove a page-turner for you and truly blow your mind.
Yes, I’ll definitely have to pop that on my reading list. Many thanks!