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To Marry Medusa
Theodore Sturgeon
Vintage Books, 154 pages

To Marry Medusa
Theodore Sturgeon
Born Edward Hamilton Waldo in 1918, he changed his name to Theodore Sturgeon in his early teens. He sold his first story, "Heavy Insurance," in 1938 for $5 to McClure's Syndicate for publication in newspapers. The sale of "The God in the Garden" to Unknown was his first published SF story. He died on May 8, 1985. His novel, More Than Human, won the International Fantasy Award, his story, "Slow Sculpture", won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and he was posthumously awarded the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award.

Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Duane Swierczynski

A few chapters into To Marry Medusa it becomes startlingly clear where Star Trek's "Borg" idea was lifted... er... borrowed from. (I keep forgetting: it's not stealing, it's homage.) And as fun as it is to watch Picard duke it out with walking toaster-ovens who want to assimilate your ass, Sturgeon did it a hell of a lot better 40 years ago. Don't believe me? Tough, pal -- resistance is futile.

Dan Gurlick is a bitter and hopelessly alcoholic bum. After getting his grisly ass booted out of a bar, he wanders down the street cursing all of the "lousy bastits" who have given him grief over the years. Hungry, he swipes a half-eaten cheeseburger out of a trash can and settles down for a late-night snack. Big mistake.

For in that forgotten Big Mac is an alien spore that has travelled many light years in search of a host. This isn't your ordinary alien spore, waiting to pull some chest-bursting, acid-dripping shenanigans. Actually, the spore is an emissary from a hive mind called "Medusa," which wants nothing less than to absorb and assimilate humanity into its hive collective. It's done it before to countless species and worlds, and it's determined to do it again. (And you thought the Borg Queen cooked up this nutty plan all by herself.)

Gurlick takes a greasy bite, swallows the spore, and inside all hell breaks loose. For him -- and the human race. If you've always wanted to know what it would be like to be part of a "hive collective" -- and haven't we all? -- this is the book for you. Sturgeon takes you there.

What makes To Marry Medusa really interesting, however, is its structure. The core story first appeared as a short in Galaxy in 1958, and was later expanded into novel form and published as The Cosmic Rape. (Later editions, confusingly enough, stick with the short-story title, even though it is the full novel version.) And it shows. But that's not a bad thing -- on the contrary, it gives the novel an oddly modern, quick-cut feel. Woven throughout grumpy Gurlick's tangles with Medusa are snapshots of seemingly ordinary people in very bad situations: a creep about to date-rape a co-worker, a homicidal prankster named Guido who can't stand music, a little boy who is tormented by his father.

At first, it's not clear what the hell is going on. Eventually, though, everything falls into place, and you realize Sturgeon has pulled off the incredible trick of making humanity an actual character in the novel. I can't say more without ruining it for you, but trust me -- it's dazzling. I doubt many other writers could do it. And it's certainly more harrowing than wondering whether Worf and Geordi are going to be Borg-ized.

Though I'm fairly new to Sturgeon, I've been consistently impressed with how unpredictable his fiction can be. I'm not just talking about plot -- I mean the prose itself. Sturgeon swerves around cliché and dull language like a maniac. At times, it seems like he's working in his own personal version of the English language. It's like taking a road trip with an incredibly eccentric dude: You may know the most logical or efficient route, but the offbeat guy will know the way past the most stunning vistas. Read a little of Medusa, and you'll see what I mean. The moment you think you know where he's heading in a paragraph, zip! Sturgeon takes another crazy hairpin -- and yet, perfect -- turn.

Vintage Books deserves high praise for continuing to reissue out-of-print SF classics. First Philip Dick's major works, then Alfred Bester's, all in quality trade paperbacks with eye-popping covers. (Yeah, some people bitch about these oversized, overpriced "yuppiebacks," and in most cases I agree. Except in cases like these, where procuring a simple reading copy of most Sturgeon titles will set you back at least a ten-spot.) I can't wait to see what they resurrect next.

Copyright © 1999 Duane Swierczynski

Duane Swierczynski recently escaped New York and is now a pen-for-hire living in the small town of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania. His long-awaited novel, SECRET DEAD MEN, might actually appear early in the next century... depending on how this whole Y2K thing shakes out. In the meanwhile, you can find his work in such varied publications as Details, Men's Health, and Sparks! The Trade Magazine of the National Static Cling Research Foundation. He used to be married to Medusa, but later got a Mexican divorce. She got custody of the snakes.

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