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.