Book Review: The Cosmic Rape, Theodore Sturgeon (1958)

3.5/5 (Good)

Theodore Sturgeon’s The Cosmic Rape (1958) is an unusual and refreshing take on the alien invasion trope — especially for a 1950s novel.  Unlike many other reviewers, I found that the mechanics of the work (innumerable characters, short length, and ramshackle structure) do not detract from the overall result.  Sturgeon’s prose is, as always, admirable.  Although the novel can feel like an outline rather than a fully fleshed out novel like his earlier masterpiece of the genre, More than Human (1953), the end result is a poignant exploration of collective conscious/individuality.

Brief Plot Summary (limited spoilers)

Gurlick, an alcoholic homeless man, accidentally ingests a seed of the Medusa (in a half-eaten hamburger found in a trashcan).  However, the Medusa does not immediately transform him.  Instead, the Medusa’s ability to convey/carry it’s ultimate goal (to create a hive-mind) is restrained by the paltry abilities of Gurlick’s intellect.  Most importantly, the Medusa is baffled by humanity which has achieved so much individually without a hive-mind.  The individuality of humanity (despite wars, struggle, isolation) is its most notable and positive quality.  The alien believes that humanity once had a hive-mind that fractured overtime.

Thus the unusual galaxy spanning entity has Gurlick discover how to “put people’s brains back together again.”  The alien’s reward plays into Gurlick’s base desires — he can break whatever he wants.  The chapters containing Gurlick’s story are the most numerous.

Other secondary characters include Dimity Carmichael who is aroused by the sexual sufferings of others (in this case an abused co-worker).  A perpetually frightened boy name Henry who is unable to differentiate between happiness and punishment because his abusive father begins all his punishments with smiles.  And Mbala (clearly Sturgeon had just read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart) whose manhood is challenged by a yam thief.  Although there are numerous other side jaunts/characters everything wraps up in a relatively cohesive whole at the end.

Final Thoughts

The structure of Sturgeon’s work can be quite frustrating.  Sturgeon’s preference for the short story form means that each character hardly receives more than one or two short chapters.  Each story is linked thematically by a scene of guilt, fear, anger…  The event causing the emotion–often characterized by miscommunication between individuals–serves to isolates the character from others. This isolation/miscommunication is paired with the arrival of the Medusa which seeks to create a human hivemind which it will be able to control.

For a novel barely clocking in at 160 pages and comprised of numerous small chunks, Sturgeon manages to ask and ruminate on some very pertinent themes.  The Cosmic Rape is in no way a masterpiece of the caliber of More than Human but deserves to be read by all fans of Theodore Sturgeon and the genre.   This is a fascinating re-invention of the alien invasion trope.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Cosmic Rape, Theodore Sturgeon (1958)

  1. I just finished this last night, and I kind of thought the same thing about _Things Fall Apart_. Seems a bit iffy though, as they came out the same year, and _Things Fall Apart_ apparently didn’t sell so well initially in the U.S.

    Then again, Sturgeon reviewed books, and was pretty up on new releases, plus there’s all the stuff with the yams, so perhaps…

  2. This seemed to me like a bigger theme War of the Worlds. Though the characters mostly get pretty short turns on the stage, Sturgeon makes them memorable. The abrupt but necessary death of Henry who wanted very much to live left me a bit shaken. Minor Sturgeon, but an interesting potpourri of a novel. (What is it bout some of the short, pithy under 250 page 60’s novel? These days it seems they ramble off on twice the number of pages, not say much, and don’t say it well.)

  3. Finished the book last night, but the ending made no sense to me. The last two chapters were very abstract and I have no idea what happened.

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Unfortunately, as I wrote this review more than a decade ago, I remember little from the book as to the specifics of the ending. I’m not sure what I would think of it now. I have enjoyed some of Sturgeon’s short stories.

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