Russell Hoban

The Medusa Frequency


Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (1999).

Like most of Russell Hoban's novels, this one is difficult to classify: part fantasy, part comedy, part science fiction, part computer-inspired (and an early example of the genre at that). It opens with a writer receiving cryptic messages on the screen of his Apple II; they purport to come from the Kraken, the semi-mythical giant squid, which acts as a symbol for… what? The unconscious? Fate? Death? These associations are hinted at but not spelled out; Hoban is too subtle a writer to indulge in any such crudities.

The narrator, Herman Orff (note the echoic name), appears to be hallucinating as the result of having tried a cure for writer's block which consisted in the application of electricity to his brain. As well as receiving messages from the Kraken on his computer, he begins to encounter the head of Orpheus as he wanders about London; the head is eyeless, bloated, and covered in green slime and barnacles. It talks to him and he to it. As the book progresses we see that the head has a psychological significance for Orff, connected with a lost love (hence Orpheus, and of course Hermann's own surname). The book has multiple resonances, densely packed within its short span, but it is never portentous or solemn; Hoban is one of the funniest writers I know, as well as one of the most serious. I think this is one of his best books.


%T The Medusa Frequency
%A Hoban, Russell
%I Pan Books
%C London
%D 1988
%G ISBN 0 330 30194 2
%P 143 pp
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