Here’s another invisibility story — again, my book on the history and physics of invisibility will be out next year!
The last we saw of William P. McGivern was his story “The Chameleon Man,” published in January of 1942. But it turns out that this wasn’t McGivern’s first invisibility story! That honor (presumably — he might still have an early one) goes to “The Visible Invisible Man,” published in the December 1940 issue of Amazing Stories.
Like McGivern’s later story, “The Visible Invisible Man” is also a comedy. I found it much more effective than the later one, though. You can read it here before reading my post if you want.
The story features the misadventures of Oscar Doolittle, a meek little man who is attempting to strike it big in the beauty industry so that he can impress his fiancée Ann Meade, who has recently lost interest in him and is enjoying the attentions of Lester Mercer, who works at the same bank as them.
Oscar has a plan to make an improved form of vanishing cream, but his plans go all wrong when his concoction explodes, covering him in cream. Dispirited, he cleans himself up and heads to work.
At work, things go from bad to worse. First Ann breaks up with him, and then he finds himself turning invisible periodically! His vanishing cream has worked too well, and makes him disappear and reappear at unpredictable times, only preceded by a faint buzzing sound.
Suddenly, with terrifying swiftness, he realized that at the spot where his hands touched the mirror, there was nothing. Nothing at all. No hands. No reflection.
He jerked his hands in front of his incredulous eyes, pressed them frantically into his face. His mind wavered giddily on the brink of insanity. For while he could feel his hands on his face, he couldn’t see them.
This would be enough trouble for anyone for one day, but soon, during one of his visible spells, he is accused by the president of the bank of stealing a twenty-five thousand dollar bond. (That would be $500,000 in today’s dollars!) When he disappears in the middle of protesting his innocence, and is then assumed to be a fugitive, the meek Oscar realizes he must find the true thief to clear his name. But can he dredge up enough courage to do the deed?
The story is rather simple, but there’s a certain charm in watching Oscar go from being afraid of his invisibility to realizing that it is a power that he can use to clear his name — and building his confidence in the process.
The invisibility is never explained more than it being the result of a mixture of commercial vanishing cream and Oscar’s secret formula. One suspects that the entire story was inspired by the term “vanishing cream.”
The thing that makes this story unique in the annals of invisibility fiction is the unpredictable nature of Oscar’s power: it’s one thing to be invisible, another thing to be visible, and another thing entirely to not be sure which you might be from moment to moment!