Another post about invisibility in science fiction! All because I want to make dang sure that everybody knows that I have a book out about the history and science of invisibility!
I’ve seen just about everything in science fiction stories about invisibility. Well, not “seen,” but… eh you know what I mean. I’ve seen invisible buildings, invisible robots, invisible dinosaurs, invisible superheroes, even invisible planets. Let me add to that curious list with a story about what I interpret as… an invisible blob?
The story “Invisible Monsters” appeared in the December 1933 issue of Wonder Stories, another magazine by Hugo Gernsback, the originator of science fiction magazines, who published Amazing Stories!
The title gets right to the point, doesn’t it? No dancing about the topic of this story — it’s about invisible monsters, and you’re going to get invisible monsters!
The story is set in an unspecified future when humankind has launched spacecraft to explore the solar system. As the tale begins, three men — Toby, David and Dirk — are camping in the countryside when their relaxing getaway is disturbed by the streak of a spacecraft overhead, followed by the crash of that same craft nearby. The men wait until dawn to hike to the wreckage, as they reasonably assume that no human could have survived the impact.
They find the remains crashed into a hillside. The ship is largely intact, and the name on the side reads Hurakan, which David recalls is the first ship that was going to explore space beyond the solar system. The three men clamber through a hole in the wreck to seek a cause for the crash, and split up to explore.
David and Dirk are soon drawn by the sound of gunshots from Toby. They find him in a seemingly empty room, but before they can understand the situation, Toby is dismembered by some unseen force. His limbs, snipped crudely from his body, seem to float in midair. Knowing their friend is dead, David and Dirk flee to get reinforcements from civilization.
The police are skeptical, to say the least, but a squad accompanies the men back to the fallen craft. Their suspicions are soon dropped, however, when several police officers are also torn apart by an unseen force, and the spacecraft itself starts to burst open from inside by that same force. The Invisible Monster, whatever it is, is growing, and at a fantastic pace! It appears to feed on biomatter, and in the forest there is plenty to be found. Troublingly, the unseen force appears to be growing towards the dense treeline, and if it can reach the trees, there is no telling how large it can grow! The campers and the authorities must determine a way to stop the monster before it becomes impossible to stop, and must avoid becoming a snack themselves in the process. But bullets and fire have no effect — what can stop it?
The monster of the story, with its amorphous shape and rapid increase in size as it eats anything in its path, really reminds me of the classic movie The Blob, about an extraterrestrial goo that digests everyone in its path.
So I’m counting the monster in this story as an invisible blob, even though that’s not quite what it ends up looking like. In the climax of the story, a couple of heroes surrounded by invisible chunks of monster after an ill-fated demolition attempt are rescued by a man who injects the chunks with methylene blue, a dye used in biology to stain transparent cells and make them more visible under the microscope. The dye has a similar effect on the monsters, making them visible enough to avoid and find their weak spots. The illustration accompanying the story gives an idea of what they look like.
The creatures are still amorphous, but have many almost snake-like heads on them, and it is these that feed on unwary victims. So it is not quite a “blob” that simply absorbs its prey, but it is a creature that can reform its pieces if it is blown up and is described as “primitive,” so I’m still gonna call it an invisible blob!
With the creatures made visible, the authorities are able to pinpoint the weak spots in their circulatory systems, through their transparent skin, and dispatch them readily. Earth is saved!
Here’s the description of one of the monsters from earlier in the story, when they use some paint on hand to reveal its form:
The main mass of the creature was hemispherical with the flat side resting on the ground. The domed top was bare and smooth to more than halfway down its side, but for the rest of the way it bristled with blunt projections. At the end of each of these was a wide mouth snapping continuously and full of sharp teeth. David concentrated on one of these “heads” and daubed it thoroughly; he noticed that, if necessary, the wide jaws were capable of opening far back like those of a serpent.
Now it reminds me of something else entirely! In Dungeons & Dragons, one of the classic monsters is the gibbering mouther, a large blob “composed entirely of mouths and eyes.”
The invisibility in the story is never explained scientifically; the only mention is an almost dismissive view of the strangeness of the phenomenon:
And that’s not really so strange when you come to think of it. After all, it’s not a very great step from the transparent living things we have on earth, to a creature of complete invisibility.
Of course, I have a rather different opinion on the difference between transparency and invisibility, as I’ve written before!
So “Invisible Monsters” is very much a standard sci-fi monster story, though fun to read nevertheless. I enjoyed the use of methylene blue to make the creatures visible. It is fascinating to see how different authors bring in different real-world technologies to develop their invisible tales.
More invisibility in fiction to come soon!
Postscript: As long as I’m thinking about The Blob, it’s worth mentioning the ending of that movie. They manage to freeze the creature and move it to the Arctic, presumably forever. This leads to the ending dialogue:
Lieutenant Dave : At least we’ve got it stopped.
Steve Andrews : Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold.
Well, with climate change still running barely abated, we might have a blob in our future…
Have you mentioned the old comic strip The Steel Claw (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Steel_Claw_(comics) )? It was super popular when I was a kid. The science is rubbish (electrical shock) but uses of invisibility were cool.
Not familiar with it! I’ll have to take a look. I mainly focused on literary sources, because if I branch out into other media, I’ll never be done!