Back into some posts about invisibility in fiction, based on those stories that I didn’t talk about in my (hopefully) upcoming book about the history and physics of invisibility!
If you’ve been reading this blog recently, you might think that I made a mistake and have reposted something that I posted last week! Because didn’t I just write a post about “The Invisible Death“?
Well, I did, but that was “The Invisible Death,” by Victor Rousseau, which appeared in Astounding Stories of Super-Science in October, 1930, but now we’re talking about “Invisible Death,” which appeared in Astounding Stories of Super-Science in January, 1930!
If you’re confused, well, so was I: I stumbled upon Pelcher’s story while looking for Rousseau’s, but more on that later. Let’s talk about the story and the science of “Invisible Death”!
I thought I’d take a one day break from invisibility stories to talk about one of my favorite science fiction stories of all time: “Private Eye,” by Lewis Padgett, published in the January 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It was even the cover story:
The story was written by “Lewis Padgett,” which was one of many pseudonyms used by the husband and wife writing duo of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. I came across this particular tale while researching my last blog post, and was delighted to see that the story had apparently passed into the public domain since the last time I checked — and it includes illustrations! So let’s discuss “Private Eye” and share those original illustrations, and the story itself for you to read!
Yet another post about a story of invisibility. I keep finding more for my book bibliography, so I might as well blog about them here!
Invisibility has been a key feature of stories in pretty much every genre of writing. Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing,” for instance, is pretty much a straight horror tale. H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man is, of course, classic and even foundational science fiction, and tales like D.W. Hall’s “Raiders Invisible” are really straight up adventure fiction. Invisibility has even been used in romance; the 1895 novel Stella by C.H. Hinton tells the tale of a man who falls in love with a woman who has been turned invisible! (It’s not a very good story, IMHO.)
So it is not surprising to find invisibility used in comedy stories as well, and such is the case with Henry Kuttner’s “The Elixir of Invisibility,” published in Fantastic Adventures in October 1940.
Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) was a versatile professional author for the pulp magazines who could write equally well in science fiction, fantasy, horror, or thriller. He really does seem to be the sort of author who was good enough to write “on demand” fiction for whatever an editor might need. And many of his stories are very, very good: the story “Private Eye,” written in 1949 under the pseudonym of Lewis Padgett which Kuttner often use in projects with his wife C.L. Moore, is one of my favorite science fiction stories of all time. In the future, scientists have developed the ability to look back at any moment in time. This would seem to make murder impossible to get away with, but one man, seeking revenge on a romantic rival, hatches a plan for the perfect murder even under 100% surveillance.
I’ll come back to “Private Eye” in another post, because now I really want to read it again! But what can we say about “The Elixir of Invisibility”?
Did you know that there was a near-total lunar eclipse this morning that could be viewed through most of Canada and the United States? This “Beaver Moon lunar eclipse” was near its peak around 4:00 am EST, and once I heard about it (damn you, Scott) I decided to get up to try to get some photos, and freeze my fingers off in the process. I did the same thing a couple of years ago, when the “super blood moon” rolled through.
So here are a few of my favorite shots. I’m not a skilled photographer, so I spent the better part of an hour tinkering with settings, trying to get shots that matched pretty well what could be seen by eye.
So: in the process of tracking down Rousseau’s The Invisible Death a few days ago, I learned that there is another story about invisibility, with almost the exact same name, Invisible Death, that appeared in the same magazine, Astounding Stories of Super-Science, earlier in the same year but by a different author, Anthony Pelcher. Rousseau’s tale appeared in the October 1930 issue; Pelcher’s appeared in the January 1930 issue.
Let me describe what happened next using my tweets:
The story I’m referring to will appear in yet another upcoming post! But then, I got curious, and started browsing more issues of Astounding, and…
And I kept looking, and it just kept getting worse!
So, to recap: while researching one invisibility story, I managed to find four more!
The moral of the story is that I’m somehow even more behind in my blogging about invisibility stories than I was yesterday, so let’s look at another tale! Tonight: we look at Raiders Invisible, by Desmond Winter Hall, that appeared in Astounding Stories in November of 1931.
In this weird war story, Lieutenant Christopher Travers must solve an invisibility-fueled conspiracy to wreak havoc on the United States!
Will I ever run out of vintage science fiction stories about invisibility to write about? I hope so, because otherwise my book draft will never be polished off.
Some authors of weird fiction seem to be addicted to invisibility. One notable example is H.P. Lovecraft, who published The Dunwich Horror in 1929 and In the Walls of Eryx in 1936, together with Kenneth Sterling. The former story is about an invisible monster that is released upon the unsuspecting town of Dunwich, and the latter is a science fiction story about an invisible maze on the planet Venus and the prospector who gets trapped within it due to his greed.
Another notable example of an invisibility addict is Victor Rousseau. Only days ago I wrote about his 1916 novel The Sea Demons, about a race of invisible aquatic humanoids who plan to rise up and conquer the surface world. Yesterday, I came across another of his tales: The Invisible Death, published in the October 1930 issue of Astounding Stories of Super-Science.
So let’s take a look at the very, extremely silly story of The Invisible Death, and talk a little about the “science” described within!
Yet another story that features the physics of invisibility, continuing my series of posts inspired by the research into my upcoming book on the history of invisibility physics!
A secret race of mutant humans, gifted with superpowers, hides out from the bulk of humanity that hates and fears them and seeks to exterminate them utterly.
If this sounds familiar, you might be thinking of the classic Marvel comics series X-Men, but in this case I’m referring to the much earlier novel by A.E. van Vogt, Slan, first published in serial form in 1940 and then made into a book in 1946. (Image from the contemporary edition that I read.)
Slan is a classic of science fiction, and A.E. van Vogt’s first novel. Like many serialized stories of the time, it is a fast-paced tale with lots of twists and turns (and things that don’t completely makes sense if you think about them too much). I was drawn to read it because it includes a description of a spacecraft with what amounts to a cloaking device!
Another post about an invisibility story, from my researching into my book on invisibility physics.
Sometimes a little bit of bad luck can turn into some good luck. To fill out my bibliography on invisibility fiction, I wanted to include The Shadow of the Beast, a thrilling little story by Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the barbarian and author who inspired the title of this blog. However, I realized that I had apparently given away my one REH book that includes The Shadow of the Beast (TSB), which turns out to be quite a rarity in the Howard oeuvre.
TSB was one of REH’s early stories, and was unpublished in his lifetime. In fact, it was first published in a chapbook that was published in 1977, and was copyrighted that same year, meaning that unlike other REH stories, it is not in the public domain, and hasn’t been reprinted often. I managed to read it in Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors, and apparently got rid of my copy because there was a lot of overlap with other REH books I owned.
But this bad luck led me to search online for the story, and to my delight I found that the original chapbook can be purchased quite inexpensively, for $35! Owning a first edition REH, even one published some 40 years after his death, was too good an opportunity to pass up.
So this post is a short spoilery summary of that story, followed with a little digression into the views of REH on race. That may seem like an odd transition, but bear with me…
Continuing a discussion of odd stories of invisibility in fiction that I came across in writing my book on the history of invisibility physics.
Pulp stories are sometimes quite a ride. They can be filled with bizarre ideas and twists and turns that are often largely nonsensical, tailored to bring people back to read what happens in the next issue.
One spectacular example of this is The Sea Demons, by Victor Rousseau Emanuel, first serialized in All Story Weekly starting in January of 1916 and then published as a novel in 1924. In August of this year, Armchair Fiction released a reprint of this otherwise hard to find novel:
This book is a wild ride and, relevant to my interest, features an undersea species of near-invisible humanoids, who threaten to destroy the surface world!
The author of Skulls in the Stars is a professor of physics, specializing in optical science, at UNC Charlotte. The blog covers topics in physics and optics, the history of science, classic pulp fantasy and horror fiction, and the surprising intersections between these areas.