posted by Karen Burnham at Monday 14 January 2013 @ 1:00 am BST
Here’s a brief list of works that deal with the idea of “invisibility,” both literally and figuratively, what is seen and unseen
The Invisible Man — H. G. Wells and/or Ralph Ellison
I’m a fan of the science fiction novels of H. G. Wells. The writing is succinct and the stories seem “essential” (Island of Dr. Moreau, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, First Men in the Moon, and When the Sleeper Awakes). His Invisible Man, some say, is based on The Ring of Gyges parable from Plato’s Republic– a ring that confers upon the wearer the power of invisibility at will. The question for Plato is whether an otherwise moral individual would still act morally if his transgressions could not be detected by others. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, unlike Wells’, is not a Science Fantasy, although it has some pretty surreal moments and settings, but riffing on Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground, presents the story of one man, socially and politically “unseen,” trying to retain a true sense of himself in the face of a hostile world. The Wells and Ellison make a great double bill.
“What I Didn’t See” — Karen Joy Fowler
Karen Joy Fowler’s excellent short story created a big flapdoodle when it won the Nebula Award without having any “obvious” connections to the fantastic genre. The story is in dialogue with James Tiptree Jr.’s (Alice Sheldon’s) “The Women Men Don’t See.” In Sheldon’s story, the women men don’t see, the ones who are self-possessed and their own people, are, to the male protagonist, an enigma like the aliens that make an appearance and with whom the women leave. In Fowler’s story, the female protagonist on a gorilla hunting expedition is “blind” to what is happening and the results are tragic. Marginalization, expectations, stereotypes, racism, lurk in the jungle setting of Fowler’s story. Oh yeah, and whether it’s science fiction or fantasy or neither – get over it.
Indigo — Graham Joyce
A suspense novel with the fantastic element of the possibility of actual invisibility through the color indigo, which cannot be seen by the naked eye. I don’t know if this was one of Joyce’s more popular books, but I loved the conceit and the explanations of how one would achieve invisibility, the guidebook reproduced within the text. Like Wells’ Invisible Man, Joyce may have been also contemplating Plato’s Ring of Gyges question.
“Elaine Coleman” — Steven Millhauser
Millhauser’s story is about a young woman, Elaine Coleman, who is so ignored by society that she literally disappears. That’s it in a nutshell, but the low key, measured approach and wonderful writing make this story one I could read again and again. Read it and you wonder about those people you remember from high school who were so on the fringe of everything. Maybe, you were one yourself, or maybe you were only perceived as one.
“House Taken Over” — Julio Cortezar
A ghost story, I guess. A brother and sister notice an intruder of some monstrous aspect has entered their family mansion. As it invades a room, they leave and shut that room off. Over time, they are forced out of every room of their place. The “thing” that slowly pursues them through the old place is never seen by the reader and the story is at once a horror fiction and some kind of psycho drama.
Jeffrey Ford is the award-winning author of The Shadow Year and The Drowned Life, among others. His most recent collection is Crackpot Palace.
If you have an idea for a list you’d like to write or a list you’d like to see, please get in touch at LocusRoundtable[at]gmail.com, and we’ll see what we can do.