SF Masterwork of the Week: The Invisible Man

The story of ‘the Ring of Gyges’ is very ancient, almost certainly older than its first recorded appearance in Plato’s Republic (380 BC)  There was once, the story goes, a humble shepherd in the ancient kingdom of Lydia (modern-day Turkey). This shepherd, Gyges by name, chanced upon a cave newly revealed by an earthquake, inside of which was a splendid tomb containing the body of a man.  This corpse was wearing a golden ring, which Gyges discovered had the magical power of rendering him invisible. The sequel of these events sees Gyges using his new-found power of invisibility to infiltrate the Court of Candaules, the Lydian king; seducing Candaules’ queen; killing Candaules and seizes the throne for himself.

Plato quotes this story in order to make a point about ethics.  We act in morally virtuous ways, Plato argues, only because we do not wish to face the disapproval and punishment of our fellow men: virtue is a purely social construction. If we were sure we would never be found out we would act in a morally disinhibited manner – theft, murder, betrayal.  Virtue, in other words, consists in being seen.

This extract from Adam Roberts‘ introduction to H.G. Wells‘ classic SF novel, The Invisible Man, shows two things:

1) That Adam Roberts is cleverer and more well-read than most of us can ever hope to be, and . . .
2) That as well as having a towering imagination for plot and invention, H.G. Wells had an acute understanding of human nature

Published in 1897, The Invisible Man is a classic study of the dangers of science misused. The theme is clearly a powerful one,and the novel has been adapted many times for film and television, as well as providing a key character in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s brilliant comic series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (And also in the film adaptation thereof. But that wasn’t brilliant)

We are delighted to be republishing this seminal SF novel in the SF Masterworks series – although, sadly, not as an SF Gateway eBook – complete with an incisive and insightful introduction by award-winning SF writer Adam Roberts.

You can read more about H.G. Wells in his author entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.


Adam Roberts is the acclaimed author of over a dozen SF novels. He was been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award three times and the Philip K. Dick Award once. His latest novel is Jack Glass, which recently won the BSFA Award for best novel, and is available from Gollancz in hardback and as an eBook.