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Alien Voices: The Invisible Man
H.G. Wells
Simon & Schuster

Alien Voices: The Invisible Man
H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was an English author, broadcaster, political philosopher and public figure. He wrote and spoke on a wide range of subjects but is most famous for his science-fantasy novels with their prophetic depictions of the triumphs of technology as well as the horrors of 20th-century warfare. His novels The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Invisible Man are among the most influential SF novels of all time, inspiring dozens of film versions as well as the famous American radio broadcast produced by Orson Welles in 1938.

Alien Voices: The Invisible Man
Alien Voices Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by S. Kay Elmore

In the introduction to The Invisible Man, the voice of Leonard Nimoy asks, "What would it be like to be invisible?" And asks us to put ourselves in the invisible man's position. What would we do when the novelty wore off? Would we become a recluse? A madman? A tyrant? This two-cassette audio book is the latest in a series by Alien Voices, a project headed by Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie. Veterans of the Star Trek phenomenon, Alien Voices is their attempt to bring the seminal works of science fiction to a new audience. Backed by the voice talents of other Star Trek alumni, they have created a fresh look at one of entertainment's earliest forms -- the audio drama.

The premise of The Invisible Man is that the achievements of the human mind are worthless without a human soul to guide them. The story opens with a meeting of the townspeople of Port Stowe, alarmed and dismayed by the havoc perpetrated by this invisible man. Inspector Adye, called in to bring this menace under control, becomes our narrator and in placating the crowd, relates the story of Herbert Griffin and his fall from scientific glory. Thus the fully-dramatized performance begins.

If you know the story of The Invisible Man, and know it well, you know that the story begins at a train station on a snowy evening. We never discover why Griffin wanted to be invisible in the first place, all we know is that he is invisible now, and wants to reverse his condition. In the audio version, scriptwriters Nat Segaloff and John de Lancie had to make some hard choices regarding dramatization. Modern audiences are accustomed to characters who are sympathetic, or they at least want to know the psychological elements behind their actions.

I spoke to John de Lancie at the GenCon 98 convention and had the opportunity to ask him about the Alien Voices project. De Lancie explains his dramatization as a way to give background to the character, and make him more sympathetic to a modern audience:

"What we decided to do was collapse the amount of time in the novel by about six months, and pick up the story of the young student on the eve of his graduation."
Their prelude to the original story has Herbert Griffin announcing his incredible discovery to his girlfriend, Rebecca. He imagines how it could be used to cure deformity where medical science fails. After a conflict with his plagiaristic professor, he is expelled from the university and disgraced. This prelude does a good job of explaining Griffin's brusque and hard manner as the story progresses.

The story is an example of the turn-of-the century attitudes toward science, and the growing awareness of scientific ethics. Griffin is a desperate man, searching for a cure to his invisibility. His obsession is so complete that he alienates his landlady, becomes a frequent topic of gossip in town, and takes a maniacal pleasure in terrifying the local doctor. As obsession degenerates into madness, his secret is discovered by the townspeople and he flees, invisible, into the countryside. Vowing revenge on the professor who shamed him, he wreaks havoc on the town of Port Stowe.

The production quality and dramatization is excellent. It's evocative of the live radio programs of years gone by, and invites you to sit back, close your eyes, and imagine the scenes. I fear that this kind of entertainment may be hard for a modern audience to adapt to. This is not television, where an imagination is not called for, or even traditional audio book presentations. John de Lancie calls it "theatre of the ear."

Asked why they chose to dramatize these classic novels as audio plays instead of more "modern" venues for entertainment like movies or television, he replied:

"What we try to do with Alien Voices is to revisit the classics in a way that the authors would appreciate. We're not trying to re-create radio. This was not the way old-time shows were done. We're evoking some of that, but that's not really what we're doing. We're using really all of the methods we have going for us right now technologically. They simply didn't have these technological opportunities, but they were dealing with the same difficulties, like 'How do you get an audience to imagine?' We're letting the audience create their own images."
Getting us to imagine the story of The Invisible Man is carried off flawlessly. The sound effects, music, and voice talent are top-notch. Even things as seemingly insignificant as ambient background noise help bridge the gap between simply listening, and putting yourself completely in the scene. The scripting and dramatization is rich, and the voice of the narrator is never obtrusive.

One thing that would have made my listening experience complete would be a listing of cast and characters. Although the cast is named, we are never told which actor is playing which character(s). It's rather like watching a film with no credits. Having a complete cast list would have allowed me to put some names to my favorite characters in the play. Some I'm familiar with from years of watching Star Trek -- Nana Visitor plays Rebecca, and I recognize the voice of Ethan Phillips in several roles.

Worth noting is that the invisible man, Herbert Griffin, shares the same first name and initials as the author, Herbert George Wells. The character of "Rebecca" does not appear in the original novel, but was added perhaps for dramatization. She was no doubt inspired by H.G. Wells' longtime love, Rebecca West.

Having the chance to listen to The Invisible Man has piqued my interest about the rest of the series. I certainly hope that many other classic science fiction novels will find their way to the Alien Voices studios.

Copyright © 1998 S. Kay Elmore

S. Kay Elmore is a graphic artist, writer and corporate wage slave. She edits The Orphic Chronicle, an online magazine, and tries to make ends meet by writing and developing corporate newsletters and web sites.

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