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Saturday Storytime: The Shadow and the Flash

There was a time when people who wrote simply wrote science fiction and fantasy along with everything else they made up. Whether that stopped due to our changing relationship with science and rationalism or due to the codification of genres, I think we’re the poorer for its lack. Recently, Dr. SkySkull traced how early writers of invisibility stories were likely inspired by the work of Isaac Newton. Though it would be rare to find that kind of direct inspiration outside the genre ghetto today, at the beginning of the 20th century, no one thought it odd when Jack London was inspired to write this tale of scientific rivalry.

“Very true,” he went on warmly. “And that is because they are not perfectly black. Were they perfectly black, absolutely black, as it were, we could not see them – ay, not in the blaze of a thousand suns could we see them! And so I say, with the right pigments, properly compounded, an absolutely black paint could be produced which would render invisible whatever it was applied to.”

“It would be a remarkable discovery,” I said non-committally, for the whole thing seemed too fantastic for aught but speculative purposes.

“Remarkable!” Lloyd slapped me on the shoulder. “I should say so. Why, old chap, to coat myself with such a paint would be to put the world at my feet. The secrets of kings and courts would be mine, the machinations of diplomats and politicians, the play of stock-gamblers, the plans of trusts and corporations. I could keep my hand on the inner pulse of things and become the greatest power in the world. And I –” He broke off shortly, then added, “Well, I have begun my experiments, and I don’t mind telling you that I’m right in line for it.”

A laugh from the doorway startled us. Paul Tichlorne was standing there, a smile of mockery on his lips.

“You forget, my dear Lloyd,” he said.

“Forget what?”

“You forget,” Paul went on – “ah, you forget the shadow.”

I saw Lloyd’s face drop, but he answered sneeringly, “I can carry a sunshade, you know.” Then he turned suddenly and fiercely upon him. “Look here, Paul, you’ll keep out of this if you know what’s good for you.”

A rupture seemed imminent, but Paul laughed good-naturedly. “I wouldn’t lay fingers on your dirty pigments. Succeed beyond your most sanguine expectations, yet you will always fetch up against the shadow. You can’t get away from it. Now I shall go on the very opposite tack. In the very nature of my proposition the shadow will be eliminated –”

“Transparency!” ejaculated Lloyd, instantly. “But it can’t be achieved.”

“Oh, no; of course not.” And Paul shrugged his shoulders and strolled off down the briar-rose path.

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