Richard Matheson should be considered a God of Science Fiction.
There, I said it.
Quite a declaration, you say? Well, watch as I back this up.
Matheson’s The Shrinking Man is one of those long lost gems. A classic. It’s also a damn shame that I don’t see this amazing storyteller being mentioned among younger generations like my own. But I’ll go into all that soon enough.
For now, enter the world of The Shrinking Man:
Scott Carey is just your average guy who happens to be very fortunate in life. He’s in love with his beautiful wife, who’s also deeply in love with him. They have a wonderful daughter. Scott makes good money working for his brother, Marty, in a job he also happens to enjoy.
Everything is going great for Scott.
Until one day…
It’s a sunny afternoon and Scott is out enjoying a family vacation at the lake on his brother’s boat. Just a perfect summer day.
Scott takes the boat out for a spin alone and passes through a mysterious cloud of mist. He thinks that it’s strange since the mist doesn’t exactly appear to be water, but he’s having too much fun so he soon forgets about it.
As Matheson writes, “It was the beginning…”
The story then jumps to when Scott is half an inch tall and fighting for his life against a gigantic spider that’s trying to eat him.
He rushes across his basement floor, which is more like a vast concrete desert for someone of his scale.
Chairs are mountains. The basement walls are sheer cliffs thousands of feet high.
There are insects out to devour him, insects which, when he was of normal size, he didn’t think twice before stepping on.
Scott Carey, who had everything a man could hope for, is locked in a tooth and nail nightmare struggle for survival.
It’s a jungle life he now leads. His days are filled with the unending and exhausting search for food. Trapped in the basement, there’s not much to find. A box of stale crackers that was left on top of a table might as well be on Mount Everest.
Water he’s been able to find due to the leak in the cooling system of a refrigerator.
When night falls, Scott is filled with a panic that only those who live in the African savanna could identify with.
For out there, in the immense cold concrete desert that is the basement floor, lurks a black widow spider that’s been hunting him.
But this nightmare didn’t happen overnight. Oh no, Mr. Matheson is much too methodical to do that to us readers.
No, Scott Carey’s journey to become the Shrinking Man is presented to us in all its torturous, humiliating detail.
You see, Scott Carey only shrinks one inch per month.
At first, it’s worrisome but not too noticeable among his family and friends. The doctors will find the cause and cure it, they assure Scott.
Except there is no cure. In fact, the medical community has never seen anything like this. Even worse, they treat Scott like a new toy they can experiment with.
So Scott stops going to the doctors. His fate, apparently, is sealed.
And yet the agony is minute to minute, day by torturous day for Scott.
His 4 year old daughter no longer pays attention to him. As Scott bitterly concludes, most adult authority over children comes from the fact that their stature is so much taller and stronger than a child, so the child is more apt to listen and obey. When Scott is equal in height with his daughter, he’s heartbroken to find that she no longer really considers him a father. A father is strong and tall. Scott seems like just another playmate.
And when Scott continues to shrink, eventually he cannot be around his daughter any more due to the fact that his daughter wants to play with him like a doll.
Not to mention his love life with his beautiful wife. We painfully watch the intimacy between them shrivel in increasingly squeamish scenes as Scott and his wife desperately try to overcome this barrier between them. But there is no overcoming it.
Scott himself goes through many changes. He is angrier, more impulsive. He’s bitter beyond belief. Absent a cause to blame for his affliction, he disperses his anger and rage toward everyone and everything around him.
Soon he is too small to even partake in anything that resembles a normal life.
His wife buys him a dollhouse to live in.
The family cat prowls the halls, searching for the mouse-sized Scott to eat.
Eventually no one can even see him as he shrinks beyond the measure of an inch.
One day he becomes trapped in his basement and that’s that. The lid to his tomb is closed. He is a man forced to eke out an existence similar to primitive humans until one day he knows he’ll die.
And yet, despite all this, Scott does not give up.
He cannot bring himself to end it all by his own hand.
The mysterious forces of nature that have conspired against him and put him in this situation he refuses to let win so easily.
No, despite the horror, the starvation, the fear, Scott Carey goes on and on and on.
His belief is that no matter what, he will not quit. Even facing the prospect of eventually shrinking into oblivion does not dispel his willpower.
No matter what, he will not quit.
The Shrinking Man is an incredible story full of tension, anxiety and pain. The incurable agony this poor man undergoes is nothing short of horrific. The defiance he has in the face of all these horrors is nothing short of heroic.
I can safely say that this novel is one of the most original stories I’ve ever read.
Matheson is a master. This is not hype. His influence is astounding.
Richard Matheson also wrote I Am Legend, another masterpiece. Forget the Will Smith movie version. The book will straight up give you chills.
He was a regular screen writer for The Twilight Zone, including the iconic episodes “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” where a passenger witnesses a gremlin on the wing of his airplane, and the episode entitled “Steel”, where human boxing has been replaced by fighting robots, which the 2011 Hugh Jackman movie Real Steel was based off of.
He also wrote the stories which the movies What Dreams May Come (Robin Williams), Somewhere In Time (Christopher Reeve) and Steven Spielberg’s first major film, Duel, was based on.
There’s a 1957 movie called The Incredible Shrinking Man, which I would love to see a remake of if they adhered to Matheson’s story. There’s also a graphic novel out that looks amazing.
The man should be considered a Titan, if not a God, of Science Fiction.
Unfortunately, most people I talk to my age have never heard of him.
So, please. Read The Shrinking Man and be blown away.
And afterward, do as I’m doing now. Spread Richard Matheson’s name as much as possible. This man deserves it.
He’s a Giant.