THE SHRINKING MAN
by Richard Matheson
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man (a.k.a. The Incredible Shrinking Man) is one of those novels which takes a very basic premise and runs with it. In this case, the idea that something could shrink a human down to microscopic size. The power of Matheson's novel is such that it has been filmed twice and has remained in print since its initial publication.
The story focuses on the trials and tribulations of Scott Carey, caught in a freak and inexplicable storm which causes him to start shrinking. Most of the story is told after he has shrunk from his original six foot height to less than an inch. At this point, Carey is concerned about what will happen in another week when he figures he will shrink away to nothingness. Most of this part of the novel is told as a straight adventure tale. Simple tasks, such as killing a spider or obtaining food, become epic quests for the Lilliputian protagonist.
The more interesting parts of the novel are the flashback scenes in which Carey and his wife Louise must come to terms with the strange transformations occurring to him. Carey's agonizing over submitting his bodies to doctors who can't do anything to help him and paying their bills to his concerns over his physical relationship with his wife form the crux of the novel.
The Shrinking Man is more of a fantasy than a science fiction novel. None of the physical changes which occur to Carey can be legitimately described in terms of science. However, as with most enduring science fiction novels, The Shrinking Man does not really deal with science (which general dates itself quickly), but rather the effect of change on human consciousness. In this case the internal change which occurs when Carey's body begins to behave in an unexplicable manner.
Furthermore, because Hollywood has adapted this book to film, more people "know" the book than have actually read it. Just as John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids bears little resemblence to the film which was based upon it, so too does Matheson's The Shrinking Man rise above the films (and the reputation) which came after it.
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