#RetroHugos1941 The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares

Another of the books that I identified as potential Retro Hugo material, originally published in Spanish in 1940, by a protégé of Jorge Luis Borges (who contributed a foreword). I’m pretty sure that this is a novella. The English translation has 350-400 words per page, and of the 100 pages, several are taken up by Jorge Luis Borges’ introduction and several more by Norah Borges’ illustrations (see her map of the book’s setting). So it’s unlikely to be be over 40,000 words, and the same probably goes for the original Spanish text.

It’s worth chasing down, as an example of surrealism meeting magical realism. The unnamed protagonist finds himself on a possibly deserted island, and becomes increasingly obsessed and frustrated by its inhabitants, who he can see perfectly well but is unable to interact with. The sinister scientist Morel appears to be behind it all. Like Kallocain, the story reflects on the surveillance society, though in a different and perhaps more modern way, tying in also fairly explicitly with the then-recent invention of television.

As with Kallocain, the (male) narrator’s attempt to conduct a relationship with a woman under the new conditions is the emotional hook of the story – somewhat creepy rather than desperate here, which reduces one’s sympathy for the central character. But the story itself kept my attention and will probably get one of my nominations for Best Novella.