Stories about vision (literally)
May 19, 2021 11:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for stories about unusual sight or vision, in the literal sense. Ideally novels or short stories, movies/shows acceptable. Preferably horror, sci fi or fantasy.

Some general things I'd especially like to read about *if* they are central to the plot:

- Temporary or unusual blindness, including blind spots (I have read Saramago's Blindness, this does fit the bill here)
- Characters with unusual visual ability
- The many weird ways that the human visual processing system works
- Afterimages, auras, floaters... basically anything in the "Phenomena of the Visual System" table listed at the bottom of this Wikipedia page.

I'm not looking for: dreams/nightmares about seeing things, "visions" or premonitions about the future.

Extra bonus points if they are based on something that makes physiological sense (or the author at least pretends like it's plausible).

Thanks all!
posted by Paper rabies to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Colors of Space - Marion Zimmer Bradley.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 11:26 PM on May 19, 2021

Best answer: Bob Shaw's Night Walk is a SF novel about a man who is blinded and whose vision is then supplied by a flying contraption. The descriptions of his perceptual experience with this are vividly mind bending. (Out of print but used copies are available.)
posted by bertran at 12:13 AM on May 20, 2021

Laughter in the Dark is...dark.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 1:11 AM on May 20, 2021

The Unsleeping Eye (aka The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe) by DG Compton. There's an excellent film adaptation called Death Watch

The other one that came to mind was Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist - along with his loss of memory, the main character becomes able to see the gods.
posted by crocomancer at 1:12 AM on May 20, 2021

On the science fiction side X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes is seriously good, not an exploitation flick as one might think from the advertising slant they took.

And on the more realism based side The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is "about" vision, where the main character suffers a stroke that paralyses him, save for his left eye. The movie emphasizes the way one literally sees the world as a major element of its style.

There's also, of course, scads of sci-fi/horror movies about blindness or odd vision that use it more as a plot hook, blind swordsman, seeing dead people and the like, things like Pitch Black, They Live, The Sixth Sense, the Zatoichi movie series, Blindness, both versions of The Eye, and so on. (If you are interested in anything like that, the movie My Left Eye Sees Ghosts is delightful, but not really about vision itself per se.)
posted by gusottertrout at 1:31 AM on May 20, 2021

If you want something more in the airport/beach reading line, _Fear Nothing_ by Dean Koontz has a protagonist who must avoid light.
posted by inexorably_forward at 1:38 AM on May 20, 2021

Best answer: Blindsight by Peter Watts is extremely this. It has long sections about visual processing, human evolution and theoretical predator adaptations. It's an amazing book.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:57 AM on May 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

Also it's obviously a bit aged now, but Day of the Triffids entirely centres around being one of the few people left with sight in a society where everyone else is blind. Plus giant carnivorous plants, of course. I'm pretty sure it's also the originator of the 'protagonist wakes up in a hospital after the apocalypse' trope seen in 28 Days Later, Walking Dead etc.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:04 AM on May 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

The pilot episode of Night Gallery famously included a segment titled "Eyes", starring Joan Crawford, and directed by a then-young Steven Spielberg. Hosted, of course, by Rod Serling.
posted by gimonca at 6:32 AM on May 20, 2021

Best answer: HG Wells' short story The Country of the Blind might fit...? An exploration of the concept that "in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king". The Wikipedia article has plot details.

Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye is another interesting take on blindness: here, our humans are not actually blind, but they live in pitch darkness and so don't use or comprehend sight at all.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:16 AM on May 20, 2021

I See a Voice by Jonathan Rée is filled with historical and other interesting facts about vision, deafness and the relationship between language and the senses. It’s a great read.
posted by ddaavviidd at 8:17 AM on May 20, 2021

Seconding Blindsight by Peter Watts!
posted by ananci at 8:20 AM on May 20, 2021

Memoir/essay collections from writers with lived experience of blindness:

Stephen Kuusisto: Planet of the Blind and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening

Ryan Knighton: Cockeyed and C'mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark

Here's a short clip of Knighton telling one of the stories in C'mon Papa on This American Life; it's a story about him explaining the very concept of his blindness to his young daughter. It's poignant, but it's also extremely funny.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:39 AM on May 20, 2021

Best answer: Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks. He was a neurologist and tells stories about his patients (and sometimes about himself). So these stories are true, and also weird and occasionally terrifying. Also see his book The Island Of The Colorblind, for a deep dive into one particular vision problem.
posted by Vatnesine at 8:46 AM on May 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemison (the second book in her “Inheritance” trilogy) has a blind protagonist who can see magic.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:49 AM on May 20, 2021

Best answer: - A Thousand Coloured Castles by Gareth Brookes: The surreal lives side by side with the everyday in this graphic novel about life with Charles Bonnet syndrome, a condition in which a person with partial or severe blindness has complex, often bizarre hallucinations.

- Coronation Street is currently running a storyline involving a character who is living with Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS). [...] Jonny, an established character in Coronation Street, is beginning to hallucinate due to his sight loss from optic neuritis. CBS hallucinations are caused when the brain attempts to fill in gaps in visual information with invented images or patterns. The visions vary from person to person and range from simple lights or patterns to complex images, which are often distressing.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:12 AM on May 20, 2021

Best answer: This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman has several characters with unusual types of technologically-augmented vision (e.g., an autistic-coded character who uses a device to alter the level of environmental detail he perceives to manage sensory overload; a blind character who uses a skin-integrated sensor array to process visual information, etc.).
posted by aecorwin at 11:56 AM on May 20, 2021

The YA series Lockwood & Co By Jonathan Stroud takes place in a version of the UK where there has been a 50 year run of ghost activity, where the ghosts can only be seen by kids and teenagers - adults are blind to them.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:30 PM on May 20, 2021

There's significant plot line in the TV version of The Magicians where a character gets a magical replacement for one of their eyes. Different aspects of it are woven in repeatedly through lots of subsequent plots.
posted by duien at 4:42 PM on May 20, 2021

Best answer: My favorite short story of all time, "The Aleph" by Jorge Luis Borges, is about characters encountering "a point in space that contains all other points" -- when you gaze at it, you see everything in the world simultaneously.
posted by clair-de-lune at 5:45 PM on May 20, 2021

Rupert Thomson's The Insult about a blind man who insists he's not (known as Anton's Syndrome).
posted by dobbs at 5:52 PM on May 20, 2021

Best answer: Seeing by Harlan Ellison is a creepy story about a woman with eyes that see more than light. It's in his collection Strange Wine.
posted by creepygirl at 12:07 AM on May 21, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks all! All suggestions were on point, but a few seemed directly up my alley. And actually, this question was promoted by a vague memory of a book I wanted to read, which I can confirm was Blindsight!
posted by Paper rabies at 9:52 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

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