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A Brief History of Science Fiction

A Brief History of Science Fiction
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 031 (by )
  • The Time Machine (by )
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 022 (by )
  • Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus (by )
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 026 (by )
  • An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgame... (by )
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 005 (by )
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 001 (by )
  • Bibliografi Over Litteratur Pa Dansk Om ... (by )
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 007 (by )
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 039 (by )
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 019 (by )
  • The Ambivalence of Science Fiction: Sci... (by )
  • Short Science Fiction Collection 012 (by )
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The early canonical works of science fiction have been disputed over the years. Aspects of science fiction such as redesign, post-apocalyptic landscapes, and gods as characters rather than religions, can be found scattered in mythologies and old texts like Gilgamesh. A little closer in our history, we can see dystopian societies and flying islands used satirically in Gulliver’s Travels. Then in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was born, and most scholars contend that this was the first sci-fi novel. 

Disparate authors were still coming around, but science fiction as a genre had yet to blow up. French author Jules Verne wrote such fantastic tales as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870, which was said to have inspired important explorers and scientists such as William Beebe, Ernest Shackleton, and Jacques Cousteau called the book his “shipboard bible.” H.G. Wells—whom some refer to as the first sci-fi novelist—published his first science fiction novel The Time Machine in 1895. 

Year 1926 saw a breaking point with the publication of the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories under the direction of Hugo Gernsback, the man after whom the prestigious Hugo Award would be named. Other sci-fi magazines like Astounding Stories of Super-Science and Wonder Stories began popping up shortly thereafter. This was the pulp era which soon burst into the Golden Age of Science Fiction in the 1940s and 1950s. The Golden Age brought the previously obscured genre to the mainstream, and saw the birth of monumental science fiction writers such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, and Arthur C. Clarke. 
As science fiction slowly transformed from simple, fantastical stories to a force of serious inquiry, so did it also crystallize that the term “science fiction” was as useless a descriptor as fiction and nonfiction. Today, the genre includes: social science fiction, where space and technology is used as a backdrop to speculate on human societies and behavior; space opera, which was initially based on a formula of putting Western movies in space; cyberpunk, books about the science of cybernetics; and apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic sci-fi. The number of subgenres is growing and crossing over to form new permutations of science fiction every year. 

Many of science fiction themes—whether by influence through books, movies, comic books, or real life science that seems futuristic—have found their way back into regular fiction books. They have created a little niche of a genre known as “slipstream.” In a world of globalization, environmental disaster, and constant technological and scientific innovation, it seems only too likely that science fiction will soon envelop fiction entirely. Slipstream and soft sci-fi will technically be the identifier for all contemporary fiction. Until then, we need only wait for the big sign: when a science fiction author wins the Pulitzer.

By Thad Higa
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