Though writers in antiquity sometimes dealt with themes common to modern science fiction, their stories made no attempt at scientific and technological plausibility, the feature that distinguishes science fiction from earlier speculative writings and other contemporary speculative genres such as fantasy and horror. The genre formally emerged in the West, where the social transformations wrought by the Industrial Revolution first led writers and intellectuals to extrapolate the future impact of technology.
This approach was central to the work of H. Wells , a founder of the genre and likely its greatest writer. Wells was an ardent student of the 19th-century British scientist T. This dark dystopian side can be seen especially in the work of T.
The sense of dread was also cultivated by H. Lovecraft , who invented the famous Necronomicon , an imaginary book of knowledge so ferocious that any scientist who dares to read it succumbs to madness. On a more personal level, the works of Philip K. Dick often adapted for film present metaphysical conundrums about identity, humanity, and the nature of reality.
When the genre began to gel in the early 20th century, it was generally disreputable, particularly in the United States , where it first catered to a juvenile audience. Following World War II , science fiction spread throughout the world from its epicentre in the United States , spurred on by ever more staggering scientific feats, from the development of nuclear energy and atomic bombs to the advent of space travel, human visits to the Moon, and the real possibility of cloning human life.
By the 21st century, science fiction had become much more than a literary genre. Its avid followers and practitioners constituted a thriving worldwide subculture. Fans relished the seemingly endless variety of SF-related products and pastimes, including books , movies , television shows, computer games, magazines , paintings, comics , and, increasingly, collectible figurines, Web sites, DVDs, and toy weaponry. They frequently held well-attended, well-organized conventions, at which costumes were worn, handicrafts sold, and folk songs sung.
Antecedents of science fiction can be found in the remote past. Among the earliest examples is the 2nd-century- ce Syrian-born Greek satirist Lucian , who in Trips to the Moon describes sailing to the Moon. Such flights of fancy, or fantastic tales, provided a popular format in which to satirize government, society, and religion while evading libel suits, censorship, and persecution.
The clearest forerunner of the genre, however, was the 17th-century swashbuckler Cyrano de Bergerac , who wrote of a voyager to the Moon finding a utopian society of men free from war, disease, and hunger. No other form has been as entertaining, either. The Big Book of Science Fiction covers the entire twentieth century, presenting, in chronological order, stories from more than thirty countries, from the pulp space opera of Edmond Hamilton to the literary speculations of Jorge Luis Borges, from the pre-Afrofuturism of W.
Du Bois to the second-wave feminism of James Tiptree Jr. The Golden Age dispensed with the Isolator, coinciding as it did with the proliferation of American science fiction magazines, the rise of the ultimately divisive editor John W. Campbell at Astounding Science Fiction such strict definitions and such a dupe for Dianetics!
The Science Fiction That Came Before Science
This period also saw the rise to dominance of authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, C. Moore, Robert Heinlein, and Alfred Bester. This is a strange assertion to make, one that seems to want to make excuses. Dick to readers would want to inadvertently? Not to mention dissing twelve-year-olds! The new Kafka who next arises from cosmopolitan Prague is likely to be hailed a savior, but not so much the one who arises from, say, Crawfordville, Florida. There is also something of a need to apologize for the ma-and-pop tradition exemplified by the pulps, with their amateurish and eccentric editors, who sometimes had little formal training and possessed as many eccentricities as freckles, and who came to dominate the American science fiction world early on.
It also renders invisible all of the complex science fiction being written outside of the pulp tradition. Therefore, we humbly offer the assertion that contrary to popular belief and based on all of the evidence available to us. That which may seem overbearing or all of a type at first glance reveals its individuality and uniqueness when placed in a wider context. At third or fourth glance, you may even find that stories from completely diffrent traditions have commonalities and speak to each other in interesting ways.
Wells at the beginning of this introduction for a very specific reason. We hesitate to invoke the slippery and preternatural word influence , because influence appears and disappears and reappears, sidles in and has many mysterious ways. It can be as simple yet profound as reading a text as a child and forgetting it, only to have it well up from the subconscious years later, or it can be a clear and all-consuming passion.
History of science fiction - Wikipedia
At best we can only say that someone cannot be influenced by something not yet written or, in some cases, not yet translated. But we brought up our triumvirate because they represent different strands of science fiction. The earliest of these authors, Mary Shelley, and her Frankenstein , ushered in a modern sensibility of ambivalence about the uses of technology and science while wedding the speculative to the horrific in a way reflected very early on in science fiction.
Jules Verne, meanwhile, opened up lines of inquiry along more optimistic and hopeful lines. His most useful trait as the godfather of modern science fiction is the granularity of his writing. This kind of eclectic stance also suggests a simple yet effective definition for science fiction: it depicts the future, whether in a stylized or realistic manner. There is no other definitional barrier to identifying science fiction unless you are intent on defending some particular territory.
Science fiction lives in the future , whether that future exists ten seconds from the Now or whether in a story someone builds a time machine a century from now in order to travel back into the past. It does not privilege the dominant mode that originated with the pulps over other forms. But neither does it privilege those other manifestations over the dominant mode. On the whole, I think I am very patient.
The conte philosophique employs the fictional frame of an imaginary or dream journey to impart scientific or philosophical content. In a sense, the fantastical or science-fictional adventure became a mental laboratory in which to discuss findings or make an argument.
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If we position some early science fiction as occurring outside of the American pulp tradition but also outside of traditions exemplified by Mary Shelley and H. Wells, what remains as influence is both extremely relevant to science fiction and also relevant to more dominant traditions. Faustroll, Pataphysician ; first published in English in the s makes infinitely more sense in this context. More importantly, these stories take their rightful place within the history of speculative literature. Instead of being considered outliers, they can be seen as the evolution of a grand tradition, one that inverts the usual ratio of the fictional to nonfictional found in a typical conte philosophique.
These stories often serve as a vehicle for metaphysical exploration. A case of throwing out the baby to glorify the bathwater? Collectively, this era successfully exported itself as a system of plots, tropes, story structures, and entanglements to either emulate or push back against. It was typified not so much by movements as by the hegemonies created by particular influential editors like H.
In some cases, it might be argued they had to because no one yet knew exactly what it was, or because enthusiasts kept encountering new mutations. These editorial tastes would come to define, even under new editors, the focus of magazines like Amazing Stories , even if editorial tastes are not sound or rational systems of thought. Writers could make a living writing for the science fiction magazines in an era with no competition from television or video games.
In a few other cases, magazines like Weird Tales successfully forged identities by championing hybrid or new modes of fiction, to the point of becoming synonymous with the type of content they provided to readers. Dashing men in dashing machines having dashing adventures were not as prevalent in such magazines, nor in this Golden Age era. It was more likely that the dashing man might have a dashing accident and be dashed up on some malign alien world or be faced with some dashing Terrible Choice based on being dashed on the rocks of misfortune. For example, with each decade what we know about what it takes to travel in space makes it more and more unlikely that we will make it out of our own solar system.
Even one of the foremost supporters of terraforming, Kim Stanley Robinson, admitted that such travel is highly improbable in a interview. When you also throw in institutional racism in the United States, a subject thoroughly ignored by science fiction for a very long time, and other social issues dealt with skillfully by non-SF through the first five decades of the twentieth century, it perhaps makes sense that there is very little from the Golden Age of Science Fiction in this anthology.
It is also worth remembering that in the wider world of literature writers outside of science fiction were trying to grapple with the changing nature of reality and technological innovation. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and others experimented with the nature of time and identity in ways that at times had a speculative feel to it. The physicality of science fiction depends on it in a way that other kinds of fiction do not for example, historical fiction.
Still, the pulp tradition as it matured was never as hackneyed or traditional or gee-whiz as it liked to think it was or as twelve-year-old readers fondly remember. It was not nearly as optimistic or crude as the covers that represented it and that science fiction outgrew. In part, this was due to the influx or infusion of a healthy dose of horror from near the start, via Weird Tales and its ilk. Philip K. Arthur C. Several underrated writers published some of their best fiction, too, including James H. Schmitz, William Tenn, and Chad Oliver.
Other notable writers from the era include Robert Sheckley, Avram Davidson, and Judith Merril who would achieve lasting fame as an anthology editor. In hindsight, though, perhaps the most unique and important science fiction writer of the s was Cordwainer Smith, who published most of his science fiction in the mids. His unique tales set on a far-future Earth and the surrounding universe came out of seemingly nowhere and had no clear antecedent. Almost equaling Smith in terms of being sui generis, Theodore Sturgeon brought a willfully literary sensibility to his fiction and an empathy that could at times manifest as sentimentality.
This allowed White to create fresh and different plots; one of his best hospital stories involves taking care of an alien child who manifests as a huge living boulder and who has vastly different feeding needs than human children. Neither Smith nor White was as popular as writers like Arthur C. The fifties also saw more space made for brilliant woman writers like Katherine MacLean, Margaret St.
Clair, and Carol Emshwiller. What MacLean, St. Clair, and Emshwiller all shared in their fiction was a fascination with either speculative sociology or extremes of psychological reality, within a context of writing unique female characters and using story structures that often came from outside the pulp tradition. Clair, meanwhile, with her comprehensive knowledge of horror and fantasy fiction as well as science fiction, crafted stories that could be humorous, terrifying, and sharply thought-provoking all at once.
In some of her best stories, we can also see an attempt to interrogate our relationship to the animal world. Together, these three writers not only paved the way for the feminist science fiction explosion of the s, they effectively created room for more unusual storytelling. That there was no particular unifying mode or theme of science fiction in the s is in some ways a relief and afforded freedom for a number of unique writers. New Wave fiction had many permutations and artistic ideologies associated with it, but at its core it was often formally experimental and sought to bring mainstream literary technique and seriousness to science fiction.
In effect, the New Wave wanted to push the boundaries of what was possible while also embodying, in many cases, the counterculture of the s.
New Wave fiction tended to be antiestablishment and to look with a cold eye upon the Golden Age and the pulps. But this opposition was sometimes forced on the New Wave by its detractors. For the average science fiction writer raised within the tradition of the pulps and existing within an era of plenty in the s, especially with regard to the American book market, it must have been a rude awakening for writers from across the pond to suddenly be calling into question everything about their ecosystem, even if just by implication.
Out of the New Wave came countless writers now unjustly forgotten, like Langdon Jones, Barrington Bayley both reprinted herein , and John Sladek, but also giants of literature, starting with Michael Moorcock and J.
Ballard, and including M. John Harrison and Brian Aldiss actually from an earlier generation, but a hothouse party-crasher. These writers were helped in their ascendency by the continued popularity of writers from outside of genre fiction whose work existed in sympathy to the New Wave, like Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Burroughs, and those within genre who were sympathetic and winning multiple Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards, like Harlan Ellison.
Unique eccentricists like David R. Bunch, whose Moderan stories only seem more prescient every day, could not have published their work at all if not for the largesse of daring editors and the aegis of the New Wave. It is worth pointing out that his Moderan stories in this volume are the first reprints allowed in over two decades. As or more important was the emergence of Samuel R. Delany just about matched Ellison Nebula Award for Nebula Award during this period and not only led by example in terms of producing sophisticated speculative fiction that featured diverse characters but also was, quite frankly, one of the only African-American or even nonwhite writers in the field for a very long time.
These writers realize a truth basic to all art[:] Innovations are positive to the extent that they open doors, and an avant garde which seems to destroy rather than build will only destroy itself all the faster. Terry Carr was a good and influential editor who grew with the times , but wrong in this case, although it seems unlikely anyone could have understood how fundamentally the New Wave had changed the landscape. And, in fact, Carr was also wrong because the New Wave overlapped with another significant development, the rise of feminist science fiction, so the revolution was not in fact over.