We continue our look at the history of science fiction. Check out our selection of scifi titles at Stela.
Unbinding Prometheus and the Birth of Modern Scifi
The publication of a short novel in 1818 changed the future of science fiction: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. While often associated with gothic fiction Frankenstein features a mad scientist and advanced technology. Shelley also wrote the scifi stories Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman (1826) about a man cryogenically frozen and revived; and The Last Man (1826) is perhaps the earliest post-apocalyptic novel and tells the story of a man who survives a plague that wipes out the rest of humanity.
Predki Kalimerosa: Aleksandr Filippovich Makedonskii by Alexander Veltman is considered both the first Russian science fiction novel as well as the first time travel novel. A man goes back in time to ancient Greece and meets Aristotle and Alexander The Great (albeit on the back of a hippogriff and not a machine).
Victor Hugo wrote a two part poem, La Légende des siècles (The Legend of the Centuries, 1859), in which the earth is broken and dying, the remnants of mankind reunite and work together to leaves Earth in a spaceship to find liberty.
Throughout the 19th century there were quite a few pieces of proto-science fiction written.
Le Dernier Homme (The Last Man, 1805) by Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville tells the story of the end of humanity mixing science, adventure, and Christian mythology.
Félix Bodin’s Le Roman de l’Avenir (The Novel of the Future, 1834) and Emile Souvestre’s Le Monde Tel Qu’il Sera (The World As It Will Be, 1846), both predict what the 20th century will be like.
The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Jane C. Loudon (1827), has the Pharaoh Cheops revived by scientific means in the 22nd century.
The feminist Three Hundred Years Hence (1836) by Mary Griffith imagines a utopian future where women have equality.
There had been a couple alternate history stories before Louis Geoffroy’s Napoleon et la Conquête du Monde (Napoleon and the Conquest of the World, 1836), an alternate history of a world conquered by Napoleon.
Star ou Psi de Cassiopée (1854) by C.I. Defontenay, chronicles of an alien world and civilization.
In possibly the longest scifi title of all time, Gustáv Reuss’s Hviezdoveda alebo životopis Krutohlava, čo na Zemi, okolo Mesiaca a Slnka skúsil a čo o obežniciach, vlasaticiach, pôvode a konci sveta vedel (The Science of the Stars or The Life of Krutohlav who Visited the Moon and the Sun and Knew about Planets, Comets and the Beginning and the End of the World, 1856). Has Krutohlav travel to the Moon in a balloon, then the rest of the solar system in a dragon-like spaceship.
Astronomer Camille Flammarion’s La Pluralité des Mondes Habités (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, 1862) speculated on extraterrestrial life.
The Coming Race (1871) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, is about a highly evolved subterranean civilization where the residents have psychic powers.
The Rise of Verne and Wells
The science fiction we know today began with Jules Verne in France and H. G. Wells in England. These grandfathers of science fiction helped define the genre.
Despite pressure from his father to join his law practice Verne clung to his desire to write. Working on smaller pieces for magazines. His fascination with geography and his friendship with blind explorer Jacques Arago, led Verne to travel writing. Mixing his travel stories with adventure and his love of science started to form the seeds of the types of stories he would be known for.
While working for the magazine Musée des familles (The Family Museum) Verne began to envision a new kind of novel genre based on modern science and invention, Roman de la Science (Novel of Science).
His visions wouldn’t see fruition until he started working for the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, during which he would publish such works as Voyage au centre de la Terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864); De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865); Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1869); and Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days) as part of the Voyages extraordinaires series.
After a variety of jobs, teaching, apprenticeships Herbert George Wells found his calling writing for such journals as The Pall Mall Gazette, his success encouraged him to write his first novel. That novel was The Time Machine.
Wells went on to create certain themes that became classics in science fiction, or science romances as they were known back then. The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, When the Sleeper Wakes, and The First Men in the Moon were all published in quick succession.
19th Century: SciFi Lives!
While Verne and Wells are certainly the giants of the time there were many authors turning their attention to science and speculative fiction. Especially during the late 19th century when there was a mini-explosion of the genre.
Samuel Butler wrote Erewhon in 1872, an apparently utopian society where machines have evolved to develop sentience. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best known for creating Sherlock Holmes, along with The Lost World, also created Professor Challenger. The Challenger stories revolved around scifi and supernatural themes. Rudyard Kipling, who gave the world Jungle Book, wrote many scifi and fantasy stories and novels.
Bengali writers also turned their attention to science fiction. Hemlal Dutta Rohosso (The Mystery) (1882); Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, considered the father of Bengali scifi, wrote Niruddesher Kahini, about weather control; the Islamic feminist Roquia Sakhawat Hussain imagined a world where women rule and emn are subjugated in Sultana’s Dream (1905); other authors included Hemendra Kumar Roy, Sukumar Ray, Leela Majumdar, Premendra Mitra, Sunil Ganguly, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Syed Mustafa Siraj, Samarjit Kar, Anish Deb, Biswajit Ganguly, Siddhartha Ghosh, Suman Sen, Rajesh Basu and Abhijnan Roy Chowdhury.
In America Edgar Allen Poe, most often associated with gothic horror (and inventing the detective genre with The Murders in the Rue Morgue) wrote some of the earliest American scifi with his only novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) and his short story The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (1835).
William Henry Rhodes introduced the concept of weapons of mass destruction (and super villainy) in The Case of Summerfield (1871). In the New York newspaper The Sun, Edward Page Mitchell wrote many short stories with such themes as invisibility, faster than light travel, teleportation, time travel, cryogenics, mind transfer, mutants, cyborgs and mechanical brains. The second best-selling novel of the 19th century was Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888). Mark Twain, Jack London, and Frank Baum all explored science fiction elements.