Science Fiction: Origins

Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s impossible to have lived your life without ever hearing of science fiction. Existing in a multitude of forms (i.e. books, magazines, art, radio shows, TV shows, video games, computer games) science fiction is largely propagated by industry and technology. Before technology became part of everyday life, you may have wondered…where did it all start?

Science fiction represents the fantastical world as well as the actual. Reality, within novels, becomes redefined as the impossible is made actual. H. Bruce Franklin, in his essay on sci-fi, says:

“…science fiction is the only literature capable of exploring the macrohistory of our species, and of placing our history, and even our daily lives, in a cosmic context.”

With science fiction the world can be placed outside of itself and in countless other realms that the human imagination can concoct. There are no limitations regarding whether the story takes place in the present, past or even in this galaxy.

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Sci-Fi as a Concept

Science fiction goes hand in hand with technology and industrial advances. However, the origin of Sci-Fi may actually pre-date to the Greek Mythos. While these stories and tales are not strictly Sci-Fi, they do involve great beings who wield powers beyond human conception. Protagonists often adventure to far off distant world and, as Franklin mentions, women can chemically change people into animals.

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From there, science fiction’s history molds with society. As we, humans, begin to learn about the world around us, the authors of their respective times try and convey new knowledge into a form that begins with fantasy, but leaves us with truth.

An example of this would be Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627)  in  which he conveys the discovery of a Utopian society. The society is based on experimental science and involves “new artificial metals” as well as concepts like: vivisection, genetic manipulation, telescopes, microscopes, telephones, factories, aerial flight, and submarines (

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 Sci-Fi as a Body of Literature

Many have debated the true origins of the first sci-fi novel. When most think of the pioneers of this genre they consider H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. But contrary to popular belief, these contemporary writers attribute their inspiration to Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (Latin for “Dream”) which was written in 1608.

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Rich in scientific theories and fact, Somnium tells the story of Duracotus, a boy from Iceland, and his witch mother (Fiolxhilde) who learn from a demon of an island named Levenia (The Moon). This tale incorporates Kepler’s vision of what the Earth might look like from the Moon. It contains astronomical facts as well as fantastical elements such as witches and demons.

Jon Guttman (aka Mr. History), however, has debated that the most “philosophically and scientifically possible” sci-fi to first be produced would be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818).

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 Almost 200 years later after Kepler, Shelley’s Frankenstein grew to be one of the most iconic sci-fi novels to date. In it, Dr. Frankenstein attempts to use science to create life itself.

What really solidified Mary Shelley as a sci-fi writer, however, was the apocalyptic novel The Last Man. The novel was written in 1826, but is set to take place in the year 2100. Shelley’s protagonist wanders a dead, isolated world in which he discovers all the lost achievements of human civilization. Incorporated with visions of the end of the world, Shelley’s The Last Man engrossed readers over countless years.

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Sci-fi is tied to civilization and can be a satirical view of humanity. It is both fantasy and reality and holds universal truths of the human condition. Sci-fi also serves as a way for us to look at ourselves and imagine what life could be like on the other side of the universe. It is all the impossibilities of reality reconstructed into the possible. And maybe that’s why they’re so worthwhile to read!


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