The History of Science Fiction

We tend to think of “Science Fiction” as a modern 20th or 21st Century phenomenon; but the Science Fiction “genre” reaches back to ancient times. Some argue that “science fiction” was first seen in Stone Age cave drawings, and the first known “Science Fiction” story was probably The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 B.C).

Plato’s The Republic and his descriptions of Atlantis are often seen as the first real “science fiction”, stories. Plato, used his fictional worlds to make political commentaries on contemporary issues and events in the real world just as Science Fiction is often used to comment on contemporary events today.

The Renaissance produced a lot of thinkers who dabbled in “speculative fiction” to make a political or social “point”. Thomas More’s Utopia was written soon after the discovery of the Americas, and described an unknown “island”, with an enlightened political and social system. “Space travel” was a common theme. Ludovico Ariosto wrote an epic poem about traveling to the moon in 1532; a did astronomer Johannes Kepler, and Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone (1638) is considered the first science fiction tale written in English. Cyrano de Bergerac got into the act, writing A Voyage to the Moon, and Margaret Cavendish, the first woman Sci-Fi writer, described a utopia featuring “out-of-body” travel.

The term “Space” and “Space travel” was coined in 1694, in Gabriel Daniel’s “A Voyage to the World of Cartesius”; and Thomas Erskine’s Armata: A Fragment, (1817), was the true beginning of modern sci-fi literature, depicting a parallel universe and a parallel Earth.

But it’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that created the modern science fiction /horror genre we know today, and her theme of science going mad still works today; even more so that it did when she wrote it.

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