SCIENCE FICTION IN WORLD LITERATURE: FROM LUCIAN AND IBN AL-NAFIS TO HEINLEIN, ASIMOV, ARTHUR C. CLARKE, URSULA K. LE GUIN AND BEYOND———FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM SUGGESTED CLASSICS AND MASTERPIECES SERIES, ROBERT SHEPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
SCIENCE FICTION IN WORLD LITERATURE: FROM LUCIAN AND IBN AL-NAFIS TO HEINLEIN, ASIMOV, ARTHUR C. CLARKE, URSULA K. LE GUIN AND BEYOND
What is “Science Fiction?” By its terms science fiction is the conjunction of “science” and “fiction,” which is to say the world of what we hold to be the most confirmable “reality” of our lives, or “what really is,” in fruitful union with the richest realm of the imagination, our deepest dreams of that alternative reality of “what could be,” or what might most delight us or be desired to be, or that which is most feared to be. It is also not incidentally, as is all art and literature, among our deepest conjectures of who we are and who we may dream ourselves to be, or to become.
According to science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: “realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.” Rod Serling’s definition is “fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.” Lester del Rey wrote, “Even the devoted aficionado—or fan—has a hard time trying to explain what science fiction is,” and that the reason for there not being a “full satisfactory definition” is that “there are no easily delineated limits to science fiction.”
Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possible worlds or futures. It is similar to, but differs from pure fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated physical laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).
The settings for science fiction are often contrary to those of consensus reality but most science fiction still relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief, which is facilitated in the reader’s mind by potential scientific explanations or solutions to various fictional elements. Science fiction elements include:
- A time setting in the future in alternative timelines or in a historical past that contradicts known facts of history or the archeological record;
- A spatial setting or scenes in outer space (e.g. spaceflight), on other worlds, or subterranean earth;
- Characters that include aliens, mutants, androids or humanoid robots and other types of characters arising from a future human evolution;
- Futuristic or plausible technology such as ray guns, teleportation machines, and humanoid computers;
- Scientific principles that are new or that contradict accepted physical laws, for example time travel, wormholes or faster-than-light travel or communication (known to be possible but not yet feasible).
- New and different political or social systems, e.g. dystopian, post-scarcity or post-apocalyptic; Paranormal abilities such as mind control, telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation;
- Other universes or dimensions and travel between them.
Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, as is making it a “literature of ideas.” Further, Science Fiction has evolved to be used by authors as a device to discuss philosophical questions of identity, the nature of humanity and the human condition, morality, desire and social structure.
THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION: WHO WAS THE “FIRST SCIENCE FICTION WRITER” IN WORLD LITERATURE?
Of course, the identification of the first science fiction writer in history is dependent upon our definition of what is science fiction. That in turn will depend on our definitions of what is science and what is fiction. These terms are not constant but vary and shift with historical, intellectual and cultural circumstance. Nonetheless, looking back on all known past literature it is possible to identify writers in the past who approached most nearly the modern themes, subject matter and imaginative intent of the institution we now regard as the modern genre of “Science Fiction.” Various national or individual claimants to the title of the “the first work of science fiction” are proposed from time to time, from the True History of 2nd Century Roman writer Lucian to some of the tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights, to the 10th Century Japanese “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” to the Robinson Crusoesque desert island tale Theologus Autodidacticus (The Self-Taught Theologist) by 13th Century Arabic writer Ibn al-Nafis. In my judgment, the Roman writer Lucian has the strongest claim to the title of “the father of science fiction.”
LUCIAN’S “TRUE HISTORY” AS SCIENCE FICTION
As most of us are not familiar with Lucian and his True History or Ibn al-Nafis’ Theologus Autodidacticus I shall take a bit more time and space to outline their contents compared to other modern works presented below with which the reader is presumed to be more knowledgeable.
In his Roman 2nd Century AD classic, True History, Lucian as narrator joins a company of adventuring heroes similar to “Jason and the Argonauts” sailing westward through the “Pillars of Hercules” (the Strait of Gibraltar) in order to explore lands and inhabitants beyond the Ocean. They are blown off course by a strong wind, and after 79 days come to an island. This island is home to a river of wine filled with fish, and bears a marker indicating that Hercules and Dionysius have traveled to this point, alongside normal footprints and giant footprints.
Shortly after leaving the island, they are lifted up by a tornado-like whirlwind and after seven days aloft are deposited on the Moon. There they find themselves embroiled in a full-scale war between the king of the Moon and the king of the Sun over colonization of the Morning Star, involving armies including such exotica as stalk-and-mushroom men, acorn-dogs (“dog-faced men fighting on winged acorns”), and cloud-centaurs. Unusually, the Sun, Moon, stars and planets are portrayed as locales, each with its unique geographic details and inhabitants. The war is finally won by the King of the Sun’s armies clouding the Moon over. Details of the Moon follow: there are no women, and children grow inside the calves of men prior to birth.
After returning to Earth, the adventurers become trapped in a giant 200 mile-long whale where live many groups of people whom they rout in war. They also reach a sea of milk, an island of cheese and “The Isle of the Blessed,” a species of afterworld. There Lucian meets the heroes of the Trojan War from the Iliad, other mythical men and animals, and even Homer himself. They find the historian Herodotus being eternally punished for the “lies” he published in his “Histories.”
After leaving the Island of the Blessed, they deliver a letter to Calypso given to them by Odysseus explaining that he wishes he had stayed with her so he could have lived eternally. They then discover a chasm in the Ocean, but eventually sail around it, discover a far-off continent, prophetic of Columbus’ discovery of America, and decide to explore it. The book ends rather abruptly with Lucian saying that their adventure there will be the subject of following books.
Lucian’s True History eludes a clear-cut literary classification or genre. Its multilayered character has given rise to interpretations as diverse as science fiction, fantasy, satire or parody of such classics as the Odyssey, depending on how much importance scholars attach to Lucian’s explicit intention of telling a story of candid falsehoods. Nevertheless, I feel on the whole that True History may properly be regarded effectively as science fiction because Lucian often achieves that sense of “cognitive estrangement” which Darko Suvin has defined as the generic distinction of Science Fiction, that is, the depiction of an alternate world, radically unlike our own, but relatable to it in terms of continuity of the laws and limits of action. Thus, part of the tale that qualifies it as science fiction, rather than as fantasy or imaginative fiction, involves Lucian and his seamen living out an epic battle for territorial and colonization rights that preserves a field of action, including reality and science-based laws and limitations alongside human and social motivations, continuous of our own world’s realities.
In sum, characteristic of science fiction themes and topoi, Lucian’s True History depicts:
- travel to outer space
- encounter with alien life-forms, including the experience of a first encounter event
- interplanetary war and imperialism
- colonization of planets
- artificial atmosphere
- liquid air
- reflecting telescopes
- motif of giganticism
- creatures as products of human technology (robot theme)
- worlds working by a set of alternate ‘physical’ laws
- explicit desire of the protagonist for exploration and adventure
IBN AL-NAFIS’ THEOLOGUS AUTODIDACTICUS (The Self-Taught Theologue)
Ibn al-Nafis’ 13th Century classic Theologus Autodidacticus and its progenitors were part of “The Islamic Golden Age” that is often overlooked in its contributions to both modern science and science fiction. From the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad the Arab world took greater care than the Christian West to preserve and build upon the rationalist heritage of the Greek and Roman classical heritage through the works of such renown scholars as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Al-Ghazali, Moses Maimonides and others, who in turn at a later time contributed to the rediscovery of the rationalist Greco-Roman classical tradition through their influence on medieval scholars such as the neo-Aristotelian St. Thomas Aquinas and their successors embodied in the Western Renaissance.
The Theologus Autodidacticus was less a work of imaginative science fiction than a continuation of a philosophical thought experiment deriving from the prior Islamic Golden Age works The Incoherence of the Philosophers by Ibn Sina and its more immediate precursor work by Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), the Philosophus Autodidacticus (Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān “Alive, Son of Awake” or “The Self-Taught Philosopher: The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan.” These philosophical works sought to explore the relationship of human reason, scientific proof based on individual observation of the world and religious revelation through the thought experiment of placing a feral child on a desert island without human language, society, education or guidance and speculating as to what naked observation of the world and reason would produce in human understanding. Ibn Tufail, like St. Thomas Aquinas seeking to reconcile reason and the creator-God of a rational universe, speculated that the island boy armed only with scientific observation and reason would arrive at the same rational understanding as the most learned philosophers armed with the Islamic and Greco-Roman tradition. Ibn al-Nafis, who was not original but rather copied Ibn Tufail’s desert island feral child motif, sought to take exception with Ibn Tufail and invoke more a process of independent religious revelation which would lead to independent discovery and affirmation of Islam by the feral child, supplementing the role of naked reason and scientific observation. Nonetheless he affirmed that all was reconcilable and harmonious. Both desert island works had far-reaching effects through translation in the West, and Daniel Defoe was known to have read a translation prior to composing Robinson Crusoe, and such speculations informed the reasoning of Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire and the voyage of discovery in Candide, the Cartesian Method of Descartes, and the tabula rasa of Locke, precursors of the rise of science.
Theologus Autodidacticus thus presents less of a voyage of discovery into an alternative universe than an account of a feral boy’s development on a desert island and his self-education, followed by his discovery and return to civilization by sailors and the attempt to reconcile autonomously-derived understanding with traditional and civilization-derived understanding. The last two chapters of the Theologus Autodidacticus, however, exhibit some characteristics of science fiction as they relate how the feral boy, Kamil, has independently arrived at the Biblical and Koranic prediction of Revelations and the Koran of the Apocalypse, “end of the world” and “Last Judgment” involving the resurrection of the bodies of the dead. He derives this prophetic knowledge scientifically through the study of astronomy, in which he observes a process of the slow destruction of the earth’s ecliptic, or slant relative to the sun from which the seasons arise. Thus in the modern science fiction tradition Ibn al-Nafis in the 13th Century predicts a Climate Change Apocalypse where the slant of the ecliptic will be lost, leading to a destruction of the seasons, the overheating of the equator and freezing of the poles and a consequent forced migration of peoples from now intolerable climates resulting in clashes and a World War of Armageddon which extirpates the human race from the planet. All is not lost however, as the re-tilting of the planet relative to the sun will eventually tilt over in the opposite direction, restoring the seasons, and the benign return of Climate Change will result in a resurrection of the dead bodies and a new cycle of resurgent life.
The other contenders for the title of the first work of science fiction are clearly much weaker. The 1001 Nights Arabian Entertainment, though incorporating some sci-fi motifs is clearly of the fantasy rather than sci-fi genre, with the laws of science not restraining the free play of fantasy and negating the comparability of the fantastic realm with the world of our lived-in reality. The Japanese 10th Century “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” (Taketori Monogatari) presents a fantasy of a “Tom Thumb” sized princess, Princess Kayuga, discovered and born from a bamboo stalk by a cutter who proves to be a princess of the Moon People. The tale tells of how she grows up on earth in the family of the bamboo cutter and is courted by all the earthly princes and proposed to by the Emperor of Japan. She rejects all these suitors, however, until an embassy from the Moon comes to return her to her lunar home, evocative also of the Chinese tale of Chang’E. Though incorporating the motif of interplanetary travel and civilizations, there is little of science or continuity of the laws of nature as a restraint on pure fantasy and impossibility. Thus, on the whole, the title of “The Father of Science Fiction” and “The First Work of Science Fiction” in history and World Literature is best conferred on Lucian and his “True History.”
PROTO-SCIENCE FICTION FROM THE ENLIGHTENMENT TO THE ROMANTIC AGE
Arising from the Age of Reason and the development of modern science itself, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels was one of the first true science fantasy works, together with Voltaire’s Micromegas (1752) and Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1620). Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan have termed the latter work the first science fiction story. It depicts a journey to the Moon and how the Earth’s motion is seen from there. The Blazing World written in 1666 by English noblewoman Margaret Cavendish has also been described as an early forerunner of science fiction. Another example is Ludvig Holberg’s novel Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum, 1741. Some have argued that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) was the first work of science fiction.
Following the 18th-century development of the as a novel itself literary form, in the early 19th century, Mary Shelley’s books Frankenstein and The Last Man helped evolve the form of the science fiction novel; later Edgar Allen Poe wrote a story about a flight to the moon. More examples appeared throughout the 19th century as the scientific age took on greater momentum and began to uproot and reform everyday life to a greater and greater extent.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN SCIENCE FICTION—-THE TWO FOUNDING TITANS: JULES VERNE & H.G. WELLS
Most of us grow up with the great classics of Science Fiction, either in books or rendered in movies, with place of honor held by the works of the two great authors of the first age of Science Fiction: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty-Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and many others. They have now risen to become part of the canon of World Literature, creating a body of work that became popular across broad cross-sections of society, well beyond the smaller sub-culture of sci-fi enthusiasts. They arose out of the enthusiasms and anxieties of the Industrial Revolution and Scientific Revolution as technologies such as the telegraph, steam engine, railroads, steamships, the automobile, the tank, submarine and machine-gun, airplane and electric lighting and power were completely reshaping the human landscape of the modern world. They also confronted the dilemmas and challenges that such scientific developments as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity posed for the understanding of the human condition and its traditional institutions such as religion, the nation-state and the family.
Wells’ The War of the Worlds for example (1898) describes an invasion of late Victorian England by Martians using tripod fighting machines equipped with advanced weaponry. It is a seminal depiction of an alien invasion of Earth, and in presenting a collision with a species more advanced than humanity is a profound shock to our geo-centric and ego-centric pretensions of human superiority and privileged uniqueness. Wells in that work also developed the narrative technique of telling the story by an average person as narrator unexpectedly caught up in a technological cataclysm, allowing a focus not simply on astounding technology, but on the human and psychological dimensions of technological upheaval. This focus would be echoed in the later development of the genre from “Hard Science Fiction” to the sub-genres of “Social Science Fiction” and “Soft Science Fiction” epitomized by such later writers as Phillip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin.
Verne also created iconic characters of great psychological depth such as Captain Nemo and questioned such human institutions as the nation-state, as memorable as the technological speculations concerning undersea submarine travel, space ships on interplanetary journeys, time machines and laser weapons. With such great authors the advance of technology elicited not only admiration and awe, but also concern for the ambivalent meaning and potential of such innovations for morality, the exercise of power, society and the human condition.
1920’s-1930’s—-EARLY VISIONARIES OLAF STAPLEDON & KAREL CAPEK: LAST AND FIRST MAN, STAR MAKER, THE WAR OF THE NEWTS & ROBOTS
Olaf Stapledon, an accomplished Oxford scholar, was a writer of extraordinary depth and breadth of vision who deeply influenced later icons of Science Fiction such as Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke as well as such writers as Borges, H.P. Lovecraft, Priestly, Bertrand Russell and Virginia Woolf. Once again, I shall devote a bit more time and space to Stapledon as he is less familiar to our readers than the better known masters.
Stapledon was a scholar in history at Oxford prior to the First World War and was deeply influenced by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. During WWI he was a conscientious objector and served in the ambulance service at the front in Belgium and France in lieu of military service. After the war he completed a Ph.D in Philosophy, but the success of his science fiction writing enabled him to give up academia to become a full-time writer instead. His first major success was with the publication of Last and First Men, a work of immense vision and unprecedented scale in the genre, describing the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years and eighteen distinct human species, of which our own is the first. Stapledon’s conception of history is based on both Darwin and the Hegelian Dialectic, following a repetitive cycle with many varied civilizations rise from and descending back into savagery over millions of years. In this he was also influenced by the historical theories of Oswald Spengler and Vico, following the rise and fall of civilizations as organic but historically determined entities destined to birth, a limited lifespan and inevitable decline and destruction, which is, however, followed by civilizational rebirth. But this process is also one of a general upward spiraling progress, as the later civilizations rise to far greater heights than the first and earlier ones. The book anticipates the science of genetic engineering, interplanetary colonization and migration, interplanetary and inter-species war, conflict between creator and created species, an altered sexuality with evolution of multiple sexes beyond the male and female, and among the later evolutionary reincarnations of humanity is an early example of the fictional supermind: a super-consciousness composed of many telepathically-linked individuals. Humanity ends with the occurrence of a supernova which destroys the solar system, but not before the final race devises seed-viruses which are capable of surviving journeys to other solar systems and the seeding of life there in the tradition of interstellar “panspermia” in the hope of a newer evolution of life on the planets of distant stars. The course of evolution from the present human species (the First Men) onwards to the final reported species, the Eighteenth Men:
- First Men. (Chapters 1–6) Our own species: the rivalry of America and China, leads to formation of the First World State followed by its destruction as a result of using up all natural resources, followed by the Patagonia Civilization 100,000 years hence, with its cult of Youth, and its destruction after the sabotage of a mine which leads to a colossal subterranean atomic explosion and an ensuing intercontinental nuclear holocaust, rendering most of the Earth’s surface uninhabitable for millions of years save for the poles and the northern coast of Siberia. The only survivors are thirty-five humans stationed at the North Pole who eventually split up into two separate species, the Second Men and some sub-humans.
- Second Men. (Chapters 7– 9) “Their heads, indeed, were large even for their bodies, and their necks massive. Their hands were huge, but finely moulded…their legs were stouter…their feet had lost their separate toes…blonde hirsuite appearance…Their eyes were large, and often jade green, their features firm as carved granite, yet mobile and lucent. …not till they were fifty did they reach maturity. At about 190 their powers began to fail…” Unlike our species, egotism is virtually unknown to them. At the acme of their highly advanced civilization, a protracted war with the Martians finally ends with the Martians extinct and the Second Men gone into eclipse.
- Third Men. (Chapter 10) “Scarcely more than half the stature of their predecessors, these beings were proportionally slight and lithe. Their skin was of a sunny brown, covered with a luminous halo of red-gold hairs… golden eyes… faces were compact as a cat’s muzzle, their lips full, but subtle at the corners. Their ears, objects of personal pride and of sexual admiration, were extremely variable both in individuals and in races. … But the most distinctive feature of the Third Men was their great lean hands, on which were six versatile fingers, six antennae of living steel.” They are deeply interested in music and in the genetically engineered design of living organisms.
- Fourth Men. (Chapter 11) Giant brains, built by the Third Men. For a long time they help govern their creators, but eventually come into conflict. After reducing the Third Men to the status of lab animals, they eventually reach the limits of their scientific abilities.
- Fifth Men. (Chapters 11–12) An artificial human species designed by the preceding brains: “On the average they were more than twice as tall as the First Men, and much taller than the Second Men… the delicate sixth finger had been induced to divide its tip into two Lilliputian fingers and a corresponding thumb. The contours of the limbs were sharply visible, for the body bore no hair, save for a close, thick skull-cap which, in the original stock, was of ruddy brown. The well-marked eyebrows, when drawn down, shaded the sensitive eyes from the sun.” After clashing with and finally eliminating the Fourth Men, they develop a technology greater than Earth had ever known before. When Earth ceases to be habitable, they terraform Venus, committing genocide on its marine native race which tries to resist them – but do not cope well after the move.
- Sixth Men. (Chapter 13) “Sadly reduced in stature and in brain, these abject beings… gained a precarious livelihood by grubbing roots upon the forest-clad islands, trapping the innumerable birds, and catching fish… Not infrequently they devoured, or were devoured by, their seal-like relatives.” After tectonic changes provide them with a promising land mass, they fluctuate like the First Men and repeat all their mistakes.
- Seventh Men. Flying humans, “scarcely heavier than the largest of terrestrial flying birds”, are created by the Sixth Men. After 100 million years, a flightless pedestrian subspecies appears which re-develops technology.
- Eighth Men. “These long-headed and substantial folk were designed to be strictly pedestrian, physically and mentally.” When Venus becomes uninhabitable, about to be destroyed along with the entire inner solar system, they design the Ninth Men, who will live on Neptune.
- Ninth Men. (Chapter 14) “Inevitably it was a dwarf type, limited in size by the necessity of resisting an excessive gravitation… too delicately organized to withstand the ferocity of natural forces on Neptune… civilization crumbled into savagery.” From there, savagery sinks further into brutedom.
- Tenth to Seventeenth Men. “Nowhere did the typical human form survive.” Sentience re-emerges from animals on multiple occasions. The Fifteenth and Sixteenth achieve a great civilization and learn to study past minds. (These species are essentially Neptunian versions of the Second and Fifth Men, respectively.) It is not until the Sixteenth Men, the first of the Neptunian artificial species, that the cycle of rise and collapse of civilization is finally ended, and steady progress takes its place. The Sixteenth Men, frustrated by their inability to improve their civilization, decide that their nature is insufficiently advanced to produce a truly perfect community, and create an artificial species, the Seventeenth Men, to succeed them; however, the Seventeenth Men are “flawed” in some unspecified way, unimagined by the 16th due to their lesser awareness, and last only a short period of time before being replaced by the Eighteenth Men, essentially a more perfect version of their own species.
- Eighteenth Men. (Chapters 15–16) The most advanced humans of all. A race of philosophers and artists with a very liberal sexual morality. “Superficially we seem to be not one species but many.” (One interesting aspect of the Eighteenth Men is that they have a number of different “sub-genders,” variants on the basic male and female pattern, with distinctive temperaments. The Eighteenth Men’s equivalent of the family unit includes one of each of these sub-genders and is the basis of their society. The units have the ability to act as a group mind, which eventually leads to the establishment of a single group mind uniting the entire species.). This species no longer died naturally, but only by accident, suicide or being killed. Despite their hyper-advanced civilization, they practice ritual cannibalism. They are eventually extinguished on Neptune after a supernova infects the sun, causing it to grow so hot that it consumes the remains of the solar system, faster than any means of escape they can devise. Unable to escape, this last species of man devises a virus to spread life to other worlds and cause the evolution of new sentient species throughout the galaxy.
But the process of evolution can also be downward as well as upward. Stapledon on numerous occasions posits the emergence of “subhuman” human successors who descend towards a lower animality:
- Baboon-like Submen. (Chapter 7) “Bent so that as often as not they used their arms as aids to locomotion, flat-headed and curiously long-snouted, these creatures were by now more baboon-like than human”.
- Aquatic Seal-like Submen. (Chapter 13) “The whole body was moulded to stream-lines. The lung capacity was greatly developed. The spine had elongated, and increased in flexibility. The legs were shrunken, grown together, and flattened into a horizontal rudder. The arms also were diminutive and fin-like, though they still retained the manipulative forefinger and thumb. The head had shrunk into the body and looked forward in the direction of swimming. Strong carnivorous teeth, emphatic gregariousness, and a new, almost human, cunning in the chase, combined to make these seal-men lords of the ocean”. In this they parallel the actual strange but true history of evolution of the seal, whale and porpoise from an air-breathing land animal thought to resemble the dog into an aquatic species on Earth.
- Period of Eclipse. (Chapter 14) “Man’s consciousness was narrowed and coarsened into brute-consciousness. By good luck the brute precariously survived.” Nature succeeds in colonizing Neptune where sentient life fails. Human-derived mammals of all shapes come to dominate Neptune’s ecosystem before adapting well enough for the vestiges of opposable thumbs and intelligence to become assets again.
As if a two-billion year vision of the future of the human species were not enough, Stapledon follows his prophetic masterpiece with an even greater cosmological speculation in Star Maker, transcending the “Big Bang” with a vision of the creation of alternative universes by a Supreme Artist-Quasi-God-Universe Maker, termed the “Star Maker.”
The climax of the book is the “supreme moment of the cosmos”, when the cosmical mind (which includes the psychically-voyaging narrator) attains momentary contact with the “Star Maker” of the title. The Star Maker is the creator of the universe, but stands in the same relation to it as an artist to his work, and calmly assesses its quality without any feeling for the suffering of its inhabitants. This element makes the novel one of Stapledon’s efforts to write “an essay in myth making”.
After meeting the Star Maker, the traveler is given a “fantastic myth or dream,” in which he observes the Star Maker at work. He discovers that his own cosmos is only one of a vast number, and by no means the most significant. He sees the Star Maker’s early work, and learns that the Star Maker was surprised and intensely interested when some of his early “toy” universes — for example a universe composed entirely of music with no spatial dimensions — displayed “modes of behavior that were not in accord with the canon which he had ordained for them.” He sees the Star Maker experimenting with more elaborate universes, which include among others the traveler’s own universe, and a triune universe which closely resembles “Christian orthodoxy” (the three universes respectively being hell, heaven, and reality with presence of a savior). The Star Maker goes on to create “mature” universes of extraordinary complexity, culminating in an “ultimate cosmos,” through which the Star Maker fulfills his own eternal destiny as “the ground and crown of all things.” Finally, the traveler-narrator returns to Earth at the place and time he left, to resume his life there.
Stapledon’s Czech contemporary Karel Čapek is perhaps best known for his coinage of the word “robot” in his early play “R.U.R.—Rostum’s Universal Robots,” which describes the creation of an “android” species of robots endowed with human-like intelligence and consciousness. Many of his works discuss ethical aspects of industrial inventions and processes already anticipated in the first half of the 20th century. These include mass production, nuclear weapons, and post-human intelligent beings such as robots or salamanders (newts). Čapek also expressed fear from social disasters, dictatorship, violence, human stupidity, the unlimited power of corporations, and greed. Capek tried to find hope, and the way out. Čapek’s literary heirs include Ray Bradbury, Salman Rushdie, Brian Aldiss, and Dan Simmons. From the 1930s onward, Čapek’s work became increasingly anti-fascist, anti-militarist, and critical of what he saw as “irrationalism.”
Čapek’s most mature work was War with the Newts (Válka s mloky) sometimes also translated as War with the Salamanders. The 1936 satirical science fiction novel concerns the discovery in the Pacific of a sea-dwelling race, an intelligent breed of newts, who are initially enslaved and exploited by their human masters and owned by profit-seeking corporations. They acquire human knowledge and intelligence, however, and rebel leading to a global war for supremacy between the two intelligent species on earth. Ultimately the Newts triumph due to human mendacity. There are obvious similarities to Čapek’s earlier R.U.R. which also included conflict between humans and their created “android” species of robots, but also some original themes and the fuller development as a full novel.
THE RISE OF GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION IN THE LATE 20TH CENTURY—THE “BIG THREE” MODERN GIANTS: HEINLEIN, ARTHUR C. CLARKE & ISAAC ASIMOV
In the early 20th century, pulp magazines helped develop a new generation of mainly American science fiction writers, influenced by Hugo Gernsback, the founder of Amazing Stories magazine, after whom the “Hugo” science fiction award for excellence is named. In 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs published A Princess of Mars, the first of his three-decade-long series of Barsoom novels, situated on Mars and featuring John Carter as the hero. The 1928 publication of Philip Nolan’s original Buck Rogers story, Armageddon 2419, in Amazing Stories was a landmark event. This story led to comic strips featuring Buck Rogers (1929), Brick Bradford (1933), and Flash Gordon (1934). The comic strips and derivative movie serials greatly popularized science fiction.
In the late 1930s, John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine and a critical mass of new writers emerged in New York City in a group called the Futurians, including Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Donald Wollheim, Frederik Pohl, James Blish, Judith Marril, and others. Other important writers during this period included E.E. (Doc) Smith, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and A.E. Vogt. Working outside the Campbell influence were Ray Bradbury and Stanislaw Lem. Campbell’s tenure at Astounding is considered to be the beginning of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, characterized by Hard Science Fiction stories celebrating scientific achievement and progress. This lasted until post-war technological advances, new magazines such as Galaxy, edited by H. L. Gold, and a new generation of writers began writing stories with less emphasis on the hard sciences and more on the social sciences.
All three of the giants of contemporary science fiction were members of the WWII Generation that had seen the genre evolve from its beginnings with the Victorian and Edwardian “scientific romances” of Verne and Wells and, supercharged by the acceleration of technological change, looked forward with prophetic vision and imaginative creativity.
All three of the giants of the Golden Age of Science Fiction were members of the WWII Generation that had seen the genre evolve from its beginnings with the Victorian and Edwardian “scientific romances” of Verne and Wells and, supercharged by the acceleration of technological change, looked forward with prophetic vision and imaginative creativity.
ROBERT A. HEINLEIN
Robert A. Heinlein has been considered one of the founding fathers of Science Fiction for the last half-century. A graduate of the US Naval Academy and an engineer he brought intimate knowledge of science, engineering technology and military affairs into modern science fiction. In addition to numerous short stories published in such sci-fi magazines as Astounding, he published many novels such as Starship Troopers, Strangers in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which became classics of the Science Fiction canon. Starship Troopers is emblematic of his early phase and classified as one of the “Heinlein juveniles” or books especially aimed at the youth audience. Drawing on his military background it relates the saga of soldiers and “space marines” in a space army defending earth from invasion by an insect-like, or space-arachnid species. His stories in the 50’s popularized the themes of space travel in advance preparation for America’s successful space program leading to the Apollo landings on the moon. His themes beyond mere technological advance and adventure include social questions such as the defense of individual freedom and individuality against a repressive and conformist society, as well as a vindication of the civic and military virtues associated with military service. His middle phase, including Strangers in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress include a defense of sexual freedom alongside political freedom, a theme which appealed to the “hippy” counterculture of the 60’s along with libertarians of both the left and right. The latter novel relates the saga of a rebellion on a penal colony of a future society on the moon and the search for liberty in a repressive environment. His late phase, after recovery from serious illness, and include more speculative philosophical and political themes building on his Future History series. His politics swung widely from an early alignment with Upton Sinclair’s leftist campaigns in Depression era California to later support of the libertarian right, including backing the conservative campaign of Barry Goldwater. His concern with individuality and personal freedom remained a common thread throughout, however.
ARTHUR C. CLARKE
Arthur C. Clarke was a British innovator in the science fiction genre of the same generation as Heinlein and Asimov, coming of age before and during the Second World War in which he served as a radar technician with the RAF. He is credited with envisioning several important technological breakthroughs in world history, most notably his first conception of a telecommunications network of orbiting geostationary satellites which came to fruition in reality. His interest in SCUBA diving led him to emigrate to Ceylon-Sri Lanka where he lived most of his later life.
Clarke and Asimov first met in New York City in 1953, and in an amicable rivalry they traded friendly insults and gibes for decades. They established a verbal agreement, the “Clarke–Asimov Treaty,” that when asked who was best, the two would say Clarke was the best science fiction writer and Asimov was the best science writer. In 1972, Clarke put the “treaty” on paper in his dedication to Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations.
Clarke is best known for his works related to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which became an immense success through its embodiment in the epic 1968 Stanley Kubrick film. The works present a spiritual mystery of man’s origins and destiny in the universe, including such iconic scenes as discovery of the black obelisk, the struggle of the protagonist with the homicidal computer “Hal” and the imagery of spiritual rebirth through voyaging through space. It formed the consciousness of a generation decisively convinced that humanity’s spiritual destiny was linked with space exploration. It was followed by numerous sequels.
Isaac Asimov was an American professor of biochemistry who became a leading icon of the Science Fiction world, beginning with his I, Robot series delineating like Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. the relationship of humans and a race of intelligent android robots, followed by his Foundation series which relates the formation of an interstellar federation and Galactic Empire of civilizations in the future. He also perhaps brought the genre to its greatest literary maturity, writing extensively on Shakespeare and the Bible in relation to science fiction.
He is also remembered for his exploration of “robotics,” a word he is credited with coining, including the formulation of the “Three Laws of Robotics” which he postulated as necessary to the programming of intelligent and autonomous robots for governing their relationship to their human creators. The Three Laws are:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Beginning in 1942 he published the first of his Foundation stories—later collected in the Foundation Trilogy: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953)—which recount the collapse and rebirth of a vast interstellar empire in a universe of the future. Taken together, they are his most famous work of science fiction, along with the Robot Series. Many years later, due to pressure by fans on Asimov to write another, he continued the series with Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986), and then went back to before the original trilogy with Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1992). The series features his fictional science of Psychohistory in which the future course of the history of large populations can be predicted.
Beyond the “Big Three,” in the 1950s, the Beat Generation included speculative writers such as William S. Burroughs. In the 1960s and early 1970s, writers like Frank Herbert, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison explored new trends, ideas, and writing styles, while a group of writers, mainly in Britain, became known as the New Wave for their embrace of a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, and a highbrow and self-consciously “literary” or artistic sensibility. In the 1970s, writers like Larry Niven brought new life to hard science fiction while Ursula K. Le Guin and others pioneered Soft Science Fiction, including exploration of alternative sexual identities following on the earlier work in this area of Olaf Stapledon.
RAY BRADBURY—POPULARIZER OF SCIENCE FICTION AMONG MAINSTREAM READERS
Ray Bradbury has resisted characterization as a science fiction writer though in the public mind he is closely associated with its rise and popularization outside narrow sci-fi circles in the 60’s. He prided himself on never having gone to a university, closed to him during the poverty of the Great Depression, and declared that the public libraries were his education. It was through his works Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles that many mainstream readers became interested in science fiction. Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which books burn, gives us an excursion into a future society in which the development of individual consciousness, particularly through the reading of books, is actively suppressed by a totalitarian government which enforces conformity through mass addiction to government controlled electronic media. It tells the story of Guy Montag, who is a “fireman” in a different sense, that is one whose job is to discover the reading of books and other subversive evidence of independent thought and respond to such “emergencies” by burning both the books and the houses of those caught reading them. His disaffection leads to involvement with a counterculture which memorizes and recites books in clandestine meetings. The Martian Chronicles present a collection of interconnected stories telling the saga of successive waves of human conquest and colonization of Mars after society has corrupted and finally destroyed life on earth. Both books were rendered in popular films and achieved high acclaim in mainstream consciousness.
URSULA K. LE GUIN
Science Fiction has overwhelmingly been a world dominated by men and male technological fantasy, which has caused some to welcome the success of Ursula K. Le Guin as a balancing force in the genre. She has been associated with the “soft science fiction” sub-genre, focusing on the anthropology, sociology and psychology of intergalactic civilizational encounters more than on raw technology. Her two major works, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed enjoyed the recognition of both the Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction excellence. The Left Hand of Darkness portrays a universe of relatively isolated intergalactic civilizations who are connected by a loose confederation known as the “Ekumen” which coordinates interactions between them. This allows the author to hypothesize a loose collection of societies that exist largely in isolation from one another, providing the setting for her explorations of intercultural encounter. The social and cultural impact of the arrival of Ekumen envoys (known as “mobiles”) on remote planets, and the culture shock that the envoys experience, constitute major themes of The Left Hand of Darkness.
In the 1980s, Cyberpunk authors like William Gibson turned away from the early optimism and seemingly blind support for progress of traditional science fiction. This dystopian vision of the near future is described in the work of Phillip K. Dick, such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, which resulted in the films Blade Runner and Total Recall. The Star Wars franchise helped spark a new interest in Space Opera, focusing more on story and character than on scientific accuracy. C.J. Cherryh’s detailed explorations of alien life and complex scientific challenges influenced a later generation of writers.
Emerging themes in the 1990s included environmental issues, the implications of the global Internet and the expanding information universe, questions about biotechnology and nanotechnology, as well as a post-Cold War interest in post-scarcity societies; Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age comprehensively explores these themes. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels brought the character-driven story back into prominence. The television series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) began a torrent of new sci-fi shows, including three further Star Trek spin-off shows (Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise) and Babylon 5. Stargate, a movie about an ancient portal to other gates across the galaxy, was released in 1994. Stargate SG-1, a TV series, premiered in 1997 and lasted 10 seasons with 214 episodes. Concern about the rapid pace of technological change crystallized around the concept of the “technological singularity” or the rise of intelligent computers and androids to power over humans, popularized by Vernor Vinge’s novel Marooned in Realtime and then taken up by other authors.
FRANK HERBERT—THE DUNE SERIES
Frank Herbert (1920 –1986) was a critically acclaimed and commercially successful American science fiction author. Though also a short story author, he is best known for his novels,most notably Dune and its five sequels. The Dune saga, set in the distant future and taking place over millennia, deals with themes such as human survival and evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics and power. Dune itself is the “best-selling science fiction novel of all time” and the series is widely considered to be among the classics in the genre.
SUB-GENRES OF SCIENCE FICTION
The overall genre of Science Fiction has generated numerous sub-genres, or areas of independent focus and concentration such as Hard Science Fiction, Soft Science Fiction, Social Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, Superhuman, Military Science Fiction and Apocalyptic Science Fiction. Below are short introductions to these sub-genres to guide the reader to his or her areas of greatest interest.
HARD SCIENCE FICTION
Hard Science Fiction, or “hard SF” is characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in the natural sciences, especially physics, astrophysics and chemistry, or on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible. Some accurate predictions of the future often come from the hard science fiction subgenre, but numerous inaccurate predictions have emerged as well as technology and scientific theory changes and advances. Some hard SF authors have distinguished themselves as working scientists, including Gregory Benford, Geoffrey Landis and David Brin, while mathematician authors include Rudy Rucker and Vernor Vinge. Other noteworthy hard SF authors who are professionals in science as well include Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Hal Clement, Greg Bear and others.
SOFT SCIENCE FICTION
The description “soft” science fiction may describe works based on social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, sociology and anthropology rather than primarily focusing on technology. Noteworthy writers in this category include Ursula K. Le Guin and Phillip K. Dick. The term can describe stories focused primarily on character and emotion rather than technology. Science Fiction Writers’ Association Grand Master Ray Bradbury was an acknowledged master of this art, and indeed declined to term himself a “science fiction writer.” The Eastern Bloc produced a large quantity of social science fiction, including works by Polish authors Stanislaw Lem and Janusz Zajdel, as well as Soviet and Russian authors such as the Strugatsky Brothers, Kir Bulychov, Yevgeny Zamyatin and Ivan Yefremov.
Related to social SF and soft SF are Utopian and Dystopian stories, the most well-known of which include George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Satirical novels with fantastic settings such as Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift might also be considered science fiction or speculative fiction.
The cyberpunk genre emerged in the early 1980s; combining cybernetics and punk the term was coined by author Bruce Bethke for his 1980 short story Cyberpunk. In Cyberpunk works the time frame is usually near-future and the settings are often dystopian in nature and characterized by misery. Common themes in cyberpunk include advances in information technology, especially the Internet, visually abstracted as cyberspace, artificial intelligence and prosthetics, and post-democratic societal control where corporations have more influence than governments. Nihilism, Post-Modernism and film noir techniques are common elements, and the protagonists may be disaffected or reluctant anti-heroes.. Noteworthy authors in this genre are William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson and Pat Cadigan. James O’Ehley has called the 1982 film Blade Runner the definitive example of the Cyberpunk visual style.
Time travel stories have antecedents in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first major time travel novel was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and the most famous, of course, is H.G. Wells’1895 novel The Time Machine, which uses a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively, whereas Twain’s time traveler is struck in the head. The term “time machine,” coined by Wells, is now universally used to refer to such a vehicle. Stories of this type are complicated by logical problems such as the “grandfather paradox.” Time travel continues to be a popular subject in modern science fiction, in print, movies, and television episodes of Stargate, Stargate SG1and the hit BBC television series Doctor Who.
Alternate (or alternative) history stories are based on the premise that historical events might have turned out differently. These stories may use time travel to change the past, or may simply set a story in a universe with a different history from our own. Classics in the genre include Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore in which the South wins the American Civil War, and The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick, in which Germany and Japan win World War II. The Sidewise Award acknowledges the best works in this subgenre with the name is taken from Murray Leinster’s 1934 story Sidewise in Time. Harry Turtledove is one of the most prominent authors in the subgenre and is sometimes called the “master of alternate history.”
MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION
Military Science Fiction is set in the context of conflict between national, interplanetary, or interstellar armed forces; the primary viewpoint characters are usually soldiers. Stories include detail about military technology, procedure, ritual, and history; military stories may use parallels with historical conflicts. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is an early example, along with the Dorsai novels of Gordon Dickson. Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is a critique of the genre, a Vietnam-era response to the World War II–style stories of earlier authors. Prominent Military SF authors include John Ringo, David Drake, David Weber, Tom Kratman, Michael Z. Williamson, S.M. Stirling, John Carr and Don Hawthorne. The publishing company Baen Books is known for cultivating several of these military science fiction authors.
SUPERHUMAN SCIENCE FICTION
Superhuman stories deal with the emergence of humans who have abilities beyond the present norm. This can stem either from natural causes such as in Olaf novel Odd John, Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, and Phillip Wylie’s Gladiator. Such powers may also be the result of scientific advances, such as the intentional augmentation in A.E. van Vogt’s novel Slan. These stories usually focus on the alienation that these altered beings feel as well as society’s reaction to them. These stories have played a role in the real life discussion of human enhancement. Frederik Pohl’s Man Plus also belongs to this category.
APOCALYPTIC AND POST-APOCALYPTIC SCIENCE FICTION
Apocalyptic fiction is concerned with the end of civilization through war (On the Beach) pandemic (The Last Man), astronomic impact (When Worlds Collide), ecological disaster (The Wind From Nowhere) or some other general disaster or with a world or civilization after such a disaster. Typical of the genre are George R. Stewart’s novel Earth Abides, and Pat Frank’s novel Alas, Babylon. Apocalyptic fiction generally concerns the disaster itself and the direct aftermath, while post-apocalyptic fiction can deal with anything from the near aftermath (as in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to 375 years in the future (as in By The Waters of Babylon) to hundreds or thousands of years in the future, as in Russell Hoban’s novel Riddley Walker and Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Liebowitz. Apocalyptic science-fiction is also a popular genre in video games. The critically acclaimed role-playing action adventure video game series, Fallout, is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where civilization is recovering from a nuclear war as survivors struggle to survive and seek to rebuild society.
THE INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF SCIENCE FICTION IN WORLD LITERATURE
Although perhaps most developed as a genre and community in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Science Fiction is a worldwide phenomenon. Organizations devoted to promotion and even translation in particular countries are commonplace, as are country- or language-specific genre awards.
SCIENCE FICTION IN AFRICA
Mohammed Dib, an Algerian writer, wrote a science fiction allegory about his nation’s politics, Qui se souvient de la mer (Who Remembers the Sea?) in 1962. Masimba Musodza, a Zimbabwean author, published MunaHacha Maive Nei? the first science-fiction novel in the Shona language, which also holds the distinction of being the first novel in the Shona language to appear as an e-book first before it came out in print. In South Africa, a movie titled District 9 came out in 2009, an apartheid allegory featuring extraterrestrial life forms, produced by globally renowned Peter Jackson.
Science fiction examines society through shifting power structures (such as the shift of power from humanity to alien overlords). African science fiction often uses this genre norm to situate slavery and the slave trade as an alien abduction. Commonalities in experiences with unknown languages, customs, and culture lend themselves well to this comparison. The subgenre also commonly employs the mechanism of time travel to examine the effects of slavery and forced emigration on the individual and the family.
SCIENCE FICTION IN ASIA
Indian science fiction, defined loosely as science fiction by writers of Indian descent, began with the English-language publication of Kylas Chundar Dutt’s A Journal of Forty-Eight Hours of the Year 1945 in the Calcutta Literary Gazette (1835). Since this story was intended as a political polemic, credit for the first science fiction story is often given to later Bengali authors such as Jagadananda Roy, Hemlal Dutta and the polymath Jagadish Chandra Bose. Similar traditions exist in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and English. In English, the modern era of Indian speculative fiction began with the works of authors such as Samsit Basu, Payal Dhar, Vandana Singh and Anil Menon. Works such as Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome and Salman Rushdie’s Grimus and Boman Desai’s The Memory of Elephants are generally classified as magic realist works but make essential use of science fiction tropes and techniques.
Modern science fiction in China mainly depends on the magazine Science Fiction World.. A number of works were published in installments in it originally, including the most successful fiction Three Body written by Liu Cixin.
Until recently, there has been little domestic science fiction literature in Korea. Within the small field, the author and critic writing under the nom de plume Djuna has been credited with being the major force. The upswing that began in 2009 has been attributed by Shin Junebong to a combination of factors. Shin goes on to quote the Korean science-fiction writer and editor as saying that, “‘It looks like the various literary awards established by one newspaper after another, with hefty sums of prize money, had a big impact.'” Another factor cited was the active use of Web bulletin boards among the then-young writers brought up on translations of Western SF. In spite of the increase, at the time, there were still no more than sixty or so authors writing in the field at that time.
Chalomot Be’aspamia is an Israeli magazine of short science fiction and fantasy stories. The Prophecies Of Karma, published in 2011, is advertised as the first work of science fiction by an Arabic author, the Lebanese writer Nael Gharzeddine.
SCIENCE FICTION IN EUROPE
Moonshot from Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), a silent film by George Melies
Jules Verne, of course the best known French novelist known for his pioneering science fiction works (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon) is the prime representative of the French legacy of science fiction. French science fiction of the 19th century was also represented with such artists as Albert Robida and Isidore Grandville. In the 20th century, traditions of French science fiction were carried on by writers like Pierre Boulle (best known for his Planet of the Apes) Serge Brussolo, Bernard Werber, Rene Barjavel and Robert Merle, among others.
In Franco-Belgian comics the bande dessinee (“BD”) science-fiction is a well established genre. Among the notable French science fiction comics, there is Valerian et Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, a space opera franchise lasting since 1967. Metal Hurlant magazine (known in US as Heavy Metal) was one of the largest contributors to Francophone science-fiction comics. Its major authors include Jean “Moebius” Giraud, creator of Arzach, Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky, who created a series of comics, including L’Incal and Les Metabarons, set in Jodoverse, and Enki Bilal with the Nikopol Trilogy. Giraud also contributed to French SF animation, collaborating with Rene Laloux on several animated features. A number of artists from neighboring countries, such as Spain and Italy, create science fiction and fantasy comics in French aimed at a Franco-Belgian market.
In French cinema, science fiction was started with silent film director and visual effects pioneer George Melies, whose most famous film was Voyage to the Moon, loosely based on books by Verne and Wells. In the 20th and 21st centuries, French science fiction films were represented by Rene Laloux animated features, as well as Enki Bilal’s adaptation of Nikopol trilogy, Immortal. Also, Luc Besson filmed The Fifth Element as a joint Franco-American production.
In the French-speaking world, the colloquial use of the term sci-fi is an accepted Anglicism for the word science fiction. This probably stems from the fact that science fiction writing never expanded there to the extent it did in the English-speaking world, particularly with the dominance of the United States. Nevertheless, France has made a tremendous contribution to science fiction in its seminal stages of development. Although the term “science fiction” is understood in France their penchant for the “weird and wacky” has a long tradition and is sometimes called “le culte du merveilleux”. This uniquely French tradition certainly encompasses what the Anglophone world would call French Science Fiction but also ranges across fairies, Dada-ism and Surrealisme.
The main German science fiction writer in the 19th century was Kurd Lasswitz. In the 20th century, during the years of divided Germany, both East and West spawned a number of successful writers. Top East German writers included Angela and Karlheinz Steinmuller, as well as Gunther Krupkat. West German authors included Carl Amery, Gudrun Pausewang, Wolfgang Jeschke and Frank Schatzing, among others. A well known science fiction book series in the German language is Perry Rhodan which started in 1961. Having sold over one billion copies (in pulp format), it claims to be the most successful science fiction book series ever written, worldwide. Current well-known SF authors from Germany are five-time Kurd-Lasswitz Award winner Andreas Eschbach, whose books The Carpet Makers and Eine Billion Dollar are big successes, and Frank Schatzing, who in his book The Swarm mixes elements of the science thriller with SF elements to an apocalyptic scenario. The most prominent German-speaking author, according to Die Zeit, is the Austrian Herbert W. Franke.
In 1920’s Germany produced a number of critically acclaimed high-budget science fiction and horror films. Metropolis by director Fritz Lang is credited as one of the most influential science fiction films ever made. Other films of the era included Woman in the Moon, Alraune, Algol, Gold, Master of the World, among others. In the second half of the 20th century, East Germany also became a major science fiction film producer, often in a collaboration with fellow Eastern Bloc countries. Films of this era include Eolomea, First Spaceship on Venus and Hard to Be a God.
Russia and ex-Soviet countries
Alisa Selezneva, , a popular heroine of Soviet children’s science fiction, created by Kir Bulychov
Russians made their first steps to science fiction in mid-19th century, with utopias by Faddei Bulgarin and Vladamir Odoevsky. However, it was the Soviet era that became the genre’s golden age. Soviet writers were prolific, despite limitations set up by state censorship. Early Soviet writers, such as Alexander Belayev, Alexey N. Tolstoy, and Vladamir Obruchev employed Vernian/Wellsian hard science fiction based on scientific predictions. The most notable books of the era include Belayev’s Amphibian Man, The Air Seller and Professor Dowell’s Head; Tolstoy’s Aelita and Engineer Garin’s Death Ray. Early Soviet science fiction was influenced by communist ideology and often featured a leftist agenda agenda or anti-capitalist satire. Those few early Soviet books that challenged the communist worldview and satirized the Soviets, such as Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopia We or Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog and Fatal Eggs, were banned from publishing until 1980s, although they still circulated in fan-made copies.
In the second half of the 20th century, a new generation of writers developed a more complex approach. Social Science Fiction, concerned with philosophy, ethics, utopian and dystopian ideas, became the prevalent subgenre. The breakthrough was started by Ivan Yefromov’s utopian novel Andromeda Nebula (1957). He was soon followed by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, who explored darker themes and social satire in their Noon Universe novels, such as Hard to be a God (1964) and Prisoners of Power (1969), as well as in their science fantasy trilogy Monday Begins on Saturday (1964). A good share of Soviet science fiction was aimed at children. Probably the best known was Kir Bulychov, who created Alisa Selezneva (1965-2003), a children’s space adventure series about a teenage girl from the future.
Soviet film industry also contributed to the genre, starting from the 1924 film Aelita. Some of early Soviet films, namely Planet of the Storms (1962) and Battle Beyond the Sun (1959), were pirated, re-edited and released in the West under new titles. Late Soviet science fiction films include Mystery of the Third Planet (1981), Ivan Vasilyevich (1973) and Kin-dza-dza! (1986), as well as the world famous Andrey Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker, among others.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, science fiction in the former Soviet republics is still written mostly in the Russian language, which allows an appeal to a broader audience. Aside from Russians themselves, especially notable are Ukrainian writers, who greatly contributed to science fiction and fantasy in Russian language. Among the most notable post-Soviet authors are H.L. Oldie, Sergey Lukyanenko, Alexander Zorich and Vadim Panov. Russia’s film industry, however, was less successful recently and produced only a few science fiction films, most of them are adaptations of books by Strugatskies (The Inhabited Island, The Ugly Swans) or Bulychov (Alice’s Birthday). Science fiction media in Russia is represented with such magazines as Mir Fantastiki and Esli.
Other European countries
Poland is a traditional producer of science fiction and fantasy. The country’s most influential science fiction writer of all time is Stanislaw Lem, author of social science fiction books, such as Solaris, make world famous in the Tarkovsky film, Ijon Tichy and Pirx the Pilot. A number of Lem’s books were adapted for screen, both in Poland and abroad. Other notable Polish writers of the genre include Jerzy Zulawski, Janusz A. Zajdel, Konrad Fialkowski, Jacek Dukaj and Rafal A. Ziemkiewicz. As mentioned above, Czech writer and playwright Karel Čapek is credited for invention of the word “robot” for his play R.U.R. (1920). Čapek is also known for his satirical science fiction novels and plays, such as War with the Newts, and The Absolute at Large. Traditions of Czech science fiction were carried on by writers like Ludvik Soucek, Josef Nesvadba and Ondrej Neff.
Italian science fiction is relatively obscure outside the country. However, Italy gave birth to several science fiction writers, including Gianluigi Zuddas, Giampietro Stocco, Lino Aldana as well as comic artists, such as Milo Manara. Valerio Evangelisti is the best known modern author of Italian science fiction and fantasy. Also, popular Italian children’s writer Gianni Rodari often turned to science fiction aimed at children, most notably, in Gip in the Television.
SCIENCE FICTION IN OCEANIA
Australia: American David G. Hartwell noted there is “nothing essentially Australian about Australian science-fiction.” A number of Australian science-fiction (and fantasy and horror) writers are in fact international English language writers, and their work is published worldwide. This is further explainable by the fact that the Australian inner market is small (with Australian population being around 21 million), and thus sales abroad are crucial to most Australian writers.
SCIENCE FICTION IN NORTH AMERICA
In Canadian Francophone province Quebec, Elisabeth Vonarburg and other authors developed a tradition of French-Canadian SF, related to the European French literature. The Prix Boreal was established in 1979 to honor Canadian science fiction works in French. The Prix Aurora Awards (briefly preceded by the Casper Award) were founded in 1980 to recognize and promote the best works of Canadian science fiction in both French and English. Also, due to Canada’s bilingualism and the US publishing almost exclusively in English, translation of science fiction prose into French thrives and runs nearly parallel upon a book’s publishing in the original English. A sizeable market also exists within Québec for European-written Francophone science fiction literature.
SCIENCE FICTION IN LATIN AMERICA
Although there is still some controversy as to when science fiction began in Latin America, the earliest works date from the late 19th century. All published in 1875, O Doutor Benignus by the Brazilian Augusto Emilio Zaluar, El Maravilloso Viaje del Sr. Nic-Nac by the Argentinian Eduardo Holmberg, and Historia de un Muerto by the Cuban Francisco Calcagno are three of the earliest novels which appeared in the continent.
Up to the 1960s, science fiction was the work of isolated writers who did not identify themselves with the genre, but rather used its elements to criticize society, promote their own agendas or tap into the public’s interest in pseudo-sciences. It received a boost of respectability after authors such as Horacio Quiroga and Jorge Luis Borges used its elements in their writings. This, in turn, led to the permanent emergence of science fiction in the 1960s and mid-1970s, notably in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Cuba. Magical Realism enjoyed parallel growth in Latin America, with a strong regional emphasis on using the form to comment on social issues, similar to social science fiction and speculative fiction in the English world.
Economic turmoil and the suspicious eye of the dictatorial regimes in place reduced the genre’s dynamism for the following decade. In the mid-1980s, it became increasingly popular once more. Although led by Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, Latin America now hosts dedicated communities and writers with an increasing use of regional elements to set them apart from English-language science-fiction.
SPIRITUS MUNDI AS SCIENCE FICTION
My own contemporary and futurist epic novel Spiritus Mundi includes a large component of Science Fiction themes and topoi. Especially Spiritus Mundi, Book II—Spiritus Mundi, The Romance, focuses on the theme of Time Travel in which the 23rd Century War Criminal Caesarion Khannis uses time travel to escape prosecution in his own time in a Terminator-like attempt to return to our time and bring about WWIII to abort the creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, which will lead in the future to the democratic United States of Earth which seeks to incarcerate him for his Crimes Against Humanity. The Chief Prosecutor of the future world government, Senator Abor Linkin uses the same time travel technology to pursue him and bring him back to justice before he can reverse the benign course of history.
Spiritus Mundi in Book II also utilizes the “hollow earth” motif of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, whereby the protagonist Robert Sartorius visits a monastic order located in a subterranean “Middle Earth” headed by the Magister Ludi who presides over a Herman Hesse-esque “Crystal Bead Game” in which the great geniuses of human history such as Goethe and Einstein are united across time to alter the “Spiritus Mundi” or the force of the Collective Unconscious of humanity which is linked to human historical destiny to avert WWIII and the nuclear Armageddon which threatens to bring extinction to the human race.
To save humanity the protagonists embark on a Quest to bring back the Silmaril Crystal for use in the Crystal Bead Game which requires that they transit a Cosmic Wormhole to travel to a Black Hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy to gain the aid of the “Council of the Immortals” to save humanity. The physics of their transit of the Cosmic Wormhole and the configuration of the Black Hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy are consistent with contemporary science and its formulation of the nature of Space-Time. In short, Spiritus Mundi exhibits credible dimensions of Hard Science Fiction, Soft Science Fiction and Social Science Fiction, portraying the possible future evolution of human society and its institutions into the 23rd Century as linked to progressive historical movements in our own time, most notably in the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly for democratic global governance in our Age of Globalization.
Science Fiction is the conjunction of “science” and “fiction,” which is to say the world of what we hold to be the most confirmable “reality” of our lives, or “what really is,” in fruitful union with the richest realm of the imagination, our deepest dreams of that alternative reality of “what could be,” or what might most delight us or be desired to be, or that which is most feared to be. It is also not incidentally, as is all art and literature, among our deepest conjectures of who we are and who we may dream ourselves to be, or to become. The genre of Science Fiction literature and related cinema is alive and well in our collective imaginations in an age of hyper-accelerated technological change and a search for new perspectives and identities amidst mingled hopes and anomie. It will continue to powerfully inform our imaginations about the human condition in extended Time-Space and in the universal condition of our further evolution as human beings.