This is the first in a series of posts where I will be exploring the history of science fiction and staying true to the remit of the site I will be looking at science fiction in all media. Obviously I plan on it being a long series. To kick things off I thought I should discuss the origins of science fiction which is a surprisingly young branch of fiction.
Science Fiction as we know and understand it did not come into being until the 19th century and really came into its own in the 20th century. While there are many great works of literature which can be pointed to as the roots of Fantasy fiction, that isn’t the case for SF.
This isn’t as surprising as it might first appear when you consider that our culture’s ideas of what science is have changed radically over the years. After all we get the word science from the latin scientia which simply means knowledge. The word scientist did not appear in our vocabulary until 1833, co-incidentally just about the time that science fiction began to blossom. In fact that word was first used in 1851 (specifically in A Little Earnest Book Upon A Great Old Subject by William Wilson).
It’s also not surprising that perhaps the earliest example of science fiction might be an Arabic novel Fādil ibn Nātiq (translated to Theologus Autodidactus) by Ibn al-Nafis in the 13th century. Arab culture was at that time far ahead of western Europe in science and philosophy.
The first European work that is often considered science fiction is Utopia by Thomas Moore. Written in 1516, it depicted a fictional island and it’s religious, political and social customs. While not precisely science fiction as we currently understand it, this method of creating a fictional society to explore philosophical issues clearly takes a similar form to much contemporary SF.
Image via Wikipedia
If you’re looking for an obvious starting point for Science Fiction then perhaps Frankenstein has the strongest claim. In Billion Year Spree, Brian Aldis said that Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel was “the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached”.
The 1800s were a time of great scientific progress in the west with the British Empire the dominant power and in control of a quarter of the world’s population. There were developments in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, electricity and metallurgy. Science became a recognized profession for the first time. Charles Darwin published The Origin Of The Species in 1859. Pasteur, Edison and Faraday were all active.
Never before had ideas and technology developed at this pace and in that culture it was almost inevitable that the genre of science fiction would emerge.eoghann.com..