Introduction

Science Fiction in Literature

On the Big Screen

On the Radio

On Television

Summary Tables

 

 

Introduction

 

I suppose my personal affair with Sci-Fi began when as a child, I started to read the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Henry Rider Haggard and Jules Verne. Only little by little did I learn to appreciate Verne's Genius imagination. Later I discovered, one by one, Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, Zelazny, Le Gwinn, Dick, Poul etc', and I read them enthusiastically.

 

And then came "Star Trek"...

 

So why Sci-Fi?

 

Ever since the days of Jules Verne, H G Wells and the others who were ahead of their time, to Orwell, Asimov, Heinlein, Harrison, Anderson, Herbert, Dick, Roddenberry etc', who apparently couldn't keep up with the speed of their own writing, Science Fiction is an inseparable of our lives. The speed in which yesterday's fiction turns into today's reality only keeps growing. The Brave New World is already here. Big Brother has already become an inseparable part of every family. Read the book, watch the movie today, and in a few years or even months, when the novelty or the invention become a household word, you will be able to say proudly, "I already knew long ago that this will happen."

 

So what is this thing called Sci-Fi? Perhaps the following diagram will help sort things out.

(Image 1e, Source: http://www.sf-f.org.il/story?id=593&NewOnly=2&LastView=2006-12-10%2022:55:47)

 

There are many definitions of Science Fiction, and they are varied and sometimes even contradictory. Every reader is of course entitled to choose the one that is most suitable to him. For a selection of Science Fiction definitions by some famous authors click here.

 

Science Fiction, or Sci-Fi for short, is a genre of literature, cinema, television and radio, dealing mainlywith the connection between the development of the technology and the development of culture and society (Human or Alien, the differences are really not that significant), although there are also Science Fiction stories based on ancient myths. The genre usually deals with worlds that never existed and with nations that never were, and therefore the authors create entire new worlds complete with their laws, languages, forms of government, histories etc'.

 

The oldest literary work that may be considered "Science fiction" is "Verae historiae" ("a True Story") by Lucian of Samosata ("the Syrian"), a satirical writer from the 2nd century AD, who for the first time in the history of literature suggested the possibility of traveling to the moon.

 

In 1630 the astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote a book called "Somnium", probably the first Sci-Fi work which followed the characteristic of the genre in its modern form - i.e., the adaptation, the expansion and the development of an existing scientific concept. Actually, Kepler never intended to write Sci-Fi, he was just trying to circumvent the Catholic Church's prohibition against the publication of a scientific book concerning the moon (a popular method amongst writers even today, not just in Sci-Fi). But he used all the scientific knowledge available to him at the time, and his description of the moon is surprisingly close to scientific reality, as it was known then.

 

The book knoas the first modern Science Fiction novel was "Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus", written in 1818 by a 19 years old girl named Mary Shelley (wife of the great poet Percy Bysshe Shelley), and inspired by the experiments of the 18th century natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin (the grandfather of Charles Darwin), who supposedly has managed to revive dead matter.

 

The 19th century was the century of two of the modern pioneers, Frenchman Jules Verne and Englishman H. G. Wells. Many similarities can be found between the works of these two giants. For example, they both foresaw space flight and the landing on the moon; but in my opinion the main difference between them was that Verne had a more scientific orientation, whereas Wells had a more philosophical orientation. In other words, Verne was interested in the "how", whereas Wells was interested in the "why".

 

The term Science Fiction or Scientifiction is attributed to Hugo Gernsback, the founder of Amazing Stories magazine, the first magazine dedicated exclusively to Science Fiction, in 1926. Then came John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later called Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from late 1937 until his death, who is generally credited with shaping the "Golden Age" of Science Fiction. 

 

Science Fiction in Literature

 

Science Fiction literature can be classified into three major categories:

 

Technological (Journeys through space and time)  

Many of the authors in this category have a scientific academic background - Sagan (astronomer/Astrophysicist), Asimov (biochemist), Gregory and James Benford (physicists) Greg Bear (biologist). Arthur C. Clarke (developer of the idea of a communications satellite which orbits the Earth in a fixed attitude, in which its angular speed matches the angular speed of the Earth and therefore it is actually fixed over one point, which is known nowadays as a Geostationary or a Geosynchronous orbit, an idea which among other things led to the establishment of the global village), etc'. This category focuses mainly on technology and in its influence (for good and mainly for bad) on humanity, which is usually considered the highest and most advanced civilization (at least intellectually...)

 

See:

 

We have the Technology

A Brief History of Time (Travel)

Conspiracy Theories: Invasions, Abductions and Aliens

 

Social (Big Brother)

 

This category focuses, on the one hand, on computers and the internet, and in their influence (or more correctly, their total control of our lives) as portrayed in the movies, and on the other hand, on man and his attempts to reshape himself and his environment and to change the natural order and the world.

 

Known authors: George Orwell, Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Robert Heinlein, Ursula Le Guin and more.

 

See:

 

Cyberpunk

New World Order: Society, Politics, Law and International Relations in Science Fiction

 

Fantasy (Wizards, Magicians, Monsters and Dragons)

 

This category uses elements borrowed from the mythological past - (magical) swords, (flying) horses, (black) magic, etc'.

 

Known authors:

 

See:

 

Mythology; Old Myths, New Worlds

The Mythological Hero in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

 

On the Big Screen

 

The big screen was invented for a certain kind of Movies, and they are of course Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies, full of action, stunts and special effects, some of which went on beyond the movies for which they were created and became targets for imitation ("the Matrix" and "the Lord of the Rings" are but a few such examples).

 

It all started in the 1940's and 50's, when after World War II, in the context of the social and economic recovery on the one hand and the Cold War on the other, there arose the need in the United States for saving Heroes (Americans are nobody's fools - they know they can expect no help from the ruling administration, no matter which political party it belonged to, which is part of the reason for the rise of the various "Captains") Many low-budget Science Fiction and Fantasy Movies were made during this period, sometimes as serials, and some were based on successful comic book series such as Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, etc'.

 

In 1940' and 50', after the Second World War, a time of economic and social recovery on the one hand, and the cold war on the other hand, there was a social need for heroic figures. That was the time of the B Movies, many of which were low budget Sci-Fi and Fantasy movies (Invasion of the Body Snatches, the Invasion from Mars) and serials. They were usually shown before the main movie of the day (hence the name "B Movie"). Some of those movies and serials featured the well-known comic books heroes such as Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon and a variety of Captains. Many known actors started their careers in such movies (among them Bruce Lee, who lost the starring roin Kong Fu to David Carradine, but did star in the Green Hornet, which I believe was his first role in English). This is also when the expression "cliffhanger" was born, originating from stopping a serial episode at the height of suspense and leaving the hero, sometimes quite literally, "hanging from a cliff".

 

In the 1970', perhaps because of the developments in the space race, the genre has crossed over from the fringes into the mainstream with movies such as "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind ". This revolution is mainly credited to two creators, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who collaborated for a long time until they went their separate ways,

 

The late 20th century and the early 21st century are characterized by a return to the old familiar classics - "War of the Worlds", "the Lord of the Rings", "Narnia", "I, Robot", and even the phenomenal success of "Harry Potter" is a part of this trend.

 

Nowadays, Science Fiction movies don't deal only with space travel, but rather with the technological developments on Earth (computerization, miniaturization, the Internet, genetic engineering) and a wide variety of other themes.

 

And did I mention the special effects and the action?

 

On the Radio

 

Here I will mention just two names - Orson Welles (yes, the man responsible for the "War of the worlds" scandal), and Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" started out as a BBC radio series.

 

On Television

 

In the beginning there was Star Trek, and the rest is history...

 

Summary Tables

 

Before you move on to Articles section, here are two tables - the first one includes a short historical review of literary landmarks in Science Fiction, and the second one includes an introduction to the history of the development of some of the basic concepts of Sci-Fi.

 

Unfortunately, I couldn't retrace the original website in which the second table appeared, but I have made only one slight modification to adapt it to this site.

Is science keeping up? Which 19th Century predictions, if any, came true?

 

Synopsis

Timeline

Genetic engineering, cloning etc' are gradually becoming an inseparable part of our life.

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818);

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

18th Century

Yes, almost all of Jules Verne's predictions came true, with the exception of the Journey to the Center of the Earth. I have no doubt that underwater cities will become a part of the scenery. Both the first electrical submarine and the first nuclear submarine were named Nautilus.

A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864);

From the Earth to the Moon (1865);

20,000 Leagues under the Sea 1870)); 

Jules Verne (1828-1905)

 

 

 

19th Century

Warning against the misuse of technology falling into inappropriate hands or by societies which are unprepared for it (an early version of the "Prime Directive"?)

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889);

Mark Twain

(1835-1910)

 

The dreams of finding signs of life on other planets are a long way from being realized. So far, all our efforts have been in vain. The chances of finding a true "Lost World" on Earth are getting slimmer and slimmer.

Lost World ;(1912)

Arthur Conan Doyle

(1859-1930)

 

 

King Solomon's Mines (1885);

She 1887));

Allan Quatermain 1887));

Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925)

 

No, the invasion from Mars did not happen; the Time Machine is yet to be built (at least to the best of my knowledge...)

The First Men in the Moon )Flying to the moon and landing on it), 1901;

The War of the Worlds (Alien Invasion), 1898;

The Time Machine (Time Travel), 1895;

The Island of Doctor Moreau (Genetic Engineering), 1896;

H. G. Wells (1866-1946(

Early 20th Century

 

Barsoom (1912-1948)

Pellucidar (1914-1944)

Amtor (1934-1946)

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)

 

Mיliטs used the camera to do magic in the days when photography itself was Science Fiction. The story of the development of photography and cinema in the hundred years since the making of A Trip to the Moon is of course too long to be discussed here.

A Trip to the Moon (1902);

 

Georges Mיliטs 

 

 

Metropolis (1902);

Fritz Lang

 

 

1926 - Hugo Gernsback, popularly called "The Father of Science Fiction", founded the Amazing Stories Magazine, the first modern magazine dedicated entirely to Science Fiction. He coins the phrase Science Fiction (Scientifiction); The annual Science Fiction Achievement awards are named called "Hugos" in his honor.

 

The 20's

 

1937 - John W Campbell founds Astounding Science Fiction Magazine

 

The 30's

Yes, unfortunately, Big Brother is already here, controlling almost every aspect of our lives. The picture may not by as dark colored as Orwell portrayed it, but we are well on the way...

1984

George Orwell (1903-1950)

The 40's

 

B Movies

 

 

The movie was originally made as an allegory of McCarthyism in the 1950's, one of the socially darkest periods in the history of the United States. McCarthyism may have disappeared, but from time to time it still raises its head in different forms. However, in the new movie adaptation, made in 2008, the anti-McCarthyist message was replaced with an entirely different one, and the question was raised whether being ruled by emotions and desires which to wars, death etc' is better then the total elimination of all emotion, to the point of turning people into Zombies (which does lead to absolute peace on Earth) - a message which was probably considered more appropriate for the new millennium by the makers of the movie.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

 

The 50's

 

The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (one of the first trilogies in Sci-Fi and Fantasy)

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

 

Ecological and Social Science Fiction

Space Odyssey

Planet of the Apes

Clockwork Orange

Dune

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

Pierre Boulle (1912-1994)

Anthony Burgess (1917-1993)

Frank Herbert (1920-1986)

The 60's

Huge advances in Robotics and Miniaturization

Laws of Robotics, Foundation, Psychohistory

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

 

Faster-than-light space travel is a matter for the more distant future, Faster-than-light spaceships are not likely to be built any time soon. However we do have handheld and voice-activated computers and cell phones, which were all seen for the first time on TV in the series.

Star Trek makes its debut on Television

Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991)

 

 

The Andromeda Strain

Amber

Close Encounters of the Third kind

Star Wars-The first trilogy

Star Trek hits the Big Screen

Michael Crichton

Roger Zelazney

George Lucas & Steven Spielberg

Gene Roddenberry

The 70's

 

Cyberpunk - Tron, Blade Runner

William Gibson & Neuromancer

The 80's

 

Internet, Super-Computers and AI, Robotics and Cybernetics

Orson Scott Card and Ender

 

 

E T, Alien, the Thing, the Fly, Back to the Future, Superman

 

 

Space Exploration is pretty much stalled and medical research cannot keep up with the outbreak of new plagues (See SARS, AIDS, Avian Flu, Swine Flu...) and we have yet to find a cure fore the Common Cold and the Flu. However, the Human Genome Project has been completed, and the human chromosomes are completely mapped out. We can say that the Genetic Code has finally broken.

Star Wars-The first trilogy

Total Recall

Independence Day

The Matrix

 

 

 

Harry Potter - the revival

J K Rowling and Harry Potter

The 90's

 

More of the same?

 

The new Millennium

Details

Development

Year

H.G. Wells first published War of the Worlds

Basic conception of aliens

1897

A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The idea that Martians are green

1912

Louis Aaron Reitmeister's If Tomorrow Comes (1934)

Modern look of the alien: huge head, huge eyes, tiny slit mouth

1934

Tiffany Thayer's Fortean Society

Idea that the government knows about UFOs, but covers it up

1940s

In September 1946, Amazing Stories published a short article by W.C. Hefferlin, Circle-Winged Plane, describing experiments with a circular craft in 1927 in San Francisco. The cover illustration combined this idea with the cover story, Earth Slaves to Space. Raymond A. Palmer, editor of the dying Amazing Stories, correctly guessed that the baroque delusions of the mentally ill Richard Shaver would make gripping science fiction. Within a few years Shaver's "alien abduction" stories increased Amazing's circulation from 25,000 to 250,000, and inflamed the public's imagination.

First widespread idea of flying saucers as alien ships, first mention of idea that aliens are kidnapping earthlings to force them to engage in sexual acts which they can later only vaguely remember

1946

On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold made his famous sighting of a group of "flying saucers" over Mt. Rainier. Newspapers were filled with reports of UFO sightings for several weeks afterward.

First UFO sighting

1947

Roswell

First UFO crash site

1947

Albert Bender's book Flying Saucers and the Three Men published in 1953 in a newsletter, in 1962 as a book

Men In Black

1953

Betty and Barney Hill report that they've been abducted by aliens. The newspapers were suddenly flooded with similar abduction reports.

Aliens are actually abducting people

1961

In 1958 while in Australia Doug Bower read a story about mysterious circles which appeared like alien graffiti in a field of corn. One night in 1978 he and Dave Chorley got drunk enough to wonder "What would happen if we made crop circles in real life?"

Crop Circles

1978