Proto-science fiction  

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Detail of Superbia (1577) by Bruegel, science fiction avant-la-lettre
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Detail of Superbia (1577) by Bruegel, science fiction avant-la-lettre

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

As a means of understanding the world through speculation and storytelling, science fiction has antecedents back to mythology, though precursors to science fiction as literature can be seen in Lucian's True History in the 2nd century, some of the Arabian Nights tales, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter in the 10th century, Ibn al-Nafis' Theologus Autodidactus in the 13th century, and Jules Verne's A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in the 19th century. Following the Age of Reason and the development of modern science itself, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels was one of the first true science fiction works, together with Voltaire's Micromégas and Kepler's Somnium. This latter work is considered by Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov to be the first science fiction story. It depicts a journey to the Moon and how the Earth's motion is seen from there. Another example is Ludvig Holberg's novel Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum, 1741. (Translated to Danish by Hans Hagerup in 1742 as Niels Klims underjordiske Rejse.) (Eng. Niels Klim's Underground Travels.)

European proto-science fiction

Literature that resembles modern science fiction emerged in Europe from the 16th century. The discoveries in the sciences and the dawning of the Enlightenment inspired literature informed by these advances. One of the earliest instances is the superior country imagined in Thomas More's 1516 novel Utopia. More's name for a perfect world would be borrowed by many later science fiction writers, and the Utopia motif is a common one in science fiction. It is notable that More and Francis Bacon, leading humanist and philosopher of science, wrote works of proto-science fiction. Bacon's fantasy The New Atlantis was published in 1627.

The Age of Reason followed scientific developments that gave speculative writers ideas for their stories. Imaginary voyages to the moon in the 17th century, first in Johannes Kepler's Somnium (The Dream, 1634), and then in Francis Godwin's The Man in the Moone (1638, arguably the first work of science fiction in English) and in Cyrano de Bergerac's Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1656). Space travel also figures prominently in Voltaire's Micromégas (1752), which is also notable for the suggestion that people of other worlds may be in some ways more advanced than those of earth.

Other early works of significance include the alternate world found in the Arctic by a young noblewoman in Margaret Cavendish's 1666 novel, The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World, the account of life in the future in Louis-Sébastien Mercier's L'An 2440, and the descriptions of alien cultures in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) and in Ludvig Holberg's Niels Klim's Underground Travels, an early example of the Hollow Earth genre. In 1733, Samuel Madden wrote Memoirs Of the Twentieth Century, in which the narrator in 1728 is given a series of state documents from 1997–1998 by his guardian angel, a plot device which is reminiscent of later time travel novels although the story does not explain how the angel obtained these documents.

Also worthy of note are Simon Tyssot de Patot's Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé (1710), which features a Lost World, La Vie, Les Aventures et Le Voyage de Groenland du Révérend Père Cordelier Pierre de Mésange (1720), which features a Hollow Earth, and Nicolas-Edmé Restif de la Bretonne's La Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant (1781) notorious for his prophetic inventions.

Most notable of all is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, first published in 1818. In his book Billion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss claims Frankenstein represents "the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached". It is also the first of the "mad scientist" subgenre. Although normally associated with the gothic horror genre, the novel introduces science fiction themes such as the use of technology for achievements beyond the scope of science at the time, and the alien as antagonist, furnishing a view of the human condition from an outside perspective. Aldiss argues that science fiction in general derives its conventions from the gothic novel. Mary Shelley's short story "Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman" (1826) sees a man frozen in ice revived in the present day, incorporating the now common science fiction theme of cryonics whilst also exemplifying Shelley's use of science as a conceit to drive her stories. Another futuristic Shelley novel, The Last Man, is also often cited as the first true science fiction novel.

In 1835 Edgar Allan Poe published a short story, "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" in which a flight to the moon in a balloon is described. It has an account of the launch, the construction of the cabin, descriptions of strata and many more science-like aspects. In addition to Poe's account the story written in 1813 by the Dutch Willem Bilderdijk is remarkable. In his novel Kort verhaal van eene aanmerkelijke luchtreis en nieuwe planeetontdekking (Short account of a remarkable journey into the skies and discovery of a new planet) Bilderdijk tells of a European somewhat stranded in an Arabic country where he boasts he is able to build a balloon that can lift people and let them fly through the air. The gasses used turn out to be far more powerful than expected and after a while he lands on a planet positioned between earth and moon. The writer uses the story to portray an overview of scientific knowledge concerning the moon in all sorts of aspects the traveller to that place would encounter. Quite a few similarities can be found in the story Poe published some twenty years later.

Somehow influenced by the scientific theories of 19th century, but most certainly by the idea of human progress, Victor Hugo wrote in The Legend of the Centuries (1859) a long poem in two part that can be viewed like a dystopia/utopia fiction, called Twentieth century. It shows in a first scene the body of a broken huge ship, the greatest product of the prideful and foolish mankind that called it Leviathan, wandering in a desert world where the winds blow and the anger of the wounded Nature is; humanity, finally reunited and pacified, has gone toward the stars in a starship, to look for and to bring liberty into the light.

Other notable proto-science fiction authors and works of the early 19th century include:

France

As far back as the 17th century, space exploration and aliens can be found in Cyrano de Bergerac's Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1657) and Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle's Entretien sur la Pluralité des Mondes (1686). Voltaire's 1752 short stories Micromégas and Plato's Dream are particularly prophetic of the future directions science fiction would take.

Also worthy of note are Simon Tyssot de Patot's Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé (1710), which features a Lost World, La Vie, Les Aventures et Le Voyage de Groenland du Révérend Père Cordelier Pierre de Mésange (1720), which features a Hollow Earth, Louis-Sébastien Mercier's L'An 2440 (1771), which depicts a future France, and Nicolas-Edmé Restif de la Bretonne's La Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant (1781) notorious for his prophetic inventions.

Other notable proto-science fiction authors and works of the 18th and 19th century include:

However, modern French science fiction, and arguably science fiction as a whole, begins with Jules Verne, the author of many of the seminal classics of science fiction.

See also

La Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant (1781), a piece of proto-science fiction notorious for his prophetic inventions by Restif.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Proto-science fiction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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