Aliens, time travel, sorcerers, and dragons! The domains of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature are recognizable to many people, but it is the messages and social commentary behind these icons that has captivated readers, and more recently critics, in the past two centuries. Science Fiction and Fantasy appear from the outside to be two distinct forms of literature, and yet the two genres share some similar characteristics and roots. This paradox has inspired much debate over the past century, while the movement itself has grown into a booming publishing industry that shows no signs of slowing.
Critics and historians share widely different viewpoints about the origins of Science Fiction. Still, many have conceded that Mary Shelley’s 1818 British novel Frankenstein was the first novel to explore the hypothetical implications of modern science. Most agree that Jules Verne’s novels from his “Extraordinary Journeys” series, including Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, helped to define the movement. Although most of the early works were published in Europe, in the first half of the twentieth century, Science Fiction and Fantasy literature exploded in the United States. This was due in large part to inexpensive, genre “pulp” magazines like Amazing Stories—which reprinted novels like H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds—and to more expensive magazines like Astounding Stories—which helped introduce influential new writers like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.
Science Fiction and Fantasy literature inspired many related movements in film, television, and art, and profoundly influenced the development of science and culture in the twentieth century. The field remains dominated by American authors, many of whom continue to use their speculative creations to comment on current realities.
Isaac Asimov (1920–1992)
Isaac Asimov was born January 2, 1920, in Petrovichi, U.S.S.R. (the former Soviet Union), and moved to the United States with his parents in 1923, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1928. Asimov was a voracious reader. His love of science led to a doctorate in chemistry from Columbia University and a subsequent post as a professor of biochemistry at Boston University’s School of Medicine—a position he held for much of his writing career. Although he published more than 450 fiction and nonfiction books, making him one of the most prolific writers in history, Asimov is most remembered for his Science Fiction works, which influenced many writers in America during Science Fiction’s golden age. Asimov has been credited with coining the term robotics, and with creating “The Three Laws of Robotics,” which make their first appearance in his early robot short stories, collected in I, Robot. Asimov died of heart and kidney failure on April 6, 1992, in New York City.
Ray Bradbury (1920–)
Ray Douglas Bradbury was born August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois. During the depression, Bradbury’s family moved to Los Angeles to find work. Bradbury began, like many other Science Fiction authors of the golden age, publishing his fiction in the fanzine he edited. In 1941, Bradbury published his first short story, and six years later, published his first story collection. It was not until the publication of The Martian Chronicles, a series of interconnected short stories about the human colonization of Mars, that Bradbury achieved enough critical success to break out of Science Fiction genre magazines into the more reputed mainstream magazines—which were off-limits to most Science Fiction writers. Bradbury lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
Robert Heinlein (1907–1988)
Robert Anson Heinlein was born July 7, 1907, in Butler, Missouri. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who started writing Science Fiction in their youth, Heinlein did not enter the field until he had already worked as a naval officer and studied physics and mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles. As one of the Science Fiction writers for genre magazines during Science Fiction’s golden age, Heinlein’s sophisticated writing style raised the bar on Science Fiction literature and influenced many other writers. After working as an engineer in World War II alongside fellow Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov, Heinlein published several Science Fiction “juveniles,” or young adult novels, then began a series of controversial novels, including Stranger in a Strange Land, his best-known work. Heinlein, considered by many to be the most influential figure in American Science Fiction, died of heart failure on May 8, 1988, in Carmel, California.
Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)
The grandson of T. H. Huxley, a noted biologist and proponent of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Aldous Leonard Huxley was born July 26, 1894, in Godalming, Surrey, England. Huxley originally intended to pursue a career in medicine, but an eye disease that led to temporary blindness prevented him from doing so. Although Huxley wrote in several different fiction and nonfiction genres, his most famous work is Brave New World, a Science Fiction novel that draws on evolutionary theory to create a nightmarish vision of the future. Five years after the novel’s publication, Huxley moved to Los Angeles, California, where he wrote more mystical works until his death on November 22, 1963, in Hollywood, California. Huxley died on the same day as his...
(The entire section is 1483 words.)