Science Fiction has its original roots in the nineteenth century, a time when the world experienced an explosion in new inventions and an appreciation of science and scientific methods as a means of progress. With the advent of the daguerreotype (the precursor to photography) in the first half of the century, humans harnessed the power to record images quickly and accurately. This technology is further explored with the advent of motion pictures at the end of the nineteenth century.
As science and technology grew in popularity, its practitioners challenged established thought. With the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species in 1859, the idea of man as a being of singular importance in the universe is shattered. With the help of geologists who date the Earth as much older than suggested by the Bible, Darwin’s theories propose that humans and apes share an ancestry.
The early years of the twentieth century introduced new transportation technologies both on land in the form of gasoline-powered automobiles and in the sky in the form of airplanes. World War I introduced new weapons technologies, including tanks that are first used on battlefields in 1917. These new technologies helped fuel the ideas behind Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, which exploded in the 1920s with Hugo Gernsback’s publication of several Science Fiction and Fantasy pulp magazines—named for the cheap wood pulp on which they were...
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Utopia and Dystopia
A utopia is a literary form that features an idealistic imaginary society. In most cases, these ideals are unattainable. The author writes about this imaginary place not because he or she hopes to achieve this ideal but because the author hopes to inspire debate about the issues expressed in the work and so bring about social change. In Science Fiction, writers have in turn commented on the unattainable quality of utopias by writing dystopias—visions of a future society that, in striving to achieve an ideal, instead becomes a nightmare. The two most famous Science Fiction examples of dystopias are Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.
In Huxley’s bleak future, the dystopian society has achieved its goal of eliminating sickness, disease, and war, but in the process it has sacrificed much of what makes humanity human. People are genetically engineered to fit into a certain social class and follow a uniform way of life, and any abnormal or creative behavior is suppressed through drugs. In one of the final scenes, after a human born of natural means attempts to stage a revolt against the system, he meets with one of the world government leaders, who explains why they have sacrificed many human interests, including religion, for technological progress: “Call it the fault of civ- ilization. God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your...
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Science fiction had a profound effect on the development of motion pictures. From almost the very beginnings of film, Science Fiction movies have pushed the envelope of special effects, starting with the first real Science Fiction film, George Méliès’s, A Trip to the Moon in 1902.
Since then, Science Fiction films have had a hit-or-miss history, and many literary classics have been made into highly inaccurate adaptations that sacrificed plot for special effects. In 1926, Fritz Lang released his monumental Metropolis, a nightmarish vision of a potential future in which the city is large and impersonal and the working-class is intended to be replaced by a new race of robots.
In 1963, the British Science Fiction television series Dr. Who began its unprecedented, 26-season, 695-episode run. In 1966, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek debuted in the United States to little fanfare. Eventually, Roddenberry’s characters and ideas inspired several related television series, a host of movies, countless book tie-ins, and a widespread cultural movement of sorts. The terms Trekkie and Trekker continue to be used to refer to ardent Star Trek fans. The 1999 film Galaxy Quest is a goodnatured parody of Star Trek fandom.
With Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 criticallyacclaimed adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Science Fiction films gained new respect. The release of George...
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Compare and Contrast
1900s: The Wright Brothers make their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, proving to the world that humans can fly.
1940s: German-born scientist Wernher von Braun develops the V-2 rocket for Adolph Hitler, envisioning it as a means for space travel. Hitler, however, uses the rocket as a weapon during World War II, so von Braun defects to America, where he shares his knowledge with American scientists—who follow von Braun’s lead and begin to apply it to space exploration.
Today: Having experienced both extraordinary success and tragic failure, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continues to plan and send exploratory missions into space.
1900s: Einstein proves the existence of atoms.
1940s: The United States is the first to harness the power of the atom and demonstrates the awesome, destructive power of nuclear warfare when it drops atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending World War II.
Today: After the breakup of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, many of the nuclear weapons from the world’s former superpower fall into the hands of independent terrorist groups. In 2001, after an attack on the World Trade Center in New York City that launched a war on terrorism, the American public’s fear shifts to biological weapons and suicide bombings.
1900s: In 1901,...
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Topics for Further Study
There is no commonly accepted definition for what determines a hard science from a soft science, although many use these terms. Research some of the many sciences that Science Fiction authors have written about. Write a short report that divides your research into what you think are hard and soft sciences.
One of the common beliefs about Science Fiction authors is that they intend to predict the future, and some works have been criticized when they have not accurately done so. Find three technologies that were correctly predicted by Science Fiction authors. Compare the fictional accounts with the real technologies, and write a paper explaining how and why each technology has had either a positive or negative impact on society.
Many Fantasy authors begin their tales by creating a map of the imaginary world they are creating. Draw a map detailing an imaginary world of your own creation and label all of the major geographic features—mountains, forests, bodies of water, and towns. Write a three-page description of your world, describing its inhabitants, history, politics, and economics.
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Brave New World
Huxley’s internationally acclaimed work, Brave New World, first published in 1932, is a nightmarish vision of what could happen in the future if politics and technology supersedes humanity. Huxley’s novel depicts a futuristic, “ideal” world where there is no sickness, disease, or war. However, to achieve this ideal, people are massproduced in test tubes; social classes are created through genetic manipulations that predetermine a person’s intelligence and body type; and unwanted emotions are suppressed with soma, a hallucinogenic drug. In this inhuman system, an outsider born of natural means is considered a savage. Critics have noted Huxley’s cynicism in the work, and have examined it in context of life during the post- World War I era, when governments sought scientific and technological progress at all costs. The novel ranks with George Orwell’s equally disturbing 1984 as one of the great dystopian works of Science Fiction literature.
“The Chronicles of Narnia” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Lewis’s sevenvolume Fantasy series, was originally published between 1950 and 1956. The series (which followed a different order than current editions) started with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a story about four English schoolchildren who find a portal to Narnia—a parallel Fantasy world—through a wardrobe. In Narnia, they learn they are there to fulfill a prophecy. In the...
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Brave New World was released as an audio book in 1998. It was published by Audio Partners and read by Michael York.
Four of the books from Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” series were made into awardwinning television shows by BBC Television. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1988) was directed by Marilyn Fox. Prince Caspian (1989), The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” (1989), and The Silver Chair (1990) were all directed by Alex Kirby. The series is also available as a boxed set.
Director James Whale’s classic, Frankenstein, was released as a film in 1931 by Universal Studios, and starred Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as his monster. The movie is available on VHS or DVD from Universal Studios Home Video. The DVD contains many special features, including the original theatrical trailer, commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer, production notes, a documentary (The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster), and archival photos.
Frankenstein has seen many permutations on film, including Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, released in 1994 and starring Branagh and Robert De Niro. Humorous adaptations of the Frankenstein story include Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein (1974) with Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, and Marty Feldman.
The Hobbit was released as an audio book from Recorded Books in...
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What Do I Read Next?
Fantastic Voyages: Learning Science through Science Fiction Films (1993), by Leroy Dubeck, Suzanne Moshier, and Judith E. Boss, uses scenes from classic and recent Science Fiction films to illustrate scientific principles of physics, astronomy, and biology, and details how the films either adhere to or violate these principles.
Dick Jude’s Fantasy Art Masters: The Best Fantasy and SF Art Worldwide (1999) features samples from some of the world’s most acclaimed Fantasy and Science Fiction artists. The book also includes interviews with the artists, who reveal how they created some of their favorite creations and relate what it is like working in the industry.
Blast Off! Rockets, Robots, Ray Guns, and More from the Golden Age of Space, by S. Mark Young, Steve Duin, and Mike Richardson, is a detailed exploration of the toys created during the 1930s through the 1950s. Published in 2001, the book examines the history of these unique collector’s items, which include such memorable Science Fiction characters as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. It includes reprints of original advertisements, comic-strip and pulp-magazine art, and even original packaging and instructions from toys produced all over the world.
Joseph Campbell’s classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) attempts to discover one underlying story that unifies all of the world’s mythologies through examination of the hero tales from around...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Aldiss, Brian W., with David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Atheneum, 1986, pp. 39–40, 75, 118.
Asimov, Isaac, I, Robot, Bantam Books, 1991, pp. 44–45, 73.
Card, Orson Scott, Ender’s Game, Tor Books, 1977, p. 208.
—, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Writer’s Digest Books, 1990, pp. 4, 21.
Haldeman, Joe, The Forever War, Avon Books, 1974, pp. 225, 229.
Harrison, Harry, “The Term Defined,” in Science Fiction: The Academic Awakening, College English Association, 1974, p. 39.
Heinlein, Robert A., Stranger in a Strange Land, Ace Books, 1987, p. 115.
Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World, HarperPerennial, 1989, p. 240.
Kagarlitski, Julius, “Realism and Fantasy,” in SF: The Other Side of Realism, edited by Thomas D. Clareson, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1971, p. 29.
Le Guin, Ursula K., The Left Hand of Darkness, 25th Anniversary ed., Walker and Company, 1994, pp. 40–41.
Lerner, Frederick Andrew, Modern Science Fiction and the American Literary Community, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1985, pp. xiv–xvi.
Orwell, George, 1984, Signet Classic, 1950, p. 5.
Tolkien, J. R. R., The Hobbit, Ballantine Books, 1965, pp. 4, 18–19, 60, 62, 85, 248.
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