Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature Themes


Science and the Supernatural
Science Fiction often reflects the time in which it is written. So it is that in the early twentieth century, when society was still heavily focused on technological innovation through science and industry, stories were often exploratory in nature. These stories were usually dominated by natural sciences like physics and astronomy, which often manifested themselves plot devices like spaceships or evolution. These plot devices were often incorporated into tales about humanity’s future or alien races on other worlds. In the more metaphysical 1960s, however, books like Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land experimented with pseudosciences (theories or practices considered to be without scientific foundation). A good example is when Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land protagonist, a human given paranormal abilities by the Martians, is first asked to demonstrate his telekinetic powers: “‘Mike, will you please, without touching it, lift that ash tray a foot above the desk?’ . . . The ash tray raised, floated above the desk.”

Many Science Fiction purists prefer stories that employ “hard” sciences, and some maintain that pseudoscientific elements like telekinesis marks a work as Fantasy. The same is generally true of magic, which is often incorporated into Fantasy works like Tolkien’s The Hobbit. When Gandalf, the wizard, is surprised by goblins, he uses his magical powers to defend himself: “there was a terrible flash like lightning in the cave, a smell like gunpowder, and several of them fell dead.” In the imaginary realm of Fantasy, however, wizards are not the only ones with magical powers. Sometimes objects contain special powers as Bilbo discovers when he finds a mysterious ring: “It seemed that the ring he had was a magic ring: it made you invisible!” Bilbo’s supernatural power to turn invisible is not only interesting, it also serves as an important plot device in the novel.

Of all of the themes in Science Fiction and Fantasy, the manipulation of time has been one of the most frequently used. Most Science Fiction or Fantasy stories take place in another time, either the past or the future. In some cases, as in Wells’s influential novel The Time Machine, the protagonist travels in a machine, which physically takes him either backward or forward through time, the fourth dimension. Says the time traveler, “I...

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