Can you explain and summarize the. following text, please?

1.2. I want to begin by postulating a spectrum or spread of literary subject matter which extends from the ideal extreme of exact recreation of the author's empirical environment [1] to exclusive interest in a strange newness, a novum. From the 18th to the 20th centuries, the literary mainstream of our civilisation has been nearer to the first of these two extremes. However, at the beginnings of a literature, the concern with a domestication of the amazing is very strong. Early tale-tellers relate amazing voyages into the next valley, where they found dog-headed people, also good rock salt which could be stolen or at the worst bartered for. Their stories are a syncretic travelogue and voyage imaginaire, daydream and intelligence report. This implies a curiosity about the unknown beyond the next mountain range (sea, ocean, solar system), where the thrill of knowledge joined the thrill of adventure.

From Iambulus and Euhemerus through the classical utopia to Verne's island of Captain Nemo and Wells's island of Dr. Moreau, an island in the far-off ocean is the paradigm of the aesthetically most satisfying goal of the SF voyage. This is particularly true if we subsume under this the planetary island in the aether ocean—usually the Moon—which we encounter from Lucian through Cyrano to Swift's mini-Moon of Laputa, and on into the nineteenth century. Yet the parallel paradigm of the valley, "over the range" (the subtitle of Butler's SF novel Erewhon), which shuts it in as a wall, is perhaps as revealing. It recurs almost as frequently, from the earliest folktales about the sparkling valley of Terrestrial Paradise and the dark valley of the Dead, both already in Gilgamesh. Eden is the mythological localization of utopian longing, just as Wells's valley in "The Country of the Blind" is still within the liberating tradition which contends that the world is not necessarily the way our present empirical valley happens to be, and that whoever thinks his valley is the world is blind. Whether island or valley, whether in space or (from the industrial and bourgeois revolutions on) in time, the new framework is correlative to the new inhabitants. The aliens—utopians, monsters, or simply differing strangers—are a mirror to man just as the differing country is a mirror for his world. But the mirror is not only a reflecting one, it is also a transforming one, virgin womb and alchemical dynamo: the mirror is a crucible.

Thus it is not only the basic human and humanizing curiosity that gives birth to SF. Beyond an indirect inquisitiveness, which makes for a semantic game without clear referent, this genre has always been wedded to a hope of finding in the unknown the ideal environment, tribe, state, intelligence, or other aspect of the Supreme Good (or to a fear of and revulsion from its contrary). At all events, the possibility of other strange, covariant coordinate systems and semantic fields is assumed.

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Basically, the author of this passage is establishing a distinction between what we would call realism in literature and fantasy. Since the eighteenth century, the writer says, literature has been concerned chiefly with the real world. But in the "beginnings of a literature," in pre-modern epics and storytelling, unreal worlds were depicted, in an effort to make the unfamiliar, the "amazing," familiar to people. This concern with the unreal expressed the curiosity people naturally had about areas on earth that were outside their experience—over the ocean or only the "next ridge."

The archetypal setting of the science fiction story from the distant past forward is the island. The moon, as well, is a kind of island in space. At the same time, another model setting is the valley, which the writer associates with the primal concept of the "next ridge" beyond the inhabited world of early man. Man longs for a utopia, an alternative world, and the Garden of Eden is a "localized" version of a utopia. The thinking behind the imagining of such utopias is that anybody who believes his own local world—his own "valley"—is the entire world, is "blind." The imagined inhabitants of these "islands" or "valleys" are a mirror of mankind, of real people, but they are also a transformed version of actual humans: something different from them, and better.

All of these imagined worlds, the settings in which science fiction takes place, are the result of human curiosity, says the author. But they're also expressive of the wish to find an ideal, a better, setting than the real world. People hope to find in the unknown not only a superior environment to the real one, but a kind of emblem of supreme good lacking in the actual world. Even if such a world has not been found, the belief at the root of science fiction is the assumption that it is possible.

The above is an attempt at a paraphrase or explanation of the quoted passage. But what, one might ask, is the overall point the author is making? He or she seems to be intent on a definition of science fiction and the reason it is such an important literary genre. Science fiction is a kind of focused expression of a category of ideas that inform literature in general. Even before the term was used, science fiction was basic to people's imagination and to literature. The fantasy elements in Homer and Virgil and in the medieval and Renaissance epics as well are the obvious examples. In some sense, the realism the author identifies as dominant since the eighteenth century is a divergence from the older focus on the unreal and fantasy, which reasserted itself beginning in the nineteenth century in Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and their successors, including the utopian and dystopian writers, as the author indicates with his view of the utopia as a central idea of the science fiction genre.

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