Science Fiction Mysteries Analysis

Demands of Science Fiction

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Like the mystery genre, science fiction makes considerable demands upon readers. It requires them to stretch their minds to think in new ways, apart from their accustomed conceptual categories, and to question assumptions regarded as self-evident or settled and involving anything from daily habits to worldviews. Science fiction writers commonly employ a third-person narrative point of view, moving back and forth from character to character, or scene to scene.

In rendering the future, science fiction writers may impart to it the authority of history by using the past tense. Further, they may contrast present sequences of events centering on groups of characters with contemporary, past, or future sequences centering on other sets of characters. Their contrasts, built upon evidence within the fiction or assumed evidence outside the fiction, demonstrate the effects of human or nonhuman adjustment to conditions of life as they extend beyond the range of a single lifetime. Those contrasts can indicate wide temporal and spatial perspectives, as well as major differences in mental outlook or viewpoint and in quality of life, vast realms of wonder and mystery. They may, for example, involve events. processes, structures, or circumstances, or settings that might be possible for human beings, given their tenacious nature and yet precarious position amid cosmic forces which are alien to human interest and perhaps even unknowable. In providing new or altered frames of reference built on suppositional science or technology, writers ask that readers employ a certain flexibility of mind; readers must accustom themselves to some degree of strangeness of environments in which the rules of life, its constraints or limitations, have changed and so the results will change.

Some writers in the mystery genre, working within the age-old tradition of the mystery tale, focus attention on unusual doings, often involving settings and characters far removed from the experience of readers and sometimes involving the supernatural.

The Mystery Genre: Known Unknowns

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Writers in the mystery genre have traditionally interpreted the nature of their genre broadly. Whatever their particular subgenre, they tend to focus upon things that are unexplained, that are unknown, that are kept secret, or that have indefinite possibilities. Mystery writers have created tales that date back from ancient and medieval times to the present and that draw attention to oddities and complexities of central problems or circumstances. In this latter regard, their works are similar to those of science fiction.

Mystery fiction describes known historical and contemporary settings that contain unexplained phenomena—alterations of the known or expected, though not to the same extent that science fiction does. Mystery fiction settings and circumstances may be characterized by their peculiarity, inexplicability, strangeness, and distance. Mystery fiction can demonstrate or indicate actualities that are, or at least appear to be, greater than a human being’s five normal senses. Its writers focus on the extraordinary or unaccountable qualities of problems and occurrences that may never be understood. They provide, as in stories of hauntings, ghosts, ghouls, or the supernatural, or in stories of unaccountable events at sea, no more than enigmatical hints, glimpses, and suggestions that, at times, there may be something wrong with normal patterns of cause and effect, or with geography, or perhaps even with time itself. They select events or...

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Detection Mystery

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Detection mystery fiction, as with earlier forms of mystery fiction, often focuses on particular places that serve as primary backgrounds or frameworks for the action. In these stories, detectives or small groups of inquirers use scientific methods to solve problem, often crimes. These problems may present more than one possible answer, each equally valid, none of which involves a supernatural explanation. Through a kind of scientific detachment, the detectives reconstruct events, elaborate in structure, that have happened in the setting, moving back and forth from the fictional past to the fictional present. They employ methods of comparison, association, and difference involving a cast of characters who are depicted so as to provoke curiosity about the least or most likely suspect and about what will emerge through conversations involving the detectives and the suspects or involving the suspects themselves. This kind of discursive structure nurtures the impulse to connect and discover.

The detectives pursue many sets of relations or multiple lines of reasoning which, in retrospect, converge to reveal pertinent facts, a design inherent in events, causal connections, or succession of incidents. Often, simple, apparently harmless facts can totally undermine one’s expectations or presence of mind, as when little or nothing turns out to be what it at first appeared to be. The improbable can be verified and the fabulous can become factual. Questions tend to...

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Science Fiction-Mystery Fiction Links

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

During the late 1890’s, stories involving aspects of science or technology began appearing in popular American and British magazines. These stories met the growing public demand for striking short fiction. They competed with, and absorbed aspects of, action and adventure stories, fantastic and occult tales, and mysteries. Weird Tales, a magazine founded in 1923, stressed supernatural mysteries and horror and occult stories. It also published stories providing exciting glimpses of new scientific and technological wonders by such writers as Otis Adelbert Kline, Seabury Quinn, Austin Hall, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edmond Hamilton. All these writers combined elements of mystery with their science fiction. For example, Seabury Quinn contributed several stories involving the psychic detective Jules de Grandin.

In April, 1926, Hugo Gernsback, an American born in Luxembourg, launched Amazing Stories, the earliest magazine exclusively devoted to fiction based on science and technology. He initially gave the vague body of writing that stretched scientific and technological premises the name “scientifiction.” Three years later, after selling Amazing Stories, Gernsback launched another magazine devoted to fictional extrapolations of science—Science Wonder Stories (later renamed Wonder Stories). He then came up with a new name for the emerging literary genre: “science fiction.” In both Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories, Gernsback stressed the potential for novelty or mystery. He believe that scientific development brings newness or unknowns to many forms of human activity and that science fiction should draw out the implications and imaginable consequences of these developments.

Gernsback’s magazines drew upon earlier writers for specimens of this new form of fiction by reprinting stories written by Jules Verne, H. G. Wells,...

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Early Science Fiction Mysteries

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

It is difficult to date the moment that science fiction and mystery fully joined, In 1909, Algernon Blackwood combined science fiction and detection in John Silence: Physician Extraordinary (1909), a collection of stories involving an occult detective. However, the occult premise of those stories might justifiably exclude the stories from the label of science fiction. More likely, the merger of the two genres occurred during the mid-twentieth century, when Isaac Asimov, one of the best-known contributors to Astounding Science Fiction, began writing his famous robot stories.

In 1954, Asimov published The Caves of Steel, a novel that many people believe to the most successful combination of science fiction and detection mystery ever written. Lije Bailey, the human detective in that novel, and his robotic partner, R. Daneel, combine their skills to solve a murder. Along the way, Bailey overcomes his prejudice against of robots because of Daneel’s selfless, noble competence. In 1957, Asimov followed The Caves of Steel with a sequel, The Naked Sun. Four years later, another writer, Poul Anderson, published After Doomsday (1961), an ambitious novel that extended the concept of criminal investigation mysteries to an entire planet: After the earth is deliberately destroyed, two groups of survivors, one male and one female, travel in separate spaceships, searching for those responsible for destroying Earth...

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The Mystery Genre: Known Unknowns

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Implicit in much of science fiction are mysteries involving odd, unexplained, or unknown circumstances. A primary example of this category of mystery is Horace Walpole The Castle of Otranto (1765), which is usually regarded as the first gothic novel. Such novels were characterized by settings remote in time or place, often castles fraught with gloom, ancestral curses, and omens—places where mysterious, thrilling, or frightening events could plausibly occur, particularly during storms and other terrifying manifestations of nature. The central conflicts pitted good versus evil and often involved magic, although science itself may often resemble magic. Walpole’s novel was followed by Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of...

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Allied Forms of Fiction

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Science fiction and the mystery genre will always be related. When things cease to be mysterious, they cease to be of concern of those kind of individuals who will immerse themselves in those things with the intensity and resolve of real exploration. The inquiring minds and creative imaginations of characters in science fiction and the mystery genre have more in common than divides them. Writers employ a philosophy which recognizes that human beings will not likely reach a point where they can make no further discoveries; facts at hand may not be the only ones available and facts will not cease to prove stranger than fiction in an infinite universe and require new interpretation. Both kinds of fiction provide at least glimpses of a...

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Aldiss, Brian W., with David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. New York: Atheneum, 1986. Compelling study of the history of science fiction writing in its social, cultural, and literary settings.

Asimov, Isaac. Asimov’s Mysteries. New York: Dell, 1969. Selection of Asimov’s rich and varied detection stories, with his own illuminating introduction.

Clute, John, and Peter Nicholls. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Rev. ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press/Griffin, 1995. Summaries of the lives and works of authors from the beginnings of science fiction, as well as...

(The entire section is 440 words.)