The Origins of Science Fiction
It was in the eighteenth century that the word “science” acquired its modern meaning. The scientific method and the discoveries it produced were key elements of what is now looked back on as the Enlightenment. The new definition of science represented the realization that arguments from authority are worthless and that reliable knowledge is rooted in the evidence of the senses, carefully sifted by deductive reasoning and the careful testing of generalizations. As soon as the new image of science was established writers began producing speculative fictions about new discoveries and new technologies that might come about as a result of the application of the scientific method.
The earliest short fictions of this kind were accommodated within the ready-made narrative frameworks of the anecdotal traveler’s tale, the dream story and the moral fable, sometimes embedding painstaking attempts to dramatize philosophical propositions within frameworks that had usually been employed for more frivolous endeavors. The argument in favor of the Copernican theory of the solar system advanced by Johannes Kepler’s dream story Somnium (1634; English translation, 1965) includes an ingenious attempt to imagine how life on the moon might have adapted to the long cycle of day and night. Voltaire’s Le Micromégas (1752; Micromegas, 1753) employs a gargantuan native of Saturn to pour witty but devastating scorn on human delusions of grandeur.