Friday, November 18, 2016

Pre-Science Sci Fi

What was science fiction like before science?
A reading list of these early stories includes works of varying canonicity, such as Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627), Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1634), Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666), Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines (1688), and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). These texts all share the driving curiosity that defines so much classic science fiction. “There is no man this day living that can tell you of so many strange and unknown peoples and countries,” writes More, describing the discoverer of the fictional island Utopia—a passage as evocative and stirring as “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Though obscure today, Godwin’s The Man in the Moone captivated 17th-century readers with its tale of a Spaniard who travels in a ship powered by geese. He flies through space, which, for the first time in literature is depicted as weightless, then spends time with the denizens of a lunar civilization, only to leave for an almost equally exotic and technologically marvelous land called China. The story’s blend of natural philosophy, travel narrative, and the utopian and picaresque genres delighted English and European audiences. It also influenced literary stars for centuries. The French author Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac poked fun at the book in his satirical 1657 novel, The Other World. Edgar Allen Poe referenced the novel in his 1835 story “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall.” And H.G. Wells’ 1901 novel, The First Men in the Moon, was directly inspired by Godwin.
The roots of science fiction are long and deep...

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