Literature

Sci-Fi Unlimited

Science fiction as a literary genre in the present era uses imaginative concepts, though writers have been speculating about voyages to the moon for centuries.

By Muhammad Omar Iftikhar | June 2022
–Illustration by Arjumand Faizan

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1818 that, as some refer to it, laid the foundations for science fiction. In those days the literary genre of science fiction or sci-fi was not established. However, speculative fiction has remained a part of the fantasy and adventure genre for centuries. People consider speculative fiction to be a part of science fiction. However, it is the other way round. Under the banner of speculative fiction, we find sub-genres including horror, mystery, fantasy, alternate history, and sci-fi, among others. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1872) is considered among the first science fiction novels. It is about Professor Pierre Aronnax and his two friends who are captured by Captain Nemo who commands the futuristic submarine, the Nautilus.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, speculative fiction also comprised stories about voyages to the moon and humans living on Mars. Writers speculated on man’s travels to unknown regions of the cosmos without really dwelling upon how to achieve this feat. German astronomer Johannes Kepler’s novel Somnium, which was posthumously released in 1634, explored the character’s journey to the moon. The Man in the Moone (1620s) by Francis Godwin narrated the story of Domingo Gonsales, who travels to the moon on a strange bird-like creature. Such stories among others did have elements of fantasy and speculation but science, technology and its impact on mankind was missing. Shelley’s Frankenstein was considered science fiction for her character, Victor Frankenstein, who stitched old body parts to create a monster by stimulating life using electricity.

The contribution of H. G. Wells to promoting science fiction is commendable. The English writer first wrote The Time Machine (1895) which takes the narrator on a voyage across centuries into humanity’s future. The society of the future was parallel to the Victorian lifestyle with capitalist intent that was a norm in the society that Wells lived in. In 1898, Wells wrote The War of the Worlds which became one of the earliest known literary works of science fiction to show a conflict between humans and beings from space.

If Wells brought aliens to Earth, American writer Isaac Asimov created worlds of fiction and sent readers into new areas across the universe. Asimov’s Foundation series – which first appeared in print during the 1940s – is about the Galactic Empire and its government. Asimov’s novel Robot (1950), and the three laws of robotics laid the groundwork for future sci-fi authors to base their work concerning androids and humanoids. Ray Bradbury also added much depth to the genre of science fiction with novels such as The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), and Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

Read More