Science Fiction: A Detailed Study
What is Science Fiction?
Science fiction is a genre of fiction in which the stories often tell about science and technology of the future.
Science Fiction Definition
Wikipedia defines it,
“Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as futures settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a literature of HG Wells ideas”.
It is important to note that science fiction (Si-Fi) has a relationship with the principles of science- these stories involve partially true partially fictitious laws or theories of science. It should not be completely unbelievable, because it then ventures into the genre fantasy. Science fiction is primarily based on writing rationally about alternative possible worlds or futures. According to Benjamin Appel,
“Science fiction reflects scientific thought; a fiction of things-to-come based on things-on-hand.”
While another scholar Issac Asimov feels Science fiction “as the branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings.”
It is similar to, but differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature. (However some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).
In the science fiction, the plot creates situations different from those of both the present day and the known past. Science fiction texts also include a human element, explaining what effect new discoveries, happenings and scientific developments will have on us in the future. Science fiction texts are often set in the future, in space, on a different world, or in a different universe or dimension. Science fiction is also not a doctoral thesis on the possibility of faster than light travel. One can say that science fiction is just about science and technology, but this does not mean that it is written only for the scientific audience. As Brian Aldiss noted,
“Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are for ghosts”.
In fact, Science fiction is not worth reading at all if it does not involve humanity with whom we can associate. This is why Science fiction is mainly about the human element, and about the effect of new discoveries, happenings and scientific developments will have on us in the future.
Elements of Science Fiction
The settings for science fiction are generally contrary to known reality, but most science fiction relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief. Science fiction elements narrated in Wikipedia include:
A time setting in the future, in alternative timelines, or in a historical past that contradicts known facts of history or the archaeological record.
A spatial setting or scenes in outer Space (e.g., Spaceflight), on other worlds, or on subterranean earth.
Characters that include aliens, mutants, androids or humanoid robots.
Technology that is futuristic (e.g., ray guns, teleportation machines, humanoid computers).
Scientific principles that are new or those contradict known laws of nature, for example time travel, wormholes, or faster than-light travel.
New and different political or social systems (e.g. dystopia, post-scarcity, or a post-apocalyptic situation where organized society has collapsed).
Paranormal abilities such as mind control, telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation.
Other universes or dimensions and travel between them.
Best Examples of Science Fiction
The pioneers of the genre of science fiction are H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. In the 20th century major texts of science fiction texts include 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Alduous Huxley, and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. In addition, the four most popular and well-recognized 20th century authors are Isaac Asimov, author of the Foundation trilogy and his robot series, Arthur C. Clarke famous for 2001. A Space Odyssey: Ray Bradbury, known for his Martian Chronicles, and, Robert Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
15 Best Science Fiction Movies
- The Invisible Man
- Ad Astra
- Another Earth
- Source Code
- Reign of Fire
- Artificial Intelligence
- The World’s End
- Edge of Tomorrow
- Jurassic World
15 Best Science Fiction Books of All Time
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
Dune by Frank Herbert
1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
5 Best Science Fiction Books for Kids
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline l’Engl
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr by Isaac Asimov
Science Fiction: An Essay
If science fiction gives the impression of facing the unknown future with daring and foresight, it is seldom because it really imagines a new future in any radical way, or because it forecasts change with any certainty or precision, but because, by relying on traditional literary conventions and forms, and by repeating historical and psychological patterns from the past, it manages to domesticate the future, to render it habitable and, in spite of a somewhat strange surface, basically familiar.
“Oh! dear,” says E.M. Forster, “the novel tells a story.” But what is the story about? Quite a few critics and practitioners of the art of novel would suggest that the story should be about eternal passion, eternal pain, and the appeal must be essentially human. But human interest has widened considerably today. Nothing human is alien to man. Man is no longer satisfied with the two-inch long picture of domestic life on the ivory. He revels in the prodigality of invention and longs for a voyage in the land of the unknown and the mysterious. There are purists who would at once say that this longing undermines the dignity of the novel. But it does not.
A number of eminent novelists are strongly in favour of the marvelous and the uncommon Science fiction is, therefore, not to be summarily dismissed. Thomas Hardy, for example, says that “the real, if unavowed purpose of fiction (is) to give pleasure by gratifying the love of the uncommon in human experience.” Writers today have the natural urge to indulge our sense of wonder. Even the so-called realist Fielding lends support to the marvelous: “Every writer may be permitted to deal with the wonderful as much as he pleases.”
Early History of Science Fiction
Science, in course of the last two hundred years, has brought about revolutionary changes in our pattern of life and behavior. The scientific enquiry of Newton, Colin Maclawin, Thomas Simpson John Michell, Henry Cavendish, Josheph Priestley, and William Herschel refer to only a few, have widened our knowledge of natural phenomena. The Victorian Age marked the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Europe. Educated people sought explain things in physical terms. Such investigations had invariably their impact upon literature. CH Hinton wrote in 1884 his in What Is the Fourth Dimension?, in which he introduced the concepts of time, space, and continuum. We have reasons to believe that H. G. Wells was profoundly influenced by Hinton when he wrote his Time Machine in 1895. His conclusion is that “there is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of space except that our consciousness moves along it.” Alice of Alice in Wonderland was an unsophisticated child and felt that her universe was always shifting, when Mad Hatter sought to explain to her that Time was “He” and not “It,” and, therefore, dimensional.
In the sphere of Physics Planck, J. W. Dunne, Oliver Lodge, Thomas Henry Huxley, Tyndall, Thomson, Bragg, Whitehead, Russell, Eddington, and Rutherford made startling investigations. Once a dream of the elixir, Chemistry has also done revolutionary work. Great advance in our knowledge, has been made by the biologists. Darwin sailed on the ‘Beagle’ and explored the uncharted sea to widen our knowledge of fauna. The mysteries of the sea were unraveled when biologists were on board the Callenger. Darwin’s collaboration with Hooker, Huxley, and Lyell was a significant fact in the history of science. Mendel and Weismann followed in their footsteps and investigated things hitherto unknown
The impact of this vast and ever widening store of knowledge was writ large in every sphere of literature. But even before the investigation into natural phenomena, man looked far forth into the future and dreamt fantastic dreams, Science fiction, strictly speaking, has roots deep in tradition.
It seems to be an over-simplification of a truism of literary history. In fact More’s Utopia and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels cannot be called Science fiction by any stretch of imagination. It was in the eighteenth century that science and technology made a dent into the static life of people, who still hugged their fond belief that man could do nothing before the mighty forces of Nature. They had a calm and quiet resignation to Nature, and could not even dream of the rapid strides of science, which shook the world in an unimaginably short time. Alexander Pope rightly says:
Nature and Nature’s laws were hid in hight,
God said, ‘Let there be Newton,’ and there was light
Science, no doubt, clips our imagination, for it fosters the spirit of Reason. It may sound paradoxical, but the fact remains, that science also widen our imagination. Man felt at the turn of the eighteenth century that he was no longer an automaton. The idea of progress was gaining ground, and man–unconquerable man-overcame his physical limitations and dreamt of planting his feet on the virgin soil, on the planets and satellites. So long at the mercy of Nature, he was now pitted against her and sought supremacy in every sphere.
19th Century Science Fiction
Hence the literature of the nineteenth century is a literature of change. And it is all due to the explosive growth of science. The first hero of Science fiction, who adopted himself to the rapid changes is Robinson Crusoe. The novel is based upon the adventures of Alexander Selkirk, who was marooned in a deserted island at his own request. Rousseau thought Robinson Crusoe to be “The finest of treatises on education according to nature,” while Maxim Gorky thought it to be “the Bible of the unconquerable.”
Frankenstein as a Science Fiction
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus may, in a sense, be described as the first specimen of Science fiction. Frankenstein had keen interest in natural science and occult mysteries. Profoundly influenced by Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus he plunged into the unusual branches of science. Like Prometheus, he sought to bring a vital spark and animate a human frame. He made a soulless monster, who pursued his creator to a tragic end. Frankenstein flew from land to land to escape from the monstrous creation. But he was shadowed everywhere. He escaped to the ice bound sea, and even there the monster sprawled over his corpse.
Jules Verne’s Science Fiction
Jules Verne, one of the most popular French authors in the world. His books are dreams come true. Submarines, aeroplanes, and television, all swam into his ken long before anybody else could think of them. His first work is Five Weeks in a Balloon, and henceforth the vein of the marvelous, tinged with a quasi-scientific realism was worked by him with phenomenal success. His more popular works are: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, Around the World in Eighty Days, and A Journey to the Centre of the Earth. All the novels of Jules Verne are an excellent combination of heart-stirring, blood-curdling adventures and science.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Science Fiction
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the distinguished forerunners of Science and Detective fiction. Poe began writing tales of horror in the early phase of his career. In Bercince, for example, he made his hero extract the teeth of a dead woman. In his Balloon-Hoax, a remarkable story in a series of hoaxes; he gave the most ingenious and convincing verisimilitude to a balloon flight to the moon. The elements of scientific extrapolation are so methodically presented that even a modern cosmonaut cannot contest it. It is a great loss to the field of science fiction that Poe turned to other literary avenues.
H. G. Wells’s Science Fiction
H. G. Wells broke into the Victorian stronghold without apology. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon is a typical scientific romance. Wells has imagined the possibility of science rather than the possibility of man The surface of the moon, which is intensely cold by night and infernally hot by day is described convincingly. The plants grow and die within a single day. The ant-like beings, known as the Selenites live in the moon. Wells in his romances voyages in the moon, in the air, in the future.
In The World Set Free Wells imagines that after many years the labor class will rule the world. It can be called a ‘Futurist’ romance rather than a ‘Scientific romance’. In The Invisible Man, we have the story of the strange and evil experiment of a misguided scientist. In The Wonderful Visit Wells tells the story of an angel, is puzzled to find the wild and incredible madness among men. Wells watched with his third eye the transformation of the whole world. He is the chronicler of the rich possibility of man by the help of the magic of science. He has an unerring vision of the shape of things to come. Science, however, is not always a benefactor. In The Time Machine we see the horrors of the well-awaited utopia. In The Island of Dr. Morean we get a lurid picture of the brutality of man in the wake of the myriad scientific inventions.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Science Fiction
Robert Louis Stevenson owes his enviable reputation to the novels of adventure as well as Science fiction. His Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is much a psychological romance than as a science fantasy Dr. Jekyll was essentially a man of good character. His professional tastes led him to experiment in drugs, with which he could change himself physically. It was then that he was transformed to Mr. Hyde, a repulsive creature of violent and evil passions. With his drugs he could become his original self. But Mr. Hyde, in course of time, was the more dominant personality. He committed a series of murders. At last the secret is revealed, and Mr. Hyde is found dead in his laboratory.
Jack London’s Science Fiction
Jack London (1876-1916) was politically a socialist and turned to science fiction at quite an early age. Even in his novels and stories, e.g., Before Adam, The Iron Heel, The Scarlet Plague, and the Star Rover, which may be described as Science fiction, Jack London sought to bring about social transformation. In The Unparalleled Invasion, he made a forecast of the Third World War, to take place in 1976. The Western powers armed with nuclear weapons will fight against China.
Edwin A. Abbot’s Science Fiction
Who could ever imagine that Edwin A. Abbot (1938-1926), an eminent Shakespearean scholar, could write his Flatland, which is based upon mathematical puzzles? The length and breadth of an inhabitant of Flatland may be estimated at eleven inches; women are all straight lines; soldiers and workers are triangles; the middle class people are equal sided triangles.
Ambrose Bierce’s Science Fiction
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) wrote science fiction and horror tales His Moxon’s Masler is a look into the future. He asked the question – can a machine think?
Rudyard Kipling’s Science Fiction
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) wrote as much for the adults as for the children. He often delved into fantasy. In The Night Mail, written in 1905 he visualized the future, when lighter-than-air dirigibles and aeroplanes would be hovering in the sky. His Easy as A. B. C., The Finest Story in the World, The Mark of the Beast, and Wireless are all dreams translated into reality after years.
E.M. Forster’s Science Fiction
E.M. Forster (1879-1970) wrote only one Science Fiction, namely The Machine Stops, in which he forecast the trend that Science fiction would follow. He traces here the effect of future on a microcosm.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Science Fiction
Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) is remarkable for detective stories. His Sherlock Holmes was once a European figure, who could tackle any case with miraculous success. His inimitable creation- Professor Challenger is the redoubtable hero of his Science fiction, The Disintegrating Machine. A scientist named Theodor Nemor invented a machine capable of disintegrating any object.
Karl Capek’s Science Fiction
Karl Capek has carved a niche for himself in the temple of fame for R. U. R. i.e. Rossum’s Universal Robots, The Robots are artificial men and women, all soulless machines, with no human feelings and sentiments. A scientist named Rossum “wanted to become scientific substitute for God.” His son joined him, and Robots were being manufactured on a large scale. Helena Glory came there to liberate the Robots from slavery. The Manager of the factory assured her that the Robots had no feelings, and, therefore, they did not smart under a sense of injustice or slavery. The Directors of the Factory were happy to meet a beautiful woman. Helena persuaded Dr. Gall, the Chemist to endow the Robots with intelligence. There were two types of Robots- National and Universal. The humanized Robots started fighting against man. The destruction of the world was imminent. Helena in her attempt to save mankind asked the Directors to leave the place with the Rossum manuscript, which contained the formula for the manufacture of Robots. The Robots got a scent of it, and united to kill mankind. All men except Alquist were destroyed. The Robots saved him so that he might manufacture Robots once again. He pleaded his inability, but was delighted to find that two Robots one male and one female were embracing each other passionately, Adam and Eve were reborn.
Theodore Sturgeon is a modern writer of Science fiction. His Microcosmic God presents man as a creator. James Blish is another modern writer who visualizes the distant future, when the cities of the earth with all their splendor and magnificence would take off into space in space-ships.
Since 1954 a periodical entitled Slick began to publish extrapolative stories and introduced a vaster area with the entire spectrum of science fiction and fantasy. George Langelaan tells in The Masks of War the story of a British Intelligence agent during the Second World War, who had to undergo facial surgery to conceal his identity. Charles Beaumont‘s The Crooked Man and Blood Brother deserve mention.
A member of the personal staff of Leon Trotsky, Bernard Wolfe may not be regarded as a specialist in Science fiction. He is nevertheless an expert in the delineation of the bizarre and the grotesque. William Tenn wrote the Human Angel and of All Possible Worlds which outshine most of the books on Science Fiction. Leland Webb’s A Man for the Moon made the author famous a medley of the past and the future, the space age and the conquistadores. An authority of the automotive world Purdy wrote about men and machines in his Bright Wheels Rolling, Kings of the Road, Wonderful World of the Automobile, and All My Life.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
Arthur C. Clarke’s The Exploration of Space and I Remember Babylon are based upon factual material related to astrophysics, missiles, and rocketry. Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly Jack the Ripper and Psycho as much popularized their author as Alfred Hitchcock. Frederik Pohl’s Tomorrow Times Seven, The Case Against Tomorrow, Slave Ship, Search the Sky and The Space Merchants are all regarded as science fiction classics.
John Atherton writes on space travel, time travel, the fourth dimension, humanoid robots, and the totalitarian technocracies of the distant future
Avram Davidson, the winner of the highest honour for Science fiction in America will be remembered for his Sensible Man. J. G. Ballard deserves mention for his Drowned World, The Wind from Nowhere, The Voice of Time, Billenium, Passport to Eternity and Souvenir.
Asimov’s Science Fiction
Isaac Asimov, the Russian born chemist is an iconic figure in world of Science Fiction. His notable works and magazines are I, Robot, the Foundation series, The Gods Themselves, and The Currents of Space etc.
Aldous Huxley’s Science Fiction
Aldous Huxley is also credited with having written one book on science fiction, namely Brave New World. But unlike most other writers he did not visualize a glorious future for science. His trenchant and sardonic wit in the novel reminds us of Swift. His Brave New World is a lurid picture of a horrible future, when robots, (although the name was not Huxley’s) would be manufactured in a laboratory, and mechanistically conditioned to serve the will of their manufacturers. The novel is a slashing satire of the Utopia of the scientists. Huxley did not invest the so-called brave new world with glory and glamour. Everything in the world is mechanical.
Science, in Huxley’s opinion, is a silly and ugly piece of sophisticated futility. Throughout the novel we hear the plangent cry for the old, simple earth, the love and affection, the old simplicities of relations-mothers and babies, the bush green vegetation of the unsullied countryside, in short, that nostalgia for the good earth, which science has ravaged.
The Merits of Science Fiction
Science fictions, by and large, have grown from an idea of progress Science has done immense good to humanity. It has ameliorated suffering. If some politically motivated leaders have abused science for self-aggrandizement or for the sake of chauvinism, we are not to blame science, but those who have misused it. Science fiction is the celebration of the new knowledge that is placed at man’s disposal. It casts a glance at the mysteries, which, we all feel, will be shortly unraveled.
There is a fundamental difference between a beast and a man. A beast is satisfied if it is assured of food, shelter, and security. Man is always oppressed by an irresistible longing for something, which may not meet his physical needs. It is an intellectual craving. He is not afraid of the unknown and the mysterious. He is always a questioner and the answers to his questions are behind all idea of progress Science fiction is as much a question as an answer. The answers in most cases are vogue. Science fiction is a clear indication of the fact that man no longer likes to remain an unreasoning, unthinking, unquestioning being. Man is crying in the night, crying for light. And the light will dawn.