For a definition of Science Fiction and different subgenres, please check out our article. This article is not meant to be exhaustive detailing of the science fiction history nor its impact, but rather a start for those with an interest in the topics. A full length description is enough to write complete volumes about. Therefore, we will providing a bit of a perspective of the history of science fiction so the reader can go from there to make their own decisions.
There are two broad camps of thought, one that identifies the genre’s roots in early fantastical works such as the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. A second approach argues that science fiction only became possible sometime between the 17th and early 19th centuries, following the scientific revolution. Regardless of its exact origins, science fiction changes based upon the writes and the ages that the writers live in. The changing technology and views will change the perspective of the science fiction writer, which can also change the perspective of the history of the genre.
Before the genre of science fiction was really defined, ancient texts that would today be considered science fiction often had elements such as a fantastical voyage to the moon or the use of imagined advanced technology.
The 19th century saw a breakout in science fiction with books such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which saw the use of a mad scientist character. There were other stories by the likes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells who were writing during this 19th century timeframe really helped highlight a tension that would exist in science fiction throughout its history. The question of whether to present realistic technology or to focus on characters and ideas has been ever-present, as has the question of whether to tell an exciting story or make a didactic point. This tension can be seen as Jules Verne stories mixed adventure with technology that was either up to the minute or logically extrapolated into the future; whereas, H.G. Wells used science fiction devices to make points about his society.
This led into the expansion of the genre and then the golden age of science fiction. This era was notable because of the publication of stories and novels by such writers as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein. The writings by these authors allowed science fiction began to gain status as serious fiction and gain a status that continues until today.
After the Golden Age of Science Fiction ended, the modern times has seen the growth of the New Wave science fiction genre. Important works that are still considered classics are Frank Herbert’s Dune and writings by Phillip K. Dick.
The great thing about science fiction, but also makes it an exhaustive subject to write about is that the genre has so many lasting effects in so many different ways. For example, many of those who watched series like Star Trek or Star Wars were inspired to make some of that technology a reality. It has been said that Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had its hand in inspiring efficient submarines that could be effective tools during war. Moreover some of the technology from these same submarines can be used for discovering more about the ocean and seafloor. There are a plethora of other options to discuss, but it is worth mentioning that without science fiction. Things that today people think of as within possibility or already available such as cell phones, tablets, submarines, 3D printers, self-driving cars and atomic power were all at one point considered science fiction.
Without science fiction, authors would have to provide different ways of providing society with a window on itself. Science fiction is a great way for societies to provide a detached criticism of what is currently happening. This is what happened with the interracial kiss from Star Trek, which was able to provide a critique on how some in the US viewed society. There are definitely other examples that show how although there might be some topics that might be deemed offensive or bad, the audience that will be watching and receptive to the viewpoints might not otherwise think of them. Science fiction allows to challenge views and allow for the authors to envision an entire universe all to their own.
For more reading, consider furthering your research by looking at this article about the history of the genre. And a great article can be found here. For more about the impact of science fiction, check here.