In a Nutshell: History of Science Fiction

The movie industry would look bleak without the science fiction genre. Film classics like Matrix, Back to the Future or Blade Runner have captured audiences for decades and the popularity of franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek remained solid to this day.

Ever since science fiction as a genre has dealt with ideas that are based on reality and actual scientific theories.

“Science fiction makes the implausible possible, while science fantasy makes the impossible plausible.”

Rod Serling, author and creator of the TV series “Twilight Zone”.

Rod Serling (1924-1975)

Science fiction is not something a writer just makes up and spins a story around. The idea is to write a realistic narrative based on actual scientific knowledge, understanding of the real world and to be faithful of these facts.

The genre boomed in the 20th century, as science started to integrate more and more into the daily lives of normal people, as well as the technology advancing at a rapid speed. However, the first mentions of science fiction as a concept date back thousands of years.

There is no consensus over the first science fiction text, however it is arguably the Sumerian poem “Epic of Gilgamesh”, created roughly 2150-2000 BC. Others argue science fiction emerged between the 17th and 19th century due to major discoveries in maths, physics and astronomy.

Science fiction elements are evident in many ancient texts, even in the Bible and in the collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories One Thousand and One Nights.

However, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) was ground-breaking for the genre as she imagined technology way ahead of her time in her story. Jules Verne (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 1864) and H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, 1895) followed her example and had enormous commercial success.

Although science fiction today has countless subgenres it can be roughly differentiated in the so-called hard science fiction and soft science fiction.

Hard sci-fi refers to authors who dedicate a lot of attention to scientific accuracy and scientific proof. The Martian by Andy Weir is a hard sci-fi novel.

Soft science fiction is based on sciences like psychology, sociology or anthropology, thus Shelley’s Frankenstein is a good example for that type of sci-fi. Also utopian and dystopian stories like George Orwell’s 1984 have elements of soft science fiction.

Not only has science fiction majorly influenced literature and film but it has also inspired scientists to strife and to create what was before only a fantastic, futuristic idea.

When Back to the Future Part 2 was released in theatres in 1989, the main character Marty (Michael J. Fox) travels to the year 2015. In the film, children don’t use skateboards anymore but “hoverboards” that float above the ground.

Companies have tried to recreate that fantastic idea in the real world. In October 2014 the American Inventor Greg Henderson presented a functioning hoverboard prototype; other companies followed with their own recreation of the hoverboard. Thus, what was merely an idea in a 1989 science fiction film became reality.


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