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General SF&F Chat > HAPPY BIRTHDAY SCIENCE FICTION!!!!

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Science Fiction, according to some, was born when Mary Shelly published Frankenstine in 1818. That would make Science Fiction 200 this year!!!


message 2: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments I've heard SF was born with Frankenstein too, but I recently listened to Micromegas a 1752 novella by Voltaire which reads like early SF to me. Beings from Sirius & Saturn visit the Earth.

Here's the link to it on Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microm%...
It mentions another story, Plato's Dream, that is also SF. I haven't read it yet.

You can find Micromegas on Gutenberg.org or listen to it as a Librivox recording here:
https://librivox.org/short-science-fi...


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

There are lots of contenders for the "first" SF story...most agree it was Frankenstine. SF as I know it, that being magazine-from-the-gutter SF was invented by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. By that mark SF is not yet 100 years old. Others say the epic of Giligmesh (sp, sorry) was the first SF, that story is thousands of years old. You can make many arguments along these lines. However, how can you have SCIENCE fiction before science itself was developed? By that argument SF can be no more than about 300 years old.


message 4: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments I agree with you that you can't have SF before the Scientific Revolution. I don't consider Gilgamesh or the Golem stories to be SF, either. "Micromegas" is in a different class, though. In some ways it reminds me of H.G. Wells stuff - the science is more philosophical than hard science. Cross one of his books with Gulliver's Travels, maybe. It's only a novella & "Plato's Dream" is only a short story, so I guess "Frankenstein" is the first SF novel.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I always thought of Gilgamesh more as fantasy, Micromegas more as satire...Plato's Dream i'm going to have to run down...some claim one of the Imortal Bard's plays was SF, but that's a crock (I think it was Midsummer's Night's Dream)...the travel stories from back in the day are considered proto-SF by some, i consider them fantasy. But given there is still an argument about just what SF is (ask any ten fans, get eleven diffrent answers), its tuff to draw hard lines about what counts as a SF story...me, i am going to crow all year about SF being 200, then in 2026 (100 years after Gernsback started publishing Amazing Stories) i'll be telling everyone SF just turned 100...


message 6: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments Satire is not excluded from SF.


message 7: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2663 comments I guess it depends on what you consider SF. Micromegas has an alien character, which definitely sounds SF to me (btw, never heard of this one, might check it out...I need something old for the bingo challenge)

On the other hand the Handmaid's Tale has no SF aspect at all (in fact they have less science than we do now) but is treated as such just because it is future/dystopian.

And those Ancient Alien guys will tell you all the ancient mythologies are actually SF...or actually science fact I guess :) Though my biggest disagreement with the Ancient Alien guys is how they dismiss the ability of the ancient people to figure stuff out on their own.

But just like Christmas, one needs to pick a date so might as well pick a novel famous enough that most people actually know.


message 8: by NekroRider (new)

NekroRider | 326 comments Spooky1947 wrote: "I always thought of Gilgamesh more as fantasy, Micromegas more as satire...Plato's Dream i'm going to have to run down...some claim one of the Imortal Bard's plays was SF, but that's a crock (I thi..."

Lol that made me laugh. I can't understand how anyone could consider A Midsummer Night's Dream SciFi. That's hilarious to me. But yeah I also consider it to be Frankenstein.


message 9: by Jer (new)

Jer Wilcoxen | 1 comments Chiming in to add a couple pennies. I like a lot of these comments and the debate, but have to disagree with the "can't be science fiction before modern scientific methodology" idea. I've always considered a work to be science fiction if it includes:
- a machine/device/concept/technology, that had not been technologically achieved at the time of writing, which provides the character/s a source of agency,
or,
-a machine/device/concept/technology, that had not been technologically achieved at the time of writing, that provides the fulcrum for the story.

With that in mind, there are some stories significantly older than Frankenstein vying for the title.

The Ramayana, by Valmiki: an ancient Indian epic poem about a war fought over the capture of a beautiful woman, and includes a fantastical flying machine; 300-500BC;

True History, by Lucian of Samosata: the earliest known fiction about travelling to outer space, alien life-forms and interplanetary warfare; 2nd century AD;

The Chemical Wedding, by Johann Valentin Andreae: a man is invited by a winged alien to assist, using chemistry, in a royal wedding; 1616.

Granted, much of the science can be argued as magic (making them examples of the genre of Fantasy, rather than it's sub-genre Science Fiction); which is why I generally accept Frankenstein to be the first truly straight forward example of Science Fiction. So, happy birthday indeed!


message 10: by Bryan (new)

Bryan | 261 comments I guess it depends on your own definition of science fiction, how broad it is and whether it includes fantasy.
It could be argued that The Odyssey is SF/F, also even old mythologies and theogonies, but if you narrow science fiction down to "extrapolating on current science to comment on mankind and society" then Frankenstein fits the bill as the first SF novel.


message 11: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2663 comments Talking of SFF birthdays:
https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/1...


message 12: by Martin (new)

Martin O' | 31 comments Would Milton's Paradise Lost or even further back Dante's Divine Comedy qualify?


message 13: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2663 comments Martin wrote: "Would Milton's Paradise Lost or even further back Dante's Divine Comedy qualify?"

I could see those categorized as fantasy, but don't think there is a science aspect to them? Of course I haven't read them but knowing they are about religious beliefs which falls under mythology which itself tends more towards the magical. Like the use of demons (fantasy) versus aliens (SF). Of course if you asked the authors (and many modern Christians) they would probably protest the fantasy label, religion of course is meant to be accepted as "fact" :)


message 14: by Martin (last edited Jan 08, 2018 03:31PM) (new)

Martin O' | 31 comments Probably right, though both rely on the alternate world/reality theme which is quite a common device used in both Sci Fi and Fantasy stories that contain very little hard science beyond being a convenient plot device to further the narrative. For example Avatar which is basically Pocahontas with a few aliens and gadgets thrown into the mix in an attempt to disguise itself as Science Fiction. Or Dune whose whole premise is built on Paul being a messianic figurehead who leads the Fremen to their promised salvation.


message 15: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments I just finished a lecture series called How Great Science Fiction Works & it seems to me anything with a little bit of tech in it after "Frankenstein" is suddenly SF, even though the label wasn't invented for a century or so. Wells called one of his novels a 'science romance'. There's more under lecture 1 in my review here:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 16: by Andrea (last edited Jan 08, 2018 04:44PM) (new)

Andrea | 2663 comments Martin wrote: "Probably right, though both rely on the alternate world/reality theme which is quite a common device used in both Sci Fi and Fantasy stories that contain very little hard science beyond being a con..."

What I personally would use to classify both Dune and Avatar is (1) takes place on another planet (2) there is space travel (3) there is future tech, like the ability to transfer your conciousness into the body of an alien creature and umm...been too long since I read Dune to pick out one particularly advance piece of tech since most of it did take place on a relatively backwards planet, and at the same time (4) no magic/wizards/elves/etc. I mean there has to be some handwaving of the science otherwise we'd be reading science fact, not science fiction.

Why does a religious aspect to a tale immediately negate SF and imply fantasy? We have both science and religion existing side by side today. In fact mixing religion and SF makes for very interesting reads because they appear to be mutually exclusive.

If we get into the area of "well a specific SF book is really fantasy because it contains things like teleportation which we think is impossible" then ALL SF with interstellar space travel needs to be reshelved because with our current understanding of science, this kind of faster than light travel is impossible, and thus, fantasy!

One could even argue that Frakenstein is more alchemy than science since we know we can't just sew a bunch of random human bits together and zap it with electricity. In fact scientifically you'd probably have more luck turning lead into gold than jolting a corpse back to life.

So I let the author guide me. If there's some attempt to explain what's going on by using science, I will accept it as SF (e.g. genetically engineered "dragons" on Pern) and let the feasibility of said science fall under the "fiction" aspect. If there is no such explanation (e.g in Temeraire the dragons just exist because they, well, exist) then it's fantasy.

And some are not clear at all (e.g Dying Earth which seems to have both tech and magic) I then lean towards fantasy because science can exist in a fantasy world (after all they still have basic scientific principles like gravity, etc) but magic would not be acceptable to me in an SF world. The Book of the New Sun was harder to categorize but since there was no explicit magic (just a lot of weird unexplained stuff), and we're talking billions of years in the future so we'd have a "tech so far advance it might as well be magic" scenario I decided on SF for that one :)

But of course, these are all just my definitions. After all, I'm probably one of the few people that has her GR books sorted on shelves not by things like "urban fantasy" or "space opera" but rather by the main Fantasy/SF element like "dragons" or "unicorns", so Pern shares a shelf with Temeraire anyway.


message 17: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Wow, talk about being educated. I have no need to google/research anything. I just have to come to this discussion and learn all I need to know about the birth of science fiction. Thanks, you book nerds and big brains("look at the big brain on Brad"). Got to love the movie 'Pulp Fiction'. But really, thanks : ) I've learned a lot from you all.


message 18: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments Andrea wrote: "...But of course, these are all just my definitions. ..."

Indeed, our definitions of what comprises SF seem to be as personal as a toothbrush. It's fun to look at how people shelve some books that are on the line.

Take Lord of Light which is by Roger Zelazny who is well known for blurring the lines between SF & fantasy. If you haven't read it, it's definitely a SF story since people came to the planet in a spaceship & colonized the place, BUT (big 'but') the inhabitants they displaced were 'demons' & monsters of various sorts. They did so with super high tech weapons & psi powers that this planet fosters. The crew have turned themselves into gods to the colonists. On top of all that, it's written in a manner that screams fantasy.

Looking at the left side of the page where it shows "Genres", it's shelved almost evenly between SF (654) & Fantasy (609) while 327 people just threw up their hands & shelved it as fiction. Clicking on the 'See top shelves' link shows us that in reality about 1000 people shelved it as SF with different spellings (SF, Sci-Fi, etc.). Only a handful shelved it as SFF or Speculative Fiction.

I've done that with a number of books on the line such as The Martian Chronicles, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, & others. It's interesting, but the only thing it's proven to me is 'speculative fiction' isn't much used as a genre.


message 19: by John (new)

John Meszaros | 14 comments Just to muddy the waters a little more, I'll add Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World to the list of possible "first science fiction story". Though her book could also be thought of as more of a philosophical adventure story with elements of science.

I think, though, that Frankenstein would more closely fit what most of us think of as science fiction in that Shelley takes a known scientific phenomenon-- in this case electrical stimulation of organic tissue-- and extrapolates a fictional use for it. She also uses this fictional technological advancement to explore its effect on people, which I think is one of the key themes of science fictio


message 20: by Andrea (last edited Jan 09, 2018 08:57AM) (new)

Andrea | 2663 comments I went SF for Lords of Light because even if you use the word "demon" to describe what is actually and alien, it is still an alien. And the fact that some dude with advanced technology said "Hey I'm a god, worship me" did not in fact make him a god, he was still a dude with advanced tech. The Egyptian Pharoahs were revered as gods but that didn't suddenly make them historical SF beings (well, unless the Ancient Alien theorists are correct, you never know)!, they were still just humans.

One way of looking at it would actually put SF is actually a subgenre of fantasy, if you took fantasy to mean "something that is made up". Thus interstellar travel, based on our current knowledge of science, would basically require what amounts to magic to actually work. We'd have to break the laws of physics unless we find a loophole (or a wormhole that wouldn't tear us apart as we went through it)

For speculative fiction...maybe there's often some kind of SF or F aspect that allows it to be put under one or the other? Also...I wonder how many people know the term? Take our dystopias. Fahrenheit 451 *grumbles about crazy Americans using a temperature scale so hard to spell* definitely had some future tech, as does 1984, so SF makes sense there. However Handmaid's Tale neither has any advanced scientific notions/tech (in fact its the reverse), nor does it have magic, so the only way to categorize it is either Fiction or Speculative Fiction (think I stuck in on an SF shelf since it was read by the group and I didn't have a Speculative shelf...).

Also all SF is Speculative no? They are all "what if we met aliens" or "what if we had certain medical advances", etc. Fantasy would be "what if we had magic".

And I got around the issue on the Connecticut Yankee book by sticking it on a "Classics" shelf :) Have not read Martian Chronicles but since it involves colonizing another planet, that seems pretty clearly SF to me.


message 21: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments Andrea wrote: "I went SF for Lords of Light because even if you use the word "demon" to describe what is actually and alien, it is still an alien. And the fact that some dude with advanced technology said "Hey I'..."

Agreed & there was always a tech explanation for everything. It's just the tone of the book was fantasy. Just that was enough to make so many shelve it so.

I agree about Fahrenheit. I'm an American & can never spell it. Sigh. The language itself is as weird as genres, but the book is full of high tech, especially given the time it was published, 1953. It looks a lot like today with interactive TVs the size of walls & biometric scanners.

The Martian Chronicles is another by Bradbury who didn't like his work being labeled with a genre & it's also a bunch of short stories that aren't even consistent with each other. Mars isn't a planet so much as a place in many of them & that's been used as a definition of SF.

Magic is often mentioned as a defining line, but given the magical solutions many early SF authors used, I find it tough to differentiate at times. Well's used magic metal to lift his spaceship to the moon. At least Verne fired his from a canon. No thought of gee forces, but it was early days.

Shelving A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court as a classic is fine. I did, too. I could have shelved it with SF - I do multiples all the time - but didn't. Not sure why. The effects of tech on society was one of the big themes.

Speculative Fiction is just too broad a term. Most either pigeon-hole a book into a genre or just call it fiction. The middle ground of speculative fiction just isn't really needed apparently since almost no one uses it. I think it fits most time travel books admirably since they often use magical tech to travel & how they travel is rarely the point of the book. No one cares. It's what they do after traveling that is important. Still, I never think to use it.


message 22: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2663 comments We also had a discussion a while about about horror and where it fit into the picture. After all in a bookstore there will be three distinct shelves, but in reality horror is more a tone so you can easily have SF horror (e.g. the Alien movies) or horror fantasy (the recent Library of Mount Char book we read...but even that was more gory than scary, I wasn't hiding under my bedsheets afraid David would get me or anything like that).

It's even more subjective than the SF/F distinction since it all depends on what the reader finds scary. Ghost stories will spook me (e.g. Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches), but lots of vampire fiction is under horror and those don't scare me in the least (e.g. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles...in fact I would argue that particular series doesn't belong under horror at all, it doesn't even try to be scary)


message 23: by Bryan (last edited Jan 10, 2018 08:18AM) (new)

Bryan | 261 comments Andrea wrote: "One could even argue that Frakenstein is more alchemy than science since we know we can't just sew a bunch of random human bits together and zap it with electricity. In fact scientifically you'd probably have more luck turning lead into gold than jolting a corpse back to life.

But at the time they very much thought it could be possible, because of those experiments where they were able to move dead frogs' legs with electricity (of course now it's just a cute high school experiment for us).
That's why I think you need to take its context and period into account to classify a book (also the author's intent), otherwise you'll regularly need to move a bunch of books from the SF shelf to fantasy as the "science" they use is disproven and I don't think that'd be right.


Andrea wrote: "So I let the author guide me. If there's some attempt to explain what's going on by using science, I will accept it as SF (e.g. genetically engineered "dragons" on Pern) and let the feasibility of said science fall under the "fiction" aspect. If there is no such explanation (e.g in Temeraire the dragons just exist because they, well, exist) then it's fantasy. "

I'd agree with that. If the author explains things "scientifically", even if it's just technobabble or science that we know doesn't work, it could be SF.


message 24: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments In Science Fiction: The Literature Of The Technological Imagination, Eric S. Rabkin says he thinks there are 3 components to defining SF:
1) The fantastic made plausible (not likely, just seems possible): FTL possible. Not magic, logical explanation.
2) High adventure: Boy saves universe.
3) Intellectual excitement: Magic wand just works, but we can't know why & don't really explore the basic processes. Tachyon drive promotes curiosity, gets reader to think.

He also mentions a purist definition where there is 1 change & the author extrapolates from there. Example: Time machine can travel into future, what do we find using evolutionary principles? There are usually many changes & he doesn't fully buy it.

He also puts Frankenstein as the first SF novel, but also cautions that until April 1926 when Gernsbeck first published Amazing & came up with 'scienticfiction' or something which was quickly changed to SF, that no one labeled it as such, so we're just putting the label on looking back. The lack of intent to write SF has some bearing.


message 25: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2663 comments Bryan wrote: "But at the time they very much thought it could be possible, because of those experiments where they were able to move dead frogs' legs with electricity (of course now it's just a cute high school experiment for us).
That's why I think you need to take its context and period into account to classify a book (also the author's intent), otherwise you'll regularly need to move a bunch of books from the SF shelf to fantasy as the "science" they use is disproven and I don't think that'd be right."


Actually, that was the exactly point I was trying to make and why I wanted to argue that something is still SF even if the "science" aspect is a little shaky. So long as the author makes at least an attempt to give a scientific basis to explain what's going on, then it's SF to me. Thus Frankenstein is SF for me, even if the science is proven false. Pern is SF for me, even if it doesn't seem possible to genetically engineer dragons that can fly/breath fire/teleport/time travel.

Otherwise when people say "well, dragons can't teleport that's fantasy" then that same person must also say "and you can't resurrect a corpse using lighting either" and finally "you can't travel faster than light to have interstellar travel" otherwise they aren't being consistent in their definition of SF...at which point I'm not really sure what's left in the genre for that person :) Cyborgs maybe, since we are making progress in hooking people up to machines...but not Terminator, since that has time travel and thus must be fantasy ;)


message 26: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2663 comments Jim wrote: "2) High adventure: Boy saves universe.."

I don't feel it needs to be high adventure. That would define a Space Opera, or Barsoom or something. But I wouldn't call The Andromeda Strain "adventure" per se, but I would call it SF. Same with the Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon...now that one is more a fiction book about autism, but ultimately the issues the main character is forced to deal with is triggered by an SF element, the invention of a new medical process (doesn't exist yet, so fiction but medicine is science) and explores what are the implications of change the underlying person that you are by such a procedure. Same argument for Flowers for Algernon (though my bookstore had it in the fiction section so they disagree with me). I ended up shelving both as SF. They do meet the "1 change" criteria though.

Jim wrote: "Intellectual excitement: Magic wand just works, but we can't know why & don't really explore the basic processes."

That's not always true of magic, sometimes an author goes quite out of their way to explain how it works. Chronicles of Elantra by Michelle Sagara attempts it (but it's as hard to grasp as quantum physics), and I understand Sanderson does it too. Not that I'm arguing that if they explain their magic it makes it SF! And of course no one is going to try to make a functioning magic wand while people are inspired enough to try to build (or at least explore what would be required to build) Star Trek tricorders, Back to the Future hoverboards and Star Wars light sabers.


message 27: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments Don't take my thumbnail sketch as too restrictive or defining, Andrea.


message 28: by Bobby (new)

Bobby Bermea (beirutwedding) | 412 comments Jim wrote: "I've heard SF was born with Frankenstein too, but I recently listened to Micromegas a 1752 novella by Voltaire which reads like early SF to me. Beings from Sirius & ..."

I would still give the nod to Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus because of societal impact. There's a reason why everyone thinks of this book and not of the one you're talking about (which, by the way, how was it?). To be the birth of something, something has to come after it, you would think.


message 29: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2227 comments "Micromegas" was interesting. Kind of weird, but not terribly long.

Rabkin goes into a lot of the literature leading up to SF, even going back to religious writings, Plato's Republic, & Oedipus to show various threads. Once we start picking out threads, it's hard to know when to stop. It's also hard to know what to include, especially when we start applying the label a century back & that makes it easy to go further.

I'm not terribly worried about it since I've always been lousy at genres (Heck, I have trouble with fact & fiction, thus my sort-of-nonfiction shelf.) but intent & tone are a large portion of it, too. That was part of my point with the Lord of Light example earlier on. It looks like SF, but is written like a fantasy. That's enough to make only about half shelve it as SF while a like number shelved it as fantasy or plain fiction.

When the thread is strong, such as in utopian fiction, it gets tougher. More's Utopia was great for many, but pretty hellish for a lot of others like the slaves, the mercenaries, & the people in the way of their ever-widening buffer zone. That's the same point Ursula K. Le Guin made with The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas over 500 years later.

More's title, according to Rabkin, was actually a play on words. 'Utopia' is a word made up by More out of 2 Greek words. He could have use an 'eu' (good) or or an 'ou' (not) with 'topia' meaning place. Instead he spelled it with a just a 'u' leaving it more up to the reader. Pretty ingenious. Leaves the author a lot of room for thought-provoking social messages which was the point.


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

I personaly like Damon Knight's way of explaining what SF is...it's what you point to when you say it!!

:-)


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