Science Fiction Reality
a geek girl's look at 100 years of science fiction and beyond
By Una Fritz für SciFi Review © 2000
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century the world was in a time of movement. It seemed that the technical innovations, which had just started to blossom, would open up all doors and gates to mankind's advancement.
Everything seemed possible - inventors imagined fantastic things like moving pavements, cars with atomic engines and many more things.
These were only a few which had been in the minds of people at the turn of the last century. Unlike television, telephones, rockets, space flight and submarines which are now part of our every day life, many ideas produced during that time have not been realised till now. From our late 20th century point of view, it is both amazing and sad that all those fantasies and visions of the future were made in a time when technology was seen as a good thing, that technology would improve our lives rather than make it more miserable with pollution and the atomic threat. It was an escapist view of a future which was golden, happy and peaceful. No one of the early futurists would have thought that our quick advancement in technology would lead us to two world wars and mass unemployment and global pollution. How happy to live in the year 2000, they must have thought.
it is not easy to discern where and when science-fiction starts, one
can argue that science-fiction started with Jules Verne (1828 - 1905),
and a lot of people see him as the father - or better the great grandfather
- of modern science-fiction. His ideas brought forth a multitude of
like-minded authors who presented us their vision of a possible future.
Keeping in mind
that Mary Shelley was the first, Jules Verne truly was the second and
most renown visionary of science-fiction. His classics like De
La Terre À La Lune (From The Earth To The Moon; 1865), where
he describes the first landing on the moon with all technology possible
at that time, and his posthumously published Paris Au XXe Ciecle
(Paris In The 20th Century) show what an accurate and imaginary writer
he was and that he was aware what kind of influence technology would
have on mankind.
Unlike H.G. Wells (1866 - 1946) (The Time Machine), who also used technical innovations in his books and like him many other European writers, the American writers of the 1920's and 1930's had other intentions: they wanted to entertain. The most popular magazine at that time was published by Luxembourg native Hugo Gernsback (1884 - 1967) who in turn invented the term Science Fiction when he called the articles and stories published in his magazine scientifiction. He especially wanted to draw young adolescents towards scientific based literature and filled his magazines with a mixture of classic science-fiction of Verne and Wells, as well as newer authors. With the newer authors there came a new facet of science-fiction, that of space operas. There was no interest in the relevance to the near future as the US was amidst a very bad recession and the readers were interested in escaping their miserable day to day life. They wanted the ultimate adventure, without care of scientific knowledge and accuracy. A zeal which was fulfilled by Gernsback's magazine as well as many others.
This trend towards
entertainment rather than scientifically based science fiction was changed
when John W. Campbell (1910 - 1971) started to publish his Astounding
sf-magazine. He especially took care that the stories he published were
possible and plausible rather than adventurous. From 1937 onward he
published as yet unknown authors like Lester Del Rey, A.E. van Vogt,
Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov who later became the great masters
of science-fiction. One of Astounding's authors, Robert A. Heinlein
(1907-1988), influenced technology so much that the first robot hands
were named after one of his books, Waldo.
After the end of
the second world war, with the beginning of the Cold War, science fiction
turned towards a much more mundane genre. The rising of Communism and
the Soviet nuclear threat led to space operas and open black and white
writings. Vicious Aliens, representing the communists, invading Earth
and the brave USA defending Earth and therefore the Western world. One
can argue that George Orwell (1903 - 1950) and his book Ninety-Eighty
Four (1948) was one example of the many propagandistic literature
but that is not true. Ninety-Eighty Four was intended as a warning,
a warning not to let the threat of communism take over the personal
freedom of each individual.
Some of the technical
inventions portrayed in all those books mentioned have been already
realised or will be realised in a not so distant future, like manned
space flight to Mars or a space colony in the orbit of Earth. Even women's
voting rights have been established (and good-riddance to that) a fact
which caused an outrage when Jules Vernes mentioned it in one of his
What will the new millennium bring us in science-fiction? More cyber punk influenced books and films a la The Matrix and Johnny Mnemonic because we already have survived almost all prognosis of authors of the last century? Or will it be more militaristic orientated science fiction like Starship Troopers or The Forever War? Or perhaps intergalactic space operas like Star Wars with a science fiction setting but with different genres, like Fantasy, thrown in?
We don't know.
Hopefully though, we will see more talented science fiction writers,
perhaps even more female ones with kick ass heroines. We might never
know if we do not dream it.