Science-fiction is now a prestigious genre. Let’s look at its history
“We all have our time machines, don't we? Those that take us back are memories... And those that carry us forward are dreams.”
– H.G. Wells
Writers are dreamers, I would say; it’s their dreams that we see coming alive through the beautiful stories and characters they weave for us. Whether it’s science fiction or humour, it’s the artists’ creativity that makes things come alive for us. And of course, writers get influenced by the times they are living in, or may be swayed by history. Many argue that the science fiction genre originated in the Sumerian era in the form of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Others argue that science fiction was conceivable only with the advent of the Scientific Revolution. The discoveries by Galileo and Newton in astronomy, physics, and mathematics facilitated the development of this genre. Another notion supports the theory of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein being the originator, as it incorporates the characteristic requirements of a sci-fi work. A ‘mad scientist’ or any excessively intelligent person, investigating advanced technology and using technology for achievements beyond the range of science. The alien is set as the perpetrator of the crime-with no value for human life. The theme had a number of variations, but the recurrent trend was an excursion into the unknown with the help of advanced scientific methods, elaborate experimentation, and huge amounts of risk.
Understandably, this genre got a boost as mankind progressed and thus grew the most in the twentieth century since the times were full of new inventions and discoveries. Herbert George ‘HG’ Wells, an English author, together with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, have each been referred to as ‘The Father of Science Fiction’ in their respective countries viz England, France
and America. My earliest recollection of reading scientific fiction goes back to the famous works of HG Wells, Jules Verne, and of course, the indomitable Mary Shelley. The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days were very popular and exciting as they offered something different. There was a sense of mystery, adventure, and the thrill of a journey into the unknown.
In The Time Machine, an
unnamed observer is the narrator of the story about a time traveller who uses his machine to travel to the future. It includes travels to faraway and distant futures and meetings with weird versions of humans like the Eloi and the Morlocks. The book is full of riveting ideas and theories, many of which are relevant even today. The novel is considered to be one of the finest works of English fiction and greatly influenced the English language in general and science fiction specifically. The Invisible Man, again by HG Wells, is about Griffin, a scientist who is immersed in the research on optics and invents a way to modify the body's refractive manifestation in proportion to air so that it absorbs and reflects no light and
consequently becomes invisible.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne tells the story of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus from the viewpoint of marine biologist Pierre Aronnax,. This novel explores the dangerous of sea travel. It’s about a sea monster, a giant narwhal, which is on a spree of destruction and needs to be tracked and destroyed.
Hugo Gernsback’s contribution to science fiction lay in bringing out the first science fiction magazine called ‘Amazing Stories’. Gernsback wrote fiction, including the novel entitled Ralph 124C 41+; the title is a jibe on the phrase "one to foresee for many". It is one of the most influential science fiction stories of all time. His notion of science fiction was "75% literature interwoven with 25% science". Gernsback was not only a writer, but an inventor too - he held 80 patents. As a tribute to Hugo Gernsback, the annual Science Fiction Achievement awards are named the ‘Hugos’. Then, of course, there’s Isaac Asimov, who was considered not just a master of science fiction (thanks to the I, Robot and Foundation series), but also a leading philosopher and thinker of the 20th century.