...there was proto-sci-fi. This is part of my quest to rediscover classic works in science fiction. For some background and motivation, check out my previous post Rediscover the Classics
Well before the term science fiction was coined as a genre of fiction, people wrote stories with themes we’ve come to know as quintessential to sci-fi: time travel, interstellar worlds, technological advancements, utopian/dystopian societies, etc. These works have been lumped into the category “proto-science fiction” and spans writing from as early as the 2nd century to the late 17th and 18th centuries.
What are some interesting examples?
A True Story by the Greek writer Lucian of Samosata in the 2nd century BC mentions outer space, aliens, and interplanetary warfare. The Mahabharata, a Hindu epic from 8th and 9th centuries BC has a story of time travel and even speculates on the relativistic nature of time travel (time travelers experiencing time more quickly than stationary people on Earth) well before we knew about such things. Tale of the Bamboo Cutter from 10th century Japan speculates on the existence of Moon People and a celestial war. One thing in common among many proto-science fiction works is that they fit into many genres: satire, epics, adventure, romance, adventure, and so on. They also may not be easily recognized as “real science fiction” by modern readers.
What did you end up choosing to read?
It’s impossible to pick one story as representative of the proto-science fiction era due to its vast nature: spanning multiple centuries and countries. Since this is a sci-fi blog, I want to pick one that would most feel like a sci-fi to modern readers. I’ve decided to read The Blazing World by English writer Margaret Cavendish. Published in 1666, it is one of the earliest examples of the novel. It has also inspired some modern works such as Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (2007) and The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (2014). I will be reading this free e-book version from Project Gutenberg.
Why start with proto-science fiction? Why this one?
When I started researching early works of sci-fi I expected to find works during the Enlightenment period in Europe; such as those of Jules Verne and HG Wells. I didn’t know proto-sci-fi was a thing! For the sake of completeness, it felt natural to start there. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was a proto-sci-fi novel by a female author written a good 200 years before either Verne or Wells were even born. In a field dominated by men, I think it’s important to seek women’s voices.
Keep an eye out for my next blog post where I’ll post a list of works I’ll be reading from the Golden Age. I will also periodically update on my progress with the list. Follow along if you’re interested and let me know in the comments what some of your favorite classic sci-fi works are!