Science fiction is generally considered to have had its beginnings in the late 19th cent. with the romances of Jules Verne and the novels of H. G. Wells. In 1926, Hugo Gernsback founded the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, devoted exclusively to science fiction, particularly to serious explorations into the future. Good writing in the field was further encouraged when John W. Campbell, Jr., founded Astounding Science Fiction in 1937. In that magazine much attention was paid to literary and dramatic qualities, theme, and characterization; Campbell
discovered and popularized many important science fiction writers, including Isaac Asimov, Frederic Brown, A. E. van Vogt, Lewis Padgett, Eric Frank Russell, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Murray Leinster, Robert Heinlein, Raymond F. Jones, and Robert Sheckley.
Science fiction has established itself as a legitimate branch of literature. C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet (1938) used science fiction as a vehicle for theological speculation, and works such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Cat's Cradle (1963) demonstrate the particular effectiveness of the genre as an instrument of social criticism. Science-fiction literature anticipates and comments on political and social concerns, and a variety of science-fiction subgenres have emerged: feminist science fiction; disaster novels and novels treating the world emerging from a disaster's wake; stories postulating alternative worlds; fantastic voyages to
inner space; and
cyberpunk novels set in
cyberspace, a realm where computerized information possesses three dimensions in a
The rich variety of notable science-fiction writing to emerge since the
classic work of Asimov, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury includes Frank Herbert's Dune (1965) and its sequels, which conjured up a desert world where issues of ecology, ethics, and human destiny and evolution were played out; Philip K. Dick's satirical and philosophical vision of post-nuclear-war Southern California in novels such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and Valis (1981); the apocalyptic disaster fiction of J. G. Ballard, including The Crystal World (1966) and Vermilion Sands (1971); the rigorously science-based works of Poul Anderson, such as Tau Zero (1970) and The Boat of a Million Years (1989); Brian Aldiss's Greybeard (1964), in which nuclear weapons have created a world without children, and Helliconia trilogy (1982–85), concerning a planet where seasons last more than 2,000 years; Michael Crichton's best-selling science-fiction suspense novels, particularly The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Jurassic Park (1990); William Gibson's evocations of urban
cyberpunk desolation in novels such as Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988); Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos: Archives, a series (1979–83) that explores the possibilities of a feminist utopia; the writing of Ursula Le Guin, who imagined ecological utopias in works such as Always Coming Home (1985) and The Word for World Is Forest (1986); and Gene Wolfe's works, which range from bleak to comic, including the series The Book of the New Sun (1980–83).
Over recent decades, science fiction has become popular in the nonliterary media, including film, television, and electronic games. Star Wars (1977) and its sequels and prequel, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) were among the most financially successful motion pictures ever produced.
See H. Harrison and B. W. Aldiss, ed., Astounding-Analog Reader (1973); B. W. Aldiss, Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1973); B. Stableford, Masters of Science Fiction (1981); N. Barron, ed., Anatomy of Wonder (1981); E. Rabkin, ed., Science Fiction (1983); J. Gunn, ed., The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1988); E. James and F. Mendelsohn, The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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