The evolution of science fiction
You've probably never heard of the 2nd century satarist Lucian, but you've certainly heard of what he created: the literary genre of science fiction. His work, "A True Story," contained a lot of the elements of science fiction found today: travel to other worlds, extraterrestrial lifeforms, interplanetary warfare, and artificial life. By the 1600s, well-known figures including Francis Bacon and Johannes Kepler were writing sci-fi. But it took a woman to make science fiction into a true literary form.
Some scholars regard Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1818) as defining work for science fiction. She made her protagonist a practicing "scientist" -- though the term scientist was not actually coined until 1834, and gave him an interest in galvanic electricity and vivisection, two of the more advanced technologies of the day. Edgar Allan Poe dabbled in science fiction as well, but in short story form. It wasn't long after Shelley and Poe came along that science fiction really blossomed thanks in large part to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
Verne's first novel, "XXieme siecle (Paris in the Twentieth Century)" was written in 1863 and was set in the distant 1960s. It contained what turned out to be accurate prognostications: elevated trains, automobiles, facsimilie machines and computer-like banking machines. Most of his later works, including "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth" achieved remarkable international success.
H.G. Wells succeeded Verne as the pre-eminent science fiction writer of his time. His notable works include "The Time Machine" (1895), "The Island of Doctor Moreau" (1896), "The Invisible Man" (1897) and "The War of the Worlds" (1898. His science fiction imagined alien invasion, biological engineering, invisibility and time travel. Wells also predicted the advent of airplanes, military tanks, nuclear weapons, satellite television, and something resembling the Internet.
What scholars consider the "golden age of science fiction" coincided with the advent of pulp magazines in the US in the 1920s. Many of the authors we still read today got their start with the pulps. By the '60s and '70s, New Wave science fiction was known for its high degree of experimentation. "Dune" (1965) by Frank Herbert features a much more complex and detailed imagined future than previous science fiction. Ann McCaffrey, author of the "Dragonriders of Pern" series, became the first woman to win a Hugo or Nebula Award. And Ursula Le Guin's "Left Hand of Darkness" was set on a planet where inhabitants have no fixed gender. Emerging themes today include environmental issues, the implications of the Internet, questions about biotechnology, nanotechnology and post-scarcity societies. Word has it that someone is even working a novel about a world in which luggage is not lost on airlines, although that seems a little far-fetched for even the most imaginative mind.