Science fiction is a literary genre that utilizes science and technology to examine the human condition. The science and technology used are extrapolations of existing scientific fact and reasoning. Many of the events take place within a setting of future possibility involving robots, space travel, interplanetary travel and wars, aliens, and alien invasion.
Most science fiction functions as a form of social criticism and is characterized by being future oriented, rationalistic, and technological.
There are certain elements a story must contain in order to be considered science fiction. The story must contain elements of science and technology or construct an image of the future by projecting present trends of science and technology. As a result, it is important for writers to accurately extrapolate scientific information. Stories usually take place in scientific settings like space, other planets, or alternate dimensions. The genre is also generally dystopic in nature in that it centers around an imaginary future society that is flawed or imperfect due to the affect or misuse of science and technology. In this way the genre is designed to predict or define the future.
Currently, there is much disagreement between critics over what actually constitutes science fiction. This is because it is very close in nature to the literary genre of fantasy. However, it is generally accepted that in order to be considered science fiction a story must have elements of science whereas fantasy relies more on magic and mythology instead.
The first science fiction story was written in 175 AD by a Greek named Lucian of Somosata. His story was called True History and was about a trip to the moon in a ship carried by a great whirlwind. However, modern science fiction is generally considered to have grown from the roots of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein written in 1818. The genre was further developed into a more scientific romance style by writers Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne. Verne wrote the popular novels Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870). The British author, H.G. Wells, further developed the genre with his novels War of the Worlds (1898) and The Time Machine (1895).
Science Fiction emerged as a distinct genre in 1926 with the publication of the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories. Focus on good writing, plot development, and characterization within the genre was further encouraged by the standards set by John W. Campbell Jr.’s magazine, Astounding Science Fiction in 1937. The 1950’s brought the popularization of the paperback novel and with it the success of major science fiction talents Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury. These writers revolutionized the genre and brought it to its current level of development.
Today, many great works of science fiction literature have been adapted to film and television. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Isaac Asimov’s I Robot, and Phillip K. Dick’s Minority Report are some of the most popular. Other writers were able to bring their short stories and novels to television with such series as The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. As advances in both technology and science continue to be discovered there will always be new material for the genre of science fiction.