The Origin of Science Fiction

Published: 16th February 2009
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The question of the origin of science fiction has fascinated the ardent followers of science fiction and the scholars and specialists in the field alike. The question has no single best answer available because science fiction itself is a very broad and diverse field.

One school of thought believes that science fiction is as old as civilization itself. When man began to imagine and tell fictional stories and tales, thus originated science fiction. The ancient Epic of Gilgamesh that belongs to the Sumerian civilization, or the ancient Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata that are both thousands of years old, carry several references to imaginary inventions that could not have been possible in that day and age.

There is a description of a devastating flood in Gilgamesh that bears resemblance to apocalyptic science fiction. In the Hindu texts of Ramayana and Mahabharata there are references to Vimanas (airplanes) and aerial weapons and missiles, and such ammunition that could cause mass destruction in a battle. At the same time, there are several ancient texts from different cultures and civilizations that include such fictional inventions and events that could be interpreted as examples of science fiction.

But there is another school of thought that points out to the difference between science fantasies and science fiction. They put forward the claims that science fiction began only in the late Middle Ages. A logical thought is that as the revolution in scientific inventions began with Galileo and Newton's discoveries, so the science fiction also originated, in the same era itself. A few scholars claim that Mary Shelly's Frankenstein might be regarded as the first authentic work in science fiction.

Some researchers claim that Dante's "Divine Comedy" and William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" contain hints of science fiction in some parts. "The Tempest" describes one Renaissance model that later inspired the sci-fi movie "Forbidden Planet".

The world famous fiction "Arabian Nights" is also known to carry some science fiction in bits and pieces. In one of the stories, the hero travels to other galaxies and discovers life and different species in those fictional worlds. Another story from the "Arabian Nights" talks about a fictional horse that can fly into outer space and reach close to the sun. The novel also mentions the popular magical invention of a "Flying Carpet" that can transport people anywhere in the world through air travel.

There is a famous Japanese novel of the tenth century that describes an inter-galactic war and a protagonist who comes from the moon.

These are just a few examples from ancient recorded history that indicates science fiction is indeed as old as human imagination, dating all the way back to the beginning of civilization. But in a true sense, science fiction exploded in the twentieth century when the industrial revolution gave rise to so many new inventions based on the scientific principles discovered in the previous centuries.

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