Friday, 25 March 2011

Science Fiction in a Boat

A friend of mine, Robert J Sawyer, has released his novel Wonder, a science fiction novel. Rob is a Hugo award winning author, excels at story telling, wildly popular, and respected by scientists as his research is top notch. At a talk in Calgary, he mentioned that the first science fiction novel was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I agree- it's the story of science triumphing over death, the flesh being re-animated by man by manipulation of energy. And I love that it is by Mary, a woman. So much for arguments that women can't write good sci-fi. (Kick to an ex-boyfriend of mine)

What are some writings pre-dating Shelley that are considered sci-fi? Famed writer  L Sprague de Camp believed that the first recorded piece of literature was True History- a story about traveling to outer space. This is problematic for me - the author's intent has a great deal to do with the classification of the book. Lucian's goal was to write a satirical philosophy - fantasy story of an epic voyage. To me, it's because there is no expectation or hope that this will come true. Sci-fi writing for me has always had the element of the plausible, that people would go to the moon one day, or we really could have alien visitors. Lucian does not do this- instead he focuses on the philosophy and fictional, the voyage in a boat with men as instruments in logic. Philosophy is more his goal than projecting a future possible in traveling in the sky.

A much better argument than mine is by Roy Arthur Swanson in his article "The True, the False, and the Truly False: Lucian's Philosophical Science Fiction" (Science Fiction Studies November 1976):

"As philosophical science fiction, this is an equivalent of philosophy’s abandonment of tangible human moorings for flights into the abstract. By counter-exaggeration satire can bring philosophy, or the philosophically inclined, back to concretion. Lucian assigns this role to satire as Menippus and Aristophanes before him had done and, with regard to modern science, as Samuel Butler, Eugene Zamyatin, Vladimir Nabokov, and Thomas Pynchon long after him would do. In his work, fiction redeems philosophy, as, in the work of many serious science-fiction writers, fiction redeems science.Effective science fiction does not tranSForm science into fantasy, even though it may give the appearance of doing so; it brings us back to the limitations of science by means of fantasy or fiction, just as Lucian brings us back to the limitations of philosophy through satiric fiction and the fantastic voyage."

Philosophic-Science Fiction? Hmmm....needs more thought.

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