Science Fiction

science fiction, literary genre in which a background of science or pseudoscience is an integral part of the story. Although science fiction is a form of fantastic literature, many of the events recounted are within the realm of future possibility, e.g., robots, space travel, interplanetary war, invasions from outer space.

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 "virtual reality."

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 postnuclear 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); 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 of four novels (1979–83) that explores the possibilities of a feminist utopia; and the writing of Ursula Le Guin, who has imagined ecological utopias in works such as Always Coming Home (1985) and The Word for World is Forest (1986).

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.

Bibliography

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 Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Science Fiction: Selected full-text books and articles

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction
Edward James; Farah Mendlesohn.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
Science Fiction
Adam Roberts.
Routledge, 2000
Hard Science Fiction
George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1986
Locating Science Fiction
Andrew Milner.
Liverpool University Press, 2012
Odd Genre: A Study in Imagination and Evolution
John J. Pierce.
Greenwood Press, 1994
The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader
J. P. Telotte.
University Press of Kentucky, 2008
Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s
Andrew M. Butler.
Liverpool University Press, 2012
Mindscapes: The Geographies of Imagined Worlds
George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1989
Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction
George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1987
Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946-1964
M. Keith Booker.
Greenwood Press, 2001
Space and Beyond: The Frontier Theme in Science Fiction
Gary Westfahl.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future
George E. Slusser; Colin Greenland; Eric S. Rabkin.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1987
Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction
George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1987
Speaking Science Fiction: Dialogues and Interpretations
Andy Sawyer; David Seed.
Liverpool University Press, 2000
Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy
Gary Wastfahl; George Slusser.
Greenwood Press, 2002
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