Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

By George E. Slusser; Colin Greenland et al. | Go to book overview

Origins of Futuristic Fiction: Felix Bodin's Novel of the Future

Paul Alkon

Attempts to explain the origins of futuristic fiction have concentrated on backgrounds: the industrial revolution; acceleration of technological change; the rise of capitalism; expansion of geological time- scales together with Darwinian theories of evolution; and political revolutions towards the end of the eighteenth century.1 All these phenomena doubtless play some role in the emergence of a genre unknown to classical, medieval, and Renaissance literature. But until we have more completely described the works themselves, our explanations of why they came into being will perforce remain incomplete. Another problem is the temptation to scrutinize early futuristic fiction with an eye mainly on the accuracy of its predictions instead of asking what role such predictions play in the formal structure of particular works.2 We should defer sociological explanations until we have a better picture of what it is we are trying to account for. We might remember too that questions about causation, however interesting, are, finally, less significant for criticism than questions about the manner in which a new form achieves its full power; only by looking more closely than we have at the first steps along the road to Nineteen Eighty-Four can we fully appreciate the nature of an achievement like Orwell's. It was no easy leap to such mastery of the future.

By "futuristic fiction" I mean prose narratives explicitly set in future time. Prior to 1659, when Jacques Guttin published his romance Epigone: Histoire du siècle futur, no writer of fiction chose the future as a narrative setting.3 That part of time was left to prophets, astrologers, and practitioners of deliberative rhetoric. Fiction taking the future as its milieu is a significant new development of early post-Renaissance literature.4 The French maintained their lead in

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