What is Considered to be the World’s First Science Fiction Novel?

3/11/2014 • Ask Mr. History

Dear Mr History,

What work of literature can be considered the world’s first “science-fiction” novel? I ask because a thought came to me that maybe during the medieval or even ancient period, somebody must have thought about the "future" and either predicted it like Jules Verne or got it mostly wrong like H.G. Wells. (I don’t think Thomas More’s Utopia counts as one, does it?)



? ? ?

Dear Mitchell,

There has been considerable debate as to what fiction emerged from myth into the realm of scientific possibility. Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1620-1630) may fit, since it describes a trip to the moon and the earth’s movement seen from that perspective. One might make a case for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels of 1728 as an example of science fantasy used as a vehicle for social satire á la H.G. Wells. But the philosophical and the scientifically possible—as well as thrills and chills—get a convincing combination in Mary W. Shelley’s 1818 classic Frankenstein, to which she added The Last Man in 1826, dealing with a plague-driven world apocalypse (paging Vincent Price…or Will Smith?).



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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