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

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: March 11, 2014 
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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?)

Thanks,

Mitchell

? ? ?

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?).

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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2 Responses to “What is Considered to be the World's First Science Fiction Novel?”


  1. 1
    Ed Hamilton says:

    Science fiction [I prefer the term 'speculative fiction'] is difficult to define, and it is difficult to determine the first SF novel [or story]. Precursors to science fiction can be found as far back as the 2nd Century [Lucian's True History]. SF began to evolve with the beginning of the 'Age of Reason' and science. With the development of the novel in the 19th Century, the writers took off. 'Frankenstein' does fit the definition [sic] so I figure it gets the title of First SF novel, but many other writers of the day did their share. Even Poe wrote a SF story about a trip to the moon [The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaal].

    But let's not forget Hugo Gernsback, the creator of the first science fiction pulp magazine, 'Amazing Stories', of the term 'scientifiction', and arguably the first 'hard' SF novel, "Ralph 124C41+". The highest awards in SF are named 'Hugos' after him.

  2. 2
    Amber says:

    Mr. History,

    Well, this didn't help. I'm a student at Erwin Middle in North Carolina & this didn't help with my science fiction project at all. I was hoping you could try to put a more accurate suggestion rather than these options. I need the EXACT 1st novel of scientific fiction, not this. Thanks anyways.

    Signed,

    Amber B.
    6th Grade Erwin Middle



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