My chapter-by-chapter review of this Stableford work continues.
Review: The Sociology of Science Fiction, Brian Stableford, 1987.
Chapter III, “The Evolution of Science Fiction as a Publishing Category”, starts out with some possible definitions of sf and, thus, its origins.
If sf is just fantastic tales, the beginning is Lucian of Samosata’s True History. If it is mythology for a modern age, one can go back to Homer’s Odyssey. If sf is a “didactic medium” to popularize science and awaken dull minds to new vistas of imagination, you can go back to Lucretius’ De Rerum Naturae. If you see sf as intimately tied to scientific thought, you go with Johannes Kepler’s Somnium. If you are interested in sf as a means of social speculation, you cite Plato’s Republic as the origin point. An “etymologically-minded critic” might insist that the term science fiction loses all meaning before Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. An American reader of pulp magazines would trace it to 1926 and Astounding Magazine.
However, Stableford argues that it wasn’t until the late 19th century and early 20th century that enough kinds of things we would call sf were produced for it to be recognized as a literary genre, and that label basically starts with H. G. Wells’ work. (I’m not sure if his work on French romans scientifique have changed this.)
Sociologically, there were four trends Stableford sees as sparking the popular imagination and setting the ground for the public to be interested in sf as a genre:
the revolution in transportation; the theory of evolution; the socialist movement; and the anticipation of large-scale war.
The inclusion of the socialist movement is a significant addition to usual theories of sf developing as a genre.Continue reading